The implementation of the Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) Fund is expected to breathe life into stifled startups in the innovation sector that have over the years been challenged by lack of funding. Minister for Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr Alfred Madigela last week urged the newly elected Botswana Innovation Fund Committee members to hit the ground running in ensuring that they commit the first grants during the current financial year. The committee that consists of members nominated from academia, business, private and public sector include; Prof David Norris of the University of Botswana, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, Dr George Matllho of the Botswana Vaccine Institute and Oteng Sebonego of NORSAD.
Members of the committee have a crucial oversight role in the Fund’s establishment and implementation, while BIH will serve as the secretariat. The purpose of the special fund is to support entrepreneurs by providing grand funding to deserving projects in the innovation space. According to Dr Madigela, funding of innovation has become a pre-requisite to achieving the solutions and products that are beneficial to society. “Government is spearheading the drive to use innovation as a trajectory for economic growth. To this end the establishment of the Innovation Fund would assist to close the gap in early stage financing for key projects of national importance,” Dr Madigela said at the launch of the Fund Committee.
Government has set aside an amount of P12 million to be used for funding projects in the current financial year. The grants call, according to Dr Madigela shall be accessed through competitive calls advertised to the public to allow submission of proposals. “We have put in place robust governance framework to allow evaluation and awards from this Fund. The oversight committee is the main structure that will ensure delivery on the objectives of the Fund,” Dr Madigela said. The Fund’s grant scheme is expected to follow an annual plan approved for implementations each year with agreed set targets. The criteria for funding shall take into consideration several factors including; intellectual property, sustainability and social impact.
In addition, the Fund’s guidelines will provide details of eligible and non-eligible costs. Companies registered with the BIH are advised to heed the call when the first call for proposals for funding of competitive innovation projects is made soon. According to Madigela, the turnaround times for submission will vary but ideally it should be between four to six weeks, for example, from submission of full application to receiving feedback. Upon awards, the grants disbursements shall be based on milestones.
Funding framework addresses: Gap closing support initiatives; Innovation funding Procurement of innovative products and services Facilitating venture capital and angel funding networks Crating an appetite for investments into new innovative solutions from the corporate entities and general public Cultivating a spirit of innovation in the nation
Botswana Railways hit by fuel theft
Botswana Railways lost fuel business due to continuous incidents of stolen fuel from the tanks and delays mainly at Mafikeng, in the north Western side of South Africa.
Botswana Railways Chief Executive Officer Leonard Makwinja said, during 2017/2018, their biggest failure was in this area. “Our biggest failure in this aspect was on imports, transporting of fuel from South Africa proved to be a challenge.
There have been incidents of fuel loss on tankers, sometimes a delay in Mafikeng when trains changed and when it arrives in Botswana the tank would be half empty, “said Makwinja. He said this was worsened by allegations that road transportation was cheaper. Currently, they have employed a fuel consultant to look into the whole fuel transportation. “We believe a solution will be found soon.”
The BR Chief explained they heavily rely on the relationship with Transnet to successfully execute its freight mandate. Most of the imports through rail come from South Africa and the main export through rail which is salt and soda ash is transported from Botash to Mafikeng. “Going onwards we have to depend on Transnet for connections to the respective destinations. Our strategic plan going forward is to improve our services to the oil companies so that we are more reliable, timely and profitable.”
During the period, Makwinja said they had to focus on cost containment. The main cost drivers are staff cost, fuel and maintenance of the locomotives. In his statement on Botswana Railways 2018 annual report, Makwinja said the organization’s performance was subdued due to lack of capacity to meet the demand. “In terms of tonnage, our target was 2 million tons but we only achieved 1, 5 million tons. This adverse variance can be attributed to a number of factors including lack of sufficient locomotives and practicing conservative business initiatives and marketing,” he said.
Calls to improve crop yields with technology
Greenhouse Technologies managing director, Amanda Masire has urged entrepreneurs to venture into agriculture as it is a lucrative business and more beneficial to the national economic development, despite climate change challenges.
Speaking to Business Trends, Masire said there is a need for more training and knowledge on modern agriculture technologies for the country to have sustainable food production. “I am passionate about agriculture and food production. I want to help my country to produce food for itself and reduce dependency on imports. I have learnt that despite all the challenges of climate change, we can still produce our own food through the use of modern technologies,” said Masire.
Masire is an agri-business developer, specializing in horticulture, beekeeping and fish farming. She currently operates Greenhouse Farmers Academy offering training and mentorship on horticulture farming. “Agriculture is the most lucrative business that young people should be looking into. Currently, we depend much on South Africa. We should rise up and develop the sector because as Batswana we have rich land that we are not utilising.” Her services include horticulture starter kit, which includes business plans, lessons, fertilisers and all equipments necessary for a particular horticulture project.
She is currently working with the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Security to develop the ISPAAD Program. She said government would embrace modern farming technologies to improve food production. “Most Batswana have lands which they are currently not ploughing because of climate change conditions while the government gives out fertilizers and seeds every year to subsistence farmers yet there is no yield. I have come up with solutions, which include testing soil and supplying lime treatment to reduce acidity. This will help improve crop yield when adopted with other technologies,” she said.
Speaking during Stanbic Lionness Lean In Africa, Masire said with the challenges in the agriculture sector, Batswana should stop looking much into the problems and getting discouraged but should rather think of solutions. “Government is trying but we individuals also need to be innovative and assist government in improving food security. Young people should take opportunity of the agri-business market and reduce unemployment,” said Masire.
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