Q: Can you provide an overview of the mandate of the National Agricultural Research and Development Institute (NARDI)?
A: NARDI is set to engage in high-quality, innovation-intensive and needs-driven research and development; as well as commercialisation and technology transfer activities across the agricultural value chain, to benefit consumers, farmers, industry, government and science.
The company is configured to carry out its work from decentralised, cluster-focused, commodity-based specialised Research & Innovation Centres; Testing and Diagnostic Laboratories; Field Stations; Experimental Sites (R&D Ranches & Farms), Technology Test-beds, Agri-business Incubation Centres and Technology Spin-Offs around the country.
Q: What are the specific areas of agriculture that the institute focuses on?
A: NARDI focuses on key Research and Development Thematic areas focussed on-
Field Crops & Horticulture, Animal Production & Health, Food Science & Technology, Natural Resources Management, Agricultural Economics & Statistics, Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering, Technology Transfer & Commercialisation and Innovation, Knowledge Management & Intellectual Asset Beneficiation.
Q: How important is research and development in building sustainable and resilient food systems in Botswana?
A: Agricultural R&D is an instrument for the transformation of agriculture and ensuring sustainable and resilient food systems in Botswana. Agricultural R&D can contribute to agricultural development, economic growth, poverty reduction and food security through new technologies resulting from investment in R&D.
Agricultural R&D can improve the quantity and quality of agricultural production, while increasing sustainability, reducing food prices for the consumer, enabling rural producers to have better access to markets, and increasing male-female involvement as well as the accumulation of physical and human capital within the households.
Botswana has several national agricultural research institutes (NARIs) that have built their research capacities both in terms of the number of researchers as well as the level of academic training, with renewed models for management and governance, moving towards participatory research processes, networking and public-private platforms. The main hurdle to overcome relates to the levels of investment in agricultural R&D in Botswana as these are significantly below the required level.
Q: What are some of the main challenges faced by the agricultural sector in Botswana, and how is NARDI addressing these challenges?
A: Major challenges facing the agriculture sector include recurring drought, limited skills, inadequate market access, marketing facilities and inadequate use of improved technology. Lack of infrastructure and support services hamper production. Many of the production farms are scattered apart making it difficult to provide services such as roads, electricity, water, telecommunications and extension services. High input costs. Poor data quality and lack of coordination are some of the major challenges in the agriculture sector, with this regard NARDI will be hosting an International Data Forum to stimulate coordination.
Q: How does the institute prioritize its research agenda to address the needs of the agricultural sector?
A: NARDI aims to increase the contribution of agriculture to Botswana’s GDP by improving the utilisation of agricultural produce and natural products; fostering inclusion and knowledge transfer initiatives; and providing innovative solutions and adaptations to climate change, yield improvement and commercialisation of agriculture across Botswana’s Agro-Ecological Zones. Overall, the company has the vision to be a renowned transformative agricultural research and development institute, and a mission to generate innovative solutions for the agricultural sector.
Q: How does NARDI ensure that its research translates into practical benefits for the agricultural sector?
A: NARDI aims to decentralise agricultural research, development, knowledge transfer and innovation support services across the country to encourage the growth of local agricultural input industries and diversify value-adding agro-processing industries.
Through the Technology Transfer and Commercialisation Division, NARDI facilitates demand-driven R&D, promotes the uptake of the Institute’s technologies and developments, facilitates enhanced farming income, ensures commercialisation of NARDI R&D outputs, registration and protection of Intellectual, property and licensing of technologies, provides rapid, accurate, diagnostic test results through innovative laboratory services, facilitates the establishment and utilisation of agricultural knowledge resource centres and provides training for agriculture development.
Q: Any notable examples or case studies of farmers who have benefited from NARDI’s commercialization and technology transfer efforts?
A: Training in value addition and processing of local products such as sorghum, peanut and cooking melon (lerotse) for farmers in Medie (Kweneng District). Farmers were trained on the fabrication of biochar units, and biochar utilization and provided with some biochar units (Kweneng districts)
Q: How is the institute contributing to the training and capacity-building of farmers in Botswana to enhance their skills and knowledge in innovative agricultural practices?
A: Through training and skills transfer workshops, as well as demonstrations of technologies. The demonstration activities are envisaged to contribute to network building in agricultural communities, leading to longer-term sustainability and economic development in rural areas.
Further, NARDI employs agribusiness incubation to transform agriculture towards poverty eradication and food security in Botswana. The concept is poised to unlock the potential of agriculture and consequently drive economic growth and poverty reduction. The aim is to break the barriers associated with the commercialization of innovative products in agribusiness. These barriers include the lack of financial and human capital, poor knowledge of the market as well as high costs of commercialization.
Q: In what ways is NARDI working to strengthen agricultural value chains in Botswana?
A: NARDI agricultural research and development initiatives focus on building the capacity of farmers to engage in markets providing them with tools and knowledge so that they can better understand the market potential and returns of their products.
NARDI recently completed value chain studies aimed at identifying the motivations and barriers for farmers, households, communities, and their agribusiness partners in participating within inclusive value chains. NARDI aims to create an enabling environment where farmers and agribusinesses work together towards the same goals: profitable and sustainable livelihoods and businesses.
This is envisaged to further empower farming communities to strengthen their roles in inclusive value chains through enhanced entrepreneurial and partnership mindsets.
Q: Are there sectors within agriculture that the institute is prioritizing for value chain development, and why?
A: The Botswana government has identified the agricultural sector as a key sector with great potential to diversify the economy and create employment, especially through the horticulture sub-sector.
To instigate an increase in vegetable crop production, the government has introduced the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy (IAS) program and imposed restrictions on the importation of several vegetable crops. NARDI is working on developing potatoes and tomatoes, which are vegetable crops with high demand and with import restrictions; this will in a way reduce the high import bill.