To turn the country’s economy around, Emaswati need to go back to the basics; the land.

This is an assertion made by Wits Business School Director and Professor of Finance, Dr Paul Alagidede in his presentation during a public lecture on ‘SMEs and Industrialisation: Materialising SDGs 8 & 9 in Eswatini’ hosted by the Eswatini Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (ESEPARC) last Thursday (January 17) at Happy Valley Hotel.

Professor Alagidede noted that industry begins and ends with agriculture that brings food to the table for all, and utilises the earth’s resources in a harmonious and respectful manner, thus bringing balance into food and nutrition through a diversified plant and crop mix.

“Without land there is no agriculture, mining, or services. Everything starts with the land, forms in the land, and ends in the land. Rural areas still hold the key to our economic development,” he said.

The professor further noted that with the country’s huge unemployment rates, youthful energy is being used destructively and yet there are many real opportunities to be explored through the use of land.

“Where you have the most problems is where you have the most opportunities. For instance, the production of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes is very good. We need to conduct studies to understand the properties of this plant,” he said.

Professor Alagidede noted that, for instance, the cannabis stem produces more paper than wood/pulp and the plant grows in almost any climatic condition, even in a plant pot at home. “We need a shift in mind-set instead of remaining fixated on the traditional way of thinking. We need to change how we have been taught to think through innovative channels that can contribute to growth,” he said.

The professor said there’s a need for studies that investigate how medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp can impact the country’s economic growth and job creation patterns. “Let’s go back to the land because that is where we begin and end. We need to embrace all the different modalities that exist.

“If you want to be a really good entrepreneur, you need to look into the research that has been done in the particular area you are looking at being involved in. I personally believe that there is nothing that you can want to do that does not already exist, you do not have to reinvent the wheel but take advantage of the research around you to look into the dimensions and properties of whatever field you want to venture into.”

Meanwhile, ESEPARC Executive Director Dr Thula Sizwe Dlamini said government is already providing enablers for industrial transformation through such things as economic infrastructure. “We now have a Science and Technology Park and even within the university system, we have research and development laboratories that we should begin to use as Emaswati.

“For instance, what prevents an entrepreneur who wants to understand the sole composition of soils in a particular area from going to the university and engaging with the professors there? Even big global corporations like Facebook and Apple are commercialising publicly produced knowledge funded by governments,” he observed.

Dr Dlamini said Eswatini needs entrepreneurs who will use such knowledge to produce value. He noted that an ESEPARC study that looks at the evolution of innovation in Eswatini finds that the country can transform its economy through the traditional sector alone. He said the government has done enough in terms of funding education and providing infrastructure, hence Emaswati now need to apply technology to their indigenous knowledge and commercialise it.

ESEPARC partnered with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade’s SME Unit to host the lecture, which also received support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Eswatini.