In Africa, we have a wealth of indigenous knowledge, best practices and products that address some of the health challenges that our people face. When one visits communities and rural villages, you will find practitioners who have got excellent solutions for everyday ailments, but we have not managed to tap into that to scale up or bring to other markets.
The BioPark@Gauteng, a business incubator at The Innovation Hub is working with these citizen knowledge holders, bringing them together with researchers to see how we can take what has been used for centuries to address our challenges with safety and quality standards guaranteed. Instead of rejecting indigenous knowledge as witchcraft, we should embrace and harness its value.
A typical example of value that can be generated from tapping into the citizen knowledge holders is the work that Professor Shirley Motaung is doing. She has worked with traditional practitioners who used some plant derived products to assist individuals with fractures who could not get attendance from western trained medical practitioners in time. She managed to prove that the plant products have some bone cartilage regenerative properties that helped these affected individuals. Following on from this she has launched her product from this work (see https://www.globalhealthbiotech.co.za/). There is a wealth of products and solutions from the indigenous knowledge systems across the biotechnology sector. Some of these that have been supported include:
At the BioPark@Gauteng, our aim is to utilize this indigenous knowledge and spread it throughout the world. We want to isolate these important findings and package them for global consumption. But how can we make this happen? We are currently providing entrepreneurial support, interfacing the citizen scientists, entrepreneurs and university researchers to promote the exchange of knowledge and wisdom. However, there is a need to understand the complex intellectual protection system and business models of these citizen scientists to facilitate such exchanges and synergising product standardization.
If we humble ourselves, give deserved recognition, and work with these traditional practitioners, we can address most of the challenges faced by humankind. This should be complemented by building confidence amongst ourselves so that we do not wait for someone to endorse what we have been doing for centuries. By opening our training systems and allowing the integration of different ways of knowledge generation we can go a long way in harnessing the solutions that we have been subjugating. Without taking bold steps in this direction we may run the risk of remaining the proverbial hunter who kept looking for a kudu hidden in water while he was holding the horns and drinking from the same pond.