Cassia abbreviata: The Miracle tree of Botswana

Cassia abbreviata, commonly known as Monepenepe in Setswana is largely referred to as the miracle tree of Botswana. The plant is known for its wide use in traditional pharmacology. It’s use in management of various ailments has over the years been passed from generation to generation especially in the North Eastern part of Botswana where its abundance is enormous. Despite its multipurpose use, Monepenepe has not been properly documented and scientifically exploited until in the recent years. Even today, the plant has not been fully evaluated for its pharmacological activities.

The plant is not only found in Botswana but widely distributed across Southern Africa. Cassia abbreviata is characterized by brown bark and can grow up to 10 meters. It has long cylindrical dark brown hanging pods and yellow flowers. This medium sized tree belongs to the Caesalpiniceace family.


The bark and roots extracts of C. abbreviata have important medicinal effects. A decoction of the bark is used to treat various ailments such as malaria, sugar diabetes, headache, bilharzia and diarrhea. The roots are also used for treatment of gonorrhea, syphilis, pneumonia and chest pains. pharmacological studies have proved the antidiabetic potential of both the roots and stem bark extract. The plant has also shown antiviral effects on HIV.  The extract is also used to treat black water fever.


Bati K, Kwape T.E and Chaturvedi P. Anti-Diabetic Effects of an Ethanol Extract of Cassia abbreviata Stem Bark on Diabetic Rats and Possible Mechanism of Its Action. Journal of Pharmacopuncture, 20(1), 2017.

Mojeremane W, Legwaila GM, Mogotsi KK and Tshwenyane SO. Monepenepe (Cassia abbreviata): A medicinal plant in Botswana. International Journal of Botany, 1(2), 2005.


Research and Development: A driving force towards transforming Botswana’s resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy.

Botswana, a landlocked country with a population of around only two million, is ranked to be one of the countries with growing economies. However, even to date the economy is still solely based on exports of minerals especially diamonds. Exportation of beef is also a big contributor to Botswana’s growing economy. Despite the fast-growing rate of Botswana’s economy, it has even today remained a resource-based economy with no or little added value to the raw materials exported to European countries. This has become a cause of concern as youth unemployment escalates while more jobs can be created by adding value to the raw materials that are exported at a very low-price value and the products made from them are bought back at a higher price.

How can Botswana transform her resource-based economy to a knowledge and innovation-based economy?

For Botswana to realize her dream of transforming the economy from resource based to knowledge and innovation led economy, she needs to prioritize Research and Development. There is need to ensure that government decisions and policies are influenced by research findings. In fact, research and development is the key to innovation and strategic transformation of any industry or economy. And, for research and development to progress, Botswana should increase the funding for research and even attract foreign investment in research and development that result in commercialization of products and services that can generate income and jobs in the country. Appreciating and recognizing researchers can also drive competitive innovations which ultimately can result in improved and efficient systems that generally improves the quality of life of Batswana.

One aspect Botswana can adopt with respect to research and development is bioprospecting of natural products obtained through the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS). With well defined policies on the management of IKS and clear standards on cost benefit sharing and cooperation between IKS holders and the scientific research community, many products can be commercialized and even patented. Botswana is blessed with a diversity of plants of which many traditional medical practitioners have harnessed their medicinal properties and other uses of which their benefit can be amplified through research. Also, researcher in this system should be encouraged to champion the ‘Innovate or perish’ philosophy as opposed to the ‘Publish or perish’ dogma.

While research and development are key to transforming Botswana’s economy from resource based to knowledge and innovation-led, there is need to find and explore other measures that can hasten that transformation. Benchmarking from the success stories of other countries can provide guidelines for legislative policies that can govern research and development and innovation that will progressively build a knowledge and innovation led economy.

Agriculture Revolutionised

During my research for the Agritech ecosystem, I discovered a revolutionary method for farming called hydroponics. Farming without soil. A rather difficult concept to explain to many African farmers. How can you farm without soil? It’s not possible.

Agriculture has been the backbone of many African economies and the livelihood of many. But there’s also the issue of land and resources. This method however, promises to be cost-effective, easier, to improve yields and provide healthier produce. It’s not limited to just vegetables, which many have focused on, but it could fill the gaps facing Zimbabwe’s supply chain.

So I discovered 160 HydroFarm run by a Zimbabwean women and her daughter. I had a chat with her daughter, trying to better understand their business and here is their story:

Venensia Mukarati, the founder of 160 Hydro Farm, has always had a passion for farming and wanted a new method that could be easy to run and commercialise. After some research they stumbled upon Aquaponics and later discovered Hydroponics. Venensia first ran the idea past her family who, as family, were supportive but probably thought ‘there goes mum again’. Venensia says, “There is something addictive about planting a seed, watching it germinate and grow” and it was the only way to show them that the method worked. Her girls have since grown into farming. Together with her daughters, Rufaro and Tino, they have managed to turn a backyard hobby into 160 HydroFarm.


She describes the journey as “thrilling”. They now have 3 running systems and are expanding in their backyard. Everyday is a new learning experience as well as an experiment. It started with only iceberg lettuce and they now have 5 lettuce varieties, herbs, tomatoes and coming soon, micro-greens. They have been supplying a few shops including Willowmead and some really supportive individuals who are in love with fresh greens. “Social media is an amazing platform. It has helped in getting our product out there.”


The benefits of their products? Well.. Hydroponics provides the exact needs to the plants appropriately. This means that plants will grow faster and healthier as compared to a plant grown in the soil. More benefits:

Can grow plants all year round, both indoors and out;

Conserves water and plant nutrients are controlled;

More plants can be grown in a given area;

No weeding needed;

Soil borne pests are eliminated, leading to the reduced need for pesticide.

NFT Hydro Solutions supplied them with the first system that they set up. NFT has been a supportive investor to 160 HydroFarm and have supported them greatly every step of the way, which has made it easier for them. They are confident that one day they will have a financial investor, and a lot of people are interested in knowing what they are doing.

As a pioneer in Hydroponics in Zimbabwe, run by women, 160 HydroFarm has learnt that it is not a challenge to build up an idea. Women in farming need new innovative ideas and this project is heading in the right direction. It’s easy to set up and run. A great way for females that need their own project and income. 160 HydroFarm will be having training for females who want to learn how to do this. “Hopefully with Zimbabwe implementing this urban agricultural method we will definitely feed the 9 billion by 2050!”

“It’s safe to say 160 HydroFarm’s journey is only just beginning and we are ecstatic.”


Hydroponics sounds AMAZING! No weeds? No pesticides? Organic and healthy! Why aren’t we all running to adopt hydroponic farming? It’s innovation in agriculture. Who would have thought we wouldn’t need soil to farm? I believe this is the step in the right direction and it’s a way to empower women. No tilling away at dry land in the sweltering heat. It’s revolutionary!

P.S. Support local.

Thank you to Tinoda Mukarati and her mum, Venensia, for allowing me the opportunity to share their story! And for the great photos! 🙂

Insects on our dinner plates: Food for the future!

Crunchy, protein-packed worm tacos! – Image from 

Entomophagy, defined as the human consumption of insects, has gained popularity and scientific attention across the world. This might be due to the need to reduce meat-based diets for health reasons or make protein rich diets for vegetarians. But it seems the main reason is to find food for the ever-growing human population. Insects have the potential to serve not only as food for people but as feed for livestock especially poultry and fish. With the growing demand for meat products, using insect-made animal feed could provide a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way of increasing animal production.

While the mention of insects in human nutrition may nauseate some people, the reality of having them on your dinner plate is nearer than one can perceive. Some populations have been eating insects for many years ago and also the context of eating insects is not foreign to many countries. Of recent, some countries have embarked on the commercial production and utilization of insects as food source. The recent investment of US$ 37 million by an insect farming company called Ynsect in France shows the potential movement towards entomophagy.  It is also believed that commercial and industrial insect farming is more cost-effective, energy-efficient and requires a relatively small land in comparison to livestock farming like cattle for beef production.

But why insects? Insects are said to be rich in proteins and low in fats hence good for health. The farming of insects is also regarded as environmental and ecological friendly in the sense that low amounts of water and energy are needed for insects farming. Insects also feed on waste materials hence aiding in waste management and climate control with respect to the emission of greenhouse gases. Below are some of the insects which are used or considered for use as either human food or animal feed:

  • Meal worms
  • Grasshoppers
  • Locusts
  • Crickets
  • Houseflies
  • Black soldier fly
  • Silkworms, etc.

While scientific evidence points out the benefits of insects and seemingly encouraging their consumption, the question is, how prepared are we to dine on insects? Our perceptions and attitude towards the consumption of insects will either promote or delay the inclusion of insects in our diets!

The Giant Accelerator for the South African Economy

The SA Innovation Summit is the biggest annual event showcasing the tech entrepreneur, but it’s not just an event that occurs once every year. It’s an entire company dedicated to supporting start-ups and helping them become a scalable business.

There is a need for Africa to develop products and services that are credible and are for Africa, by Africa. What better way to inspire this than by providing a platform in which to challenge and inspire conversations on how we can bring about effective change to our environments, not just for South Africa but for the Southern African region? The Summit does this! The Summit provides an opportunity for people to learn from various experts through thought leadership sessions, networking and an opportunity to witness the innovations coming Africa.

The model they use focuses on three areas: Idea and Research, Pre-commercial and Start-up/Scale-up Businesses. They aim to support new research, ideas, inventions and tech entrepreneurs to become investible businesses, by bringing together entrepreneurs, inventors, investors, corporates, and policy makers and giving them the chance to meet and network. Start-ups and inventors compete in Pitching Dens and the Inventors Garage during the Summit for an opportunity to secure investments from anyone of the investors present. These start-ups can also pitch their products one-on-one in the Match and Invest Lounge. The M&I platform allows anyone of the delegates to schedule a meeting with another delegate at a particular time and table for 20 minutes. I believe this is one of the most valuable platforms the Summit offers as experience, knowledge and ideas can be shared and deals can be made.

Delegates also have the opportunity to attend master classes and workshops where professionals lend their expertise to provide insight into corporate venturing, angel investment and creating a product market fit. Thought leadership sessions offer discussions focused on the six main streams: Big Data and Space, Cities of the Future, Agritech, Biotech, Edutech and Fintech. Leading experts in the various streams discuss and identify the key issues and solutions, and provide their own experience and insights to engage and hopefully inspire their audience.

This event draws hundreds of people from different parts of the world to share the same interest and enthusiasm to develop and grow the African tech entrepreneur.


Mind blowing….

Probiotics in animal feeds – Innovation combating antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance is a global concern, with veterinary use of antibiotics as prophylactics implicated in contributing extensively to antibiotic resistance. The use of antibiotics as growth promoters has significantly increased over the pass years owing to the growing demand for meat and meat products. With research work pinpointing prophylactic use of antibiotics as contributing to antibiotic resistance, there has been exploitation of plants and microorganisms for use as alternatives to antibiotics. One such alternative gaining scientific attention is Probiotics.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics can be defined as live microbial feed supplements that beneficially affect the host animal by improving its intestinal health. Probiotics can strain of some bacteria or yeasts. Common probiotics include lactobacillus bacteria. These good health conferring microbes possess different biological activities which when in balance can improve the immunological, fermentation and digestion characteristics of the host animal. Scientific evidence shows that direct fed microbials improves performance and feed utilization in poultry hence promoting the rapid growth of poultry to meet the increasing demand for poultry meat around the world.

How do probiotics work?

Some of the mechanisms of action of probiotics include:

  • Inhibiting the growth of pathogenic microorganisms thereby help in maintaining a balance of the beneficial microflora in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Promote intestinal enzyme activity and nutrient availability.
  • Improve nutrient utilization through the good health of the intestines.
  • Modulate adaptive immunity through the interaction with the innate immune system.
  • Suppress inflammatory responses by inhibiting specific intercellular signal transduction pathways.

Probiotics have the potential to replace antibiotics in animal feed. These will not only result in improved animal production but help curb the problem of antibiotic resistance exacerbated by the overuse of antibiotics animal production. Therefore, there is need for extensive research in use of probiotics in animal feed supplements.

SA Innovation Summit 2018: Why you should attend the Summit this year!

sa innno sumit

The South African Innovation Summit (SAIS) is an annual flagship event in the innovation calendar of South African. The Summit will be held in the Cape Town stadium from the 12th – 13th September 2018. The sole purpose of the event is to provide a platform for Tech Entrepreneurs, innovators, business leaders and academians to participate, grow their know-how and connections; and make their ideas come to life. It also serves as a giant accelerator to the South African economy. The SA Innovation Summit brings together innovators from across Africa in the field; Agritech, Biotech, Fintech, Big data/Artificial intelligence and Cities of the future. This is an event where both delegates, startup, thought leaders, academians, and business experts share knowledge and plan for the future ahead. Here, are some of the reasons why should not miss Summit this year:

  • Match and Invest platform: This business matchmaking opportunity allows delegates to appoint and meet with anyone of their choice for a brief discussion or pitch of their business idea. This means you can meet a potential investor and pitch your business idea on a one – on – one basis, and this can be the meeting that will change your life forever. You can meet entrepreneurs working in the same field hence chances of regional collaborations and shared markets.
  • Entrepreneurship based workshops and panel discussions: The core of the Summit is to promote innovative thinking and entrepreneurial development within our different fields of expertise. Workshops, panel discussions, and master classes will train attendants into the application of technology in solving our everyday problems in an innovative and profitable way. In other words, you will learn the basics of running a successful business from successful entrepreneurs who started at the grass-roots level.
  • Pitching competitions: The summit will hold various pitching competitions for startup entrepreneurs with potential for them to find seed funding and secure markets. One interesting pitching den to look is the FemBioBiz competition by SANBio where 32 females from the bioscience field across the SADC members pitch their businesses. There is also the inventors’ garage where startup entrepreneurs will be showcasing their ideas and innovative prototypes.
  • Networking opportunities: This year the Innovation Summit projects to host more 1500 delegates from Africa and the international world. With delegates from different field of knowledge, one can expect nothing but networking opportunities with potential for collaborations and resource sharing in research and market acquisitions.
  • Good customer service: The Innovation Summit prides itself on exceptional customer service offered to all delegates irrespective of gender, race, age or religion. With about 150 volunteers to take care of all your needs, you sure of being welcomed and safe in your innovative second home!

So why wait? But your ticket now and attend the Summit. Let us welcome spring in an innovative way!

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