2018 Mandela Washington Fellow Tshinde Matos is using her background in biotechnology to increase food security and access to water resources in Africa. Currently a biotechnology student at the University of
Johannesburg in South Africa, Tshinde has dedicated much of her undergraduate career to the development of agricultural resources. She has experience working with a local NGO in her home country of Mozambique on food fortification projects and has conducted research on the development of alternative water resources, after being inspired to act during the water crisis in South Africa.
Jaleela Hassenally, a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow from Mauritius, met with Tshinde to hear her story and learn about her work. In this podcast, Tshinde discusses the food security landscape in Mozambique and the role youth can play in helping to create a strong agricultural sector. She emphasizes the importance of empowering young people to become passionate about agriculture and notes the impact gender inequality can have on food security and nutrition. Tshinde also offers advice to those who want to be positive forces of change in their communities and speaks to other YALI Network members who wish to be successful in the agricultural field.
“Let’s look at each other as brothers and sisters and let’s work together,” Tshinde said. “You need to understand that we’re not in competition, and the only way that we’re gonna rise is if we unite.”
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
YALI Voices Podcast: JALEELA HASSENALLY and TSHINDE MATOS
♪ Yes we can ♪ ♪ Sure we can ♪ ♪ Change the world ♪
JALEELA: Hello, young African leaders. Welcome to the YALI Voices podcast, your home for the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. My name is Jaleela Hassenally. I am a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow from Mauritius attending the Public Management Institute at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Thank you for joining us. I’m here with Tshinde Matos, a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow from Mozambique. Tshinde is currently a student at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, where she’s working on a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology. She also works on the development and deployment of alternative water sources for urban and rural communities.
Tshinde is passionate about translating science into innovative new opportunities for society and empowering youth and women by elevating educational standards in rural areas and enriching communities and creating a bright social, political and economic future through science and entrepreneurship.
Before we begin our conversation with Tshinde, don’t forget to subscribe to the YALI Voices podcasts on iTunes and Google Play, and visit yali.lab.dev.getusinfo.com to stay up to date on all things YALI.
JALEELA: Hi, Tshinde.
TSHINDE: Hi, Jaleela.
JALEELA: So, Tshinde, tell us a bit about yourself, about your growing up, about your childhood.
TSHINDE: Well, I am a biotechnologist. I’m currently pursuing the course at the University of Johannesburg. I intend to do my master’s in the same field, biotechnology. I had the privilege of working in food fortification efforts in Mozambique last year, where I worked with an NGO, which worked together with the government in order to increase food fortification efforts, so we worked in a large-scale food fortification project. I’m also working with research in alternative water research — sources at university, and this was mainly brought about because of the crisis of water that occurred in Cape Town. I’m not sure if you heard about it. I’m also very, very passionate about baking. That is like my first love, actually. I love baking, and, um, in the year 2016, I went through some financial difficulty because of my parents’ divorce, and I think that actually boosted my passion because I actually ended up turning my passion into a source of income.
Growing up in Mozambique — growing up in Mozambique has been a phenomenal experience. Mozambique is actually a very culturally diverse country, so it allows people to have a very open mind towards differences. This brings a very rich venture of experiences, and the outcome of this is just very beautiful. It’s visible and tangible in almost everything. You can see it in the food we eat and the spices that we use and the cultural attires, the traditional dances, you know, all this is just portrayed, and it’s just, it’s beautiful. It’s a mix of cultures that’s just very beautiful. So it was a wonderful experience. It is a wonderful experience growing up in Mozambique.
JALEELA: Tshinde, you were mentioning baking. What is your favorite cake to bake?
TSHINDE: Whoa! I don’t have one. Actually, I really like it when people come up with challenges, you know? Because what used to happen a lot is that people would come up to me and say, okay, so you’re baking, and I want a carrot cake with lemon orange cream, and I’ll be, sincerely I wouldn’t have an idea of how to make that. But because people, that was like what people demanded from me, I was forced to research and, you know, come up with the best recipe in order to satisfy my clients. So I don’t have a favorite cake to bake, but, yeah.
JALEELA: But biotechnology, who or what inspired you towards it?
TSHINDE: This is a very funny story. I actually didn’t want to be a biotechnologist. I didn’t want to be a biotechnologist because I didn’t know that biotechnology existed. So, my long-term, my dream was actually to be a doctor. What I wanted was to work, to join what I loved doing. I loved science. I loved helping people, and I wanted to join that, and I wanted to be a doctor. I applied to the medical faculty in a few South African universities. So, I applied to general medicine. I applied to dentistry. And I ended up getting accepted into dentistry.
So, when I went to register to dentistry, I got there, and I realized that’s not what I want, and I had to turn back to my brother, who came with me from Mozambique, all the way from Mozambique to register, and tell him, this is not what I want to be doing. And he looks at me like, oh, Tshinde, you can’t say this is not what you want to be doing because we moved all this way just for you to register, and I said, no, I don’t want to do this. I would like to choose another course. And he said, you can’t just apply now. I was like, let’s try. If I don’t manage, I will settle for it. But let’s just try and choose something else. I went through the brochure quickly, and I looked through things, and I saw nutrition, and I thought, hmm, I think I want to do this. I went to the nutrition faculty. We asked if we could actually do the whole exchange. They said, okay, what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna put you through some tests, and if you pass them, then you can change courses. I was like, okay, great. I did the tests. Fortunately I got in, and I did nutrition. I did nutrition for a year, but still I wasn’t — I loved it, and I was doing great, but I still wasn’t happy with it. I felt limited. I felt that by being a nutritionist, that’s all I would be, you know? That would be my whole life, I would just be a nutritionist. So I thought no, this is not it. So I went through the internet, and I saw biotechnology, and I saw that in biotechnology, you can, you know, be a nutritionist, you can — it’s very broad. You can be in nutrition. You can be in mining. You can be in environmental. And that’s what I wanted. I just didn’t want to be limited. But I also didn’t want to tell my parents that I wanted to change courses, because obviously they have already started investing in a whole year, and now I want to change, so I didn’t.
What happened that year is that my parents divorced. Because of our financial circumstances that we were put through, I had to change countries. When my mom came to speak to me about that and she told me that I might not be able to continue into my second year of school, or if I had to continue, I had to move closer to home because of my current financial conditions, I immediately thought, maybe I should apply for what I actually want to do, because this course is actually at the University of Johannesburg. So, I took the chance, and I applied to biotechnology. At the end of the year, my mom told me, you might not be able to go back to Cape Town. It’s too far. It’s too expensive. You have to stay closer to home. So, the following year, I actually went into biotechnology at the University of Johannesburg, which is much closer to home, and I’m here now, and very happy.
JALEELA: So, Tshinde, you’re interested in sustainable nutrition and food security. What do they mean?
TSHINDE: I think first it would be fair to start by saying that nutrition is a very essential drive of sustainable development in general. Food security is … basically just ensures that people have physical, social and economic access to sufficient and safe nutritious food, you know? And these foods need to meet their needs and preferences as well.
Now, sustainability in nutrition, this is a bit different because it’s not only important to produce in large quantities or in sufficient quantities or in adequate quality, but it’s also important to ensure that while doing this, we are, you know, catering and making sure that we look at our environment, you know, because it is important that we prevent our environment from being damaged so that we can continually produce this food. With that question, I actually wanted to address something that people usually get mixed up. I wanted to address the difference between food security and food safety. Food safety is more on preventing that the food that is produced through food security is contaminated or poisoned, so it is important to first focus on food security or that food is actually produced and available, and then touching on food safety. Yes.
JALEELA: And what are the issues around nutrition and food security in Mozambique?
TSHINDE: We have, we have a lot of issues. You know, production. The agricultural sector is so compromised because of the climatic conditions and mostly I’ll say because of the lack of education in that area. Because, you know, we could work, we could work around the climatic conditions, and this is where I feel like courses, scientific courses like my own course, biotechnology, come in hand, you know, because we study alternative sources, alternative ways of producing crops, and this can be implemented, and if we have the space to educate our society, maybe we could work past these difficulties that we have in our country.
JALEELA: Mm-hmm. Since you’re talking about alternative ways, what are some of the ways that you see science aiding in creating better nutrition?
TSHINDE: I believe that science needs to be in direct proportion to entrepreneurship. I think it’s very important to link this, too, because at times you find a problem in which you have a scientist which is very well equipped, and he has a lot of innovative ideas, but, you know, he just doesn’t have the platform to convert that into an entrepreneurial mindset and to actually generate profit from it. An idea has to be sustainable, you know? It has to be financially sustainable in the long run, and more scientists need to be equipped with these business skills, you know, so that these ideas can actually come into fruition quicker and so that they can last longer and, you know, so that these ideas can actually be expanded to more people.
And I think that the main key point in entrepreneurship is innovation, and that is what science is about. Science is about research. Science is about tackling a problem, solving a problem, and I think that that is what entrepreneurship should be about as well. And, yeah, so, ways in which this can be done. I have seen biotechnology, for example. I can give you examples in agriculture.
You know, biotechnology can boost agriculture by increasing the rates of productivity of a crop, by increasing the quality of the product, increasing the timeliness of the production, by doing all these things while promoting nutrition sustainability through decreasing environmental impacts still within biotechnology, you know? And it’s also not only to increase the quality, but this needs to go hand in hand with maintaining our resources, you know? Because if we increase production and we don’t increase the awareness in environment, we’re automatically going to run from one problem to another problem. So these things need to go hand in hand, and I feel like biotechnology has a lot of space in doing that.
Mozambique has a lot of problems with drought, you know? And we have a lot of problems with drought, and we don’t want to get to the point where we have land shortage, so why not use hydroponic systems? Hydroponic systems is a system that involves recycling of water, you know? Water is reused, and in times of crisis like these, you know, we don’t have to halt the agricultural system. So, and things such as the use of microbiomes instead of pesticides in plants, you know. We all know that pesticides cause certain diseases like cancer and others, but using microbiomes instead, which can be identified through biotechnologists or through biotechnology and other scientific courses, can just help boost the agricultural system.
But to do this, we need to be educated, and other individuals like myself and other people doing science need to pass on the message.
JALEELA: Brilliant. Tshinde. You also mentioned about how science should go together with entrepreneurship, you know. And more and more youth, more and more young people are going towards entrepreneurship. So, what role do you think that youth has to play in helping to create an environment for new innovations in food security and for a strong agricultural sector?
TSHINDE: I am actually an advocate for empowering the younger generation. It is my dream to create a club of agriculture. Why a club of agriculture? Because I feel like the younger generation can play a much bigger role than we’re playing right now, you know? I think we should teach them how to be passionate about agriculture. We should teach them to be passionate about the soil and nature, and I think with them, we can, you know, we can empower them in a different way that we weren’t ourselves, you know?
And I also think that gender equality can play a big role in this, you know? In Africa in a lot of rural areas, you find that women give priority to feeding their husbands or boys, you know. And they leave themselves out. They’ll say, I have to feed everyone in my household, and then I come to play. This is a problem. This is a problem because at the end of the day, we have to remember that women generate life.
I’m not emphasizing priority, a bigger priority in a woman’s life other than a man’s life, but I think it should be equal, because in these rural areas, you have to remember that it’s not … they don’t have enough food already, so if they prioritize only men and boys, and they don’t prioritize themselves, it’s most likely that they’re not eating. And if we’re not empowering the people who carry with them the future generation, what are we creating? What is coming? What are we doing to the future generation, you know?
JALEELA: So, would you say that the task should be concentrated on the elderly so that they may support the youth so that the youth may in turn contribute to food security and sustainable nutrition?
TSHINDE: No, actually, not really. I think that we should primarily, I think it works around a lot of aspects. I think there’s a lot of ways to go about it, but the way I would think would be best is first promoting gender equality, which is something that has to be tackled through very different areas, like the government is to come in hand. We have to work with our communities and things like that. But I think we need to, we need to, I think we need to, to work with women so that they can also empower their younger children, and not only address awareness in the agricultural sector to their, to their girls, but also to the boys. Treat them equally so that, you know, at the end of the day, the boys turn out into men that also will prioritize the women. So, I think we should start, we should target the younger generation. We need to have adequate nutrition to women so that they can pass on this adequate nutrition to their children, so that we decrease diseases that are caused by this inadequate nutrition. So that we decrease the rates of impaired growth in children, to decrease the rates of impaired brain functions. So that we can develop the country faster. So we decrease the rates of miscarriages due to lack of nutrients and etc., you know?
So, yeah, I think the youth needs to educate themselves or capacitate themselves to be able to capacitate the generation that comes before them.
JALEELA: You mentioned you were an advocate for youth empowerment. How exactly do you do that?
TSHINDE: I think I do it through myself, you know. I think I do it through myself. I try not to force my beliefs into people. Instead, what I do is do it, set the example, and show people that it works and encourage them to follow the same path. Not only encourage them to follow the same path, but guide them if they’re interested, you know. So, I feel like that’s how I do empower youth and the people around me.
JALEELA: And speaking of the youth, we find that less and less young people are going towards agriculture. Why would you think that is, and what is the message that you have to the youth with respect to this issue?
TSHINDE: This goes back to what we were talking about: education. It’s very simple. It starts in schools. We’re not emphasizing this enough. We’re not showing the youth the importance of doing this. Everybody is so focused in, you know, having an office and working indoors, and we just, we’re just not bringing up how relevant this is to the youth. It’s lack of awareness, that is it, it’s just simply lack of awareness.
JALEELA: And early on, you mentioned how entrepreneurship can be applied to science, right? What are the opportunities should someone consider this? A science student maybe who wants to be an entrepreneur and link his ideas to his own platform, creating a platform for him, especially if it’s a young person?
TSHINDE: Because we are, we, I see myself and other African individuals, we are mostly in developing countries, so there’s a lot that we still don’t have. There’s a lot that is still being implemented in other countries that is not being implemented in our very own countries, so there are a lot of opportunities out there, you know? And most of the times, you don’t even have to come up with a new scientifical concept. It’s just about, you know, learning from neighboring countries or learning from things that are already being applied in other countries and applying it in your own country.
JALEELA: What ideas do you have that you would like to share with the women listening to us?
TSHINDE: That is so difficult because, you know, it’s not just — because I’m talking specifically about women in rural areas, and they don’t really have a voice. It’s so difficult. Even if you go there and you explain the importance of agriculture and of, you know, feeding themselves, as a woman, yourself as a woman, if you have a household, you most likely give away what you have first and then think about yourself. It’s very hard. And this is where food security comes in place, and this is where the government comes in place, and this is where the people that are already equipped come in place. First we need to provide them with the knowledge of producing more, and then we can come in and talk about the importance of actually eating in equal proportions to everyone in the household, or everyone in the household having an adequate amount of nutrients that they have to take in. It’s really difficult. I’m not even sure I could, I could say to women specifically, but the women already in the agricultural sector, I would say empower other women.
JALEELA: Would you think community gardening or backyard gardening could help those women in rural areas to start with?
TSHINDE: They already do that. Most rural areas, they, that’s how they will, you know, obtain food, but that’s not enough, and that’s what I’m saying. That’s not enough. Sometimes you go, this happens a lot in Mozambique, you go to a rural area, and they will produce two or three vegetables, and that’s what they’ll eat throughout the whole year, but that’s not enough. That’s, there’s a lot, you have to consume proteins, you have to consume carbohydrates, you have to — it’s not just about producing, but it’s also about knowing what to produce, and for that, they need to be educated. And before they’re educated, you can’t really demand or expect a lot from them because they don’t know how to go about doing this. So I could send a message out to women already in the agricultural sector to say empower others to also produce, but it’s, yeah.
JALEELA: Do you know of any success story of a woman somewhere, not really, not just in Mozambique, maybe in South Africa, anywhere across Africa or somewhere you’ve come across through the internet, who did something phenomenal or something small that turned out to be something phenomenal, you know, with respect to food security and nutrition?
TSHINDE: Maybe not in food. I’m sure there are a lot of them. I’m sure there are plenty, but not in food, not in agriculture, not in agriculture and not in food, but in other areas, yes, definitely. And they surely are inspiring, because it doesn’t matter where you’re working, but if you start something small and you’re able to create something much bigger, it’s already inspiring, especially as a woman to other women.
JALEELA: And what advice can you give to others who want to be a force for positive change in their communities?
TSHINDE: The advice I would give is the advice that I was given. You know, when I started working, it’s so difficult to immediately see change. And sometimes you can get into a point of desperation where you can actually get to the point of giving up. What I want to say is don’t give up, because you don’t have to see change, but believe me, if you’re doing something good, it will generate change. If you go out and you do something good to someone, that person is most likely to be so overwhelmed by what you did to them that they will go home and they’ll do good to someone else. And that person will pass on the good deed, and this will create a virtuous cycle of good, so don’t give up.
JALEELA: For the young people who are waiting for a signal to be in agriculture, who are still having doubts, but they want to go for agriculture, you know, what message do you have for them?
TSHINDE: If you are passionate about it, do it. Follow your heart. Don’t, don’t follow the crowd, follow your heart. Do you and be you.
JALEELA: And what can YALI Network members learn from your experience? What would you advise YALI Network members who are interested in this type of work to do to be successful?
TSHINDE: Thus far, basically I don’t think it’s advice I would give to them. I think it’s something I’d say to all of us. Let’s look at each other as brothers and sisters and let’s work together. We are not — this is something that happens a lot in a lot of African countries. You need to understand that we’re not in competition, and the only way that we’re gonna rise is if we unite. And that’s what I want to say. That’s the message that I’d like to pass across. Let’s unite. Let’s do it together because that’s the only way we’re going to generate impactful change. I have, you know, I have this perception in life that there is no beautiful garden made out of one rose, you know.
If all roses blossom, we’ll have a much more beautiful garden, so let’s rise together. Let’s push each other up and create a better Africa for ourselves, so we can all live in peace together, you know. I think that’s the message I want to pass across.
JALEELA: Thank you, Tshinde.
TSHINDE: Thank you, Jaleela.
♪ Yes we can ♪ ♪ Sure we can ♪ ♪ Change the world ♪
JALEELA: Be sure to come back for more inspiring stories from young African leaders on the YALI Voices podcast. Join the YALI Network at yali.lab.dev.getusinfo.com and be part of something bigger. Our theme music is “E Go Happen” by Grace Jerry and produced by the Presidential Precinct.
The YALI Voices podcast is brought to you by the U.S. Department of State and is part of the Young African Leaders Initiative, which is funded by the U.S. government.