Eswatini boasts of a wealth of indigenous knowledge that needs to be commercialised and flooded into the global market.

This is a point that was emphasised by Dr Thula Sizwe Dlamini, Executive Director at the Eswatini Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (ESEPARC), when he delivered a presentation at the Eswatini Science Week last week.

Dr Dlamini, who gave a presentation under the sub-theme; ‘Spotlight on Eswatini Scientific Discoveries: 50/50 Celebration’, noted that “we cannot talk of scientific discoveries without talking about traditions. History shows that Emaswati have always embraced different technologies to improve their way of life”.

The Eswatini Science Week was hosted by the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology in collaboration with the University of Eswatini (UNESWA) at Sibane Hotel from 24 – 27 September, 2018 under the theme; ‘Igniting the Power of Science: Building a Pipeline into First World Status Through Science (2022 Dream)’.

Dr Dlamini noted that a study conducted by ESEPARC, which documents the historical evolution of innovation and discoveries in Eswatini, found that there are two types of innovation; those that come from the traditional sector and those that come from structured research and development, mainly in the agriculture sector.

“In the traditional sector, it is found that Emaswati have generally been tinkering with a lot of different technologies to improve their way of life. Emaswati have been learning from long lineages of family practices and societal change on how to make, model, and innovate to meet the different social and economic needs at the household level. For instance, Emaswati used to make tikhobolo from wood to grind maize into coarse mealie-meal and then they evolved to using imbokodvo (grinding stone) which made the maize softer,” he pointed out.

“We have a lot of stock of traditional knowledge that needs to be commercialised; it could be knowledge on how to cook traditional foods, how to make traditional medicine, and how to modernise traditional artefacts such as tilulu, which were previously used as granary then later used as a nest for chickens, and now being used as jewellery holders.”

In terms of structured research and development, the executive director said the creation of a Faculty of Agriculture at UNESWA Luyengo campus, as well as the establishment of Malkerns Research Station were some of the commitments the country made towards advancing the objectives of structured research and development in Eswatini’s agriculture sector.

He said studies show that seed improvement, selection, and agronomic practices were the mainstay of Eswatini agriculture. Adding, Dr Dlamini said the agricultural sector has evolved and even adapted cultivars to suit the Eswatini production landscape. For instance, he noted, experimental trials for bananas, barley, jute, lupins, peppers, peas, and other vegetables started in Eswatini as early as 1955.

Dr Dlamini further noted that the Eswatini Annual Report (1966) states that research played an important role in the farming industry and provided information on agriculture productivity to farmers. “Some of the research that was conducted at Malkerns Research Station on maize emphasised the evaluation of regional varieties which provided the highest yields, while other research was conducted on legumes (ground nuts, jugo beans), cotton, wheat, oil seeds, mushrooms, strawberries, and tomatoes, to name a few.

“From an industrial perspective, given the magnitude at which agriculture was receiving attention, Eswatini also created the country’s first ever locally manufactured tractor – Tinkhabi – which was made at a very low cost to directly meet the needs of local agriculture producers who cultivated small pieces of land. The tractor was also a multipurpose machine that came with implements for pumping water, sawing wood, generating electricity, and milling maize – which are activities common in the daily lives of Emaswati.

“Over time Emaswati have accumulated a wealth of knowledge from their forefathers. Now is the time to tap into this knowledge, commercialise it, and go global with it. We need to focus on the indigenous discoveries that are yet to be commercialised. It is time for us to realise financial capital from these discoveries,” emphasised Dr Dlamini.

He said for instance, the country can commercialise cannabis, as the cultivar that grows in Eswatini is known world-over as the best. “Once we start harnessing the benefits of producing cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes and evolving it further, we can take it to the global market,” he added.

Meanwhile, one of the panel discussions was on ‘Driving the Agenda for Eswatini Women in STEM’. The panel highlighted, among other things, the benefits that accrue for governments, industry, and academia in promoting women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). One of the questions that arose was; ‘why should men care and what role can men play in promoting Eswatini women in STEM?’

While acknowledging that men have a huge role to play in ensuring that more women are encouraged to pursue careers in STEM, Swazi Observer Managing Editor Mbongeni Mbingo wanted to know what women in leadership positions are doing to ensure that this goal is achieved, for instance, in terms of mentorship.

In response, Federation of the Swazi Business Community (FESBC) Chief Executive Officer Dudu Nhlengetfwa said some of them mentor young women and girls at an individual level, but she acknowledged that there is a need to have structured mentoring systems within organisations. Also, she said there is a need for Eswatini to formulate forward-looking policies that do not segregate.

Adding to the discussion, Dr Dlamini (ESEPARC Executive Director) said “as ESEPARC, we are interested in bringing women into scientific enterprise in Eswatini because we want a gendered research agenda that draws from both the experiences of men and women”.