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A Step Closer To Transformer Insects



In a world that’s embracing new technology, inspiration is being found in bug behaviour. The hard-bodied dung beetle is now key to robotics research, in Africa too.

Under a scorching African sun in the Kalahari Desert, 70kms outside Vryburg, a town situated in the North West Province of South Africa, researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits in South Africa) and Lund University, Sweden, monitor the movements of a dung beetle in windy conditions.

The insect, with a rotund body and metallic luster, resembling a miniature cyborg, is expertly rolling away a ball of dung, oblivious to the gaze of science.

The researchers aim to explore more about what influences the dung beetle’s movements.

They find that it uses visual cues such as the sun, polarized light, color gradients, intensity gradients in the sky, and even the Milky Way, as external reference points.

The insect uses the sun as a direction tool but what happens after dusk? The researchers find that in windy conditions, the dung beetle switches from using the sun as a navigator to using the wind.

Astounded by this discovery early this year is Marcus Byrne, one of the researchers from Wits.

Marcus Byrne, one of the researchers from Wits. Picture: Supplied

Having studied dung beetles for over 20 years, he believes that this new knowledge from a tiny being could influence the bigger world of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.

“We have gone from massively complicated to as simple as possible, using insects as a model,” he says.

In Byrne’s office at Wits, dozens of dung beetle replicas sit on his bookshelf that’s also heaving with thick volumes and encyclopedias on entomology.

A large poster of a dung beetle, almost in flight, hangs on a wall. To tech geeks and film buffs used to the sci-fi genre, this would look more like a still from the Transformers movie series.

Byrne excitedly scavenges for an apparatus used to illustrate how the dung beetle’s brain works.

The insect has a navigation feature, such as switching from the sun to the wind, and an orientation feature that Byrne explains in detail.

Orientation means the dung beetle is able to maintain its body in a straight line to a specific direction, whilst navigation means that it is able to know where it is, relative to something else.

Being able to switch between the two is an amazing skill for insect life to have, according to Byrne.

Some dung beetles can operate with one of the systems while others can operate with both.

For Byrne, the dung beetle species the researchers worked on was only able to use its system of orientation.

“What makes this feature of the dung beetle key to researchers and robotics, is that unlike other insects such as the bee, the dung beetle does not need to be trained to do an experiment,” he says.

“She will just roll the ball if you put the dung ball down. And if she is in the mood, she will roll that ball,” he says.

When a dung beetle is in searching mode, it uses its sense of smell to find the dung.

After the dung is found, it rolls it up into a ball and then switches to a visual system to recognize the ball.

“It switches its brain from smell to vision. And we think that that’s because it has a very limited set of neurons. It probably has less than a million neurons in its brain.”

The dung beetle, despite the size of its brain, can process information and decide which sensor to use.

“They are scanning the horizon to look for a large dark object against the horizon and that’s probably a ball, and you could teach a robot to do that,” adds Byrne.

“What you have is a compass with a fallback system that if one cue is not available, another one can be incorporated and if all of the visual cues fail, it still has a mechanical cue,” he says.

In this way, Byrne suggests, it could aid in the development of robots and AI.

“This is the sort of thing that the air force, GPS and anyone who wants to orientate across the planet, [would] want their machines to be able to do,” he says.

“What if the power goes off and what if the battery goes flat or someone shoots down the satellite? Now, you have a natural full-proof system that does not require any external energy inputs, it just uses the signals in nature.

“This is what we can learn from insects, you can solve what appears to be a complex problem by actually having a very simple set of rules,” he says.

Learning from the beetle brain

The dung beetle has a miniscule brain, with less than a million neurons, when compared to the brain of a human being which has over 100 billion neurons.

But despite this, the beetle is still able to use its neurons to process two different sets of inputs at the same time, and can pick from a wide array of inputs to complete a task at any given time.

“It can choose between the polarized light input and the sun input using the same neuron, it just codes the information in a different way,” Byrne says.

When it reads polarized light, the spikes in the neurons are a different pattern from when it reads sunlight.

“This is also dead cool because you have limited computing power and you don’t have to build a new transistor or a new wire or a new gateway for this information.

“You can use the same communicating system. You just code the information differently.

“It is very difficult to convince even an intelligent computer what is the most important piece of information it needs to deal with at any given time,” he says.

After learning about Byrne and his work on dung beetles from an online article, another professor from Wits was interested to see how they could collaborate.

Benjamin Rosman is a principal researcher at Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa’s capital Pretoria with a focus on machine learning, AI, robotics and automation.

Benjamin Rosman principal researcher at Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. Picture: Supplied

He also spends his time lecturing at Wits teaching bright-eyed students about the world of robotics, something he is passionate about.

“Robotics and AI have a long history and relationship with understanding living organisms,” Rosman says.

He grew up interested in making computer games but later found AI and robotics much more intriguing.

Now, he believes that the world of robotics has a thing or two to learn from insects.

“On the one hand, you can look at insects to solve robotics’ problems and it’s a general thing we do in AI because there’s already a proof of concept. Living creatures can do intelligent things,” Rosman says.

Robots can be built from understanding the way the insect brain works,  for example, the artificial neuron networks Byrne mentioned earlier.

But the roles too can be reversed where these robots can help humans understand insects.

“So you can study these natural phenomena to get a better idea of how to build robots or systems or solve problems, and the flip side of that is you can build robots that help you understand the natural phenomena,” Rosman says.

Insects saving lives?

With modern inventions such as self-driving cars at the cusp of commodification, the word ‘autonomous’ is on everyone’s minds.

Byrne believes that insects such as the dung beetle also have a say in this.

But, forget self-driving cars, Byrne believes learning from the dung beetle could also potentially save lives.

He explains how this could work in a life-threatening situation.

If a robot is programmed to navigate and orientate like the dung beetle, it could do so autonomously if sent into a building that is burning.

The robot would be able to maneuver around the building, find people and alert where the humans are trapped in the building even without being programmed.

“It’s a life-saving device that even if it gets burned in the building, it is not a big deal,” Byrne says.

On another continent, a researcher from Scotland created robots inspired by insects.

 Barbara Webb, a professor of robotics at the University of Edinburgh, has been studying insect behavior to build robots for over 10 years.

Barbara Webb, a professor of robotics at the University of Edinburgh. Picture: Supplied

“Recently, we focused on navigation behavior in insects; so how ants and bees are able to get back to their nests. They started by keeping track of how fast they have moved in each direction and so we have a few hypotheses on how they do that and what brain mechanism is behind that,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

By studying the insects’ brains, she and her team were able to implement and test out the theories they had and built a robot that used a similar mechanism.

One of the robots they built was made of wheels, a mobile phone and mirrors to keep track of their navigation and recognize a route to detect familiarity.

“Insects typically have 360-degree vision and so we try to copy that by having a mirror near the camera to have that kind of 360-degree view,” she says.

“The main reason we are interested in looking at them is because they have managed to do this kind of behavior such as navigation with very small brains, and if you compare that to self-driving cars, which has had very successful research now, but they depend on having very complicated, very detailed sensing, lots of information about the maps of the world that they are moving in and very high degrees of computing, and yet none of them are available to the insect but they still manage to get around very well,” she says.

Is it a bug, robot or cyborg?

The material environment has always taken inspiration from insects and animals.

Biomimicry, as it is called, is an innovative approach to the design and production of materials, structures and systems modeled on biological entities.

Some examples can be seen in modern-day inventions such as the bullet train, inspired by the kingfisher, or wind turbines modeled after humpback whales, and the list goes on.

But an entrepreneur and multi-disciplinary artist in the United States has taken biomimicry to a whole new level.

Ever seen a cyborg-looking-beetle with machine-made parts looking like something out of a sci-fi film?

Cyborg-looking-beetle by Mike Libby. Picture: Supplied

Well, Mike Libby, founder of Insect Lab Studio in Maine, incorporates this form of aesthetics to his contemporary designs.

He customizes preserved insect specimens with mechanical components, to create art that illustrates science-fiction.

His journey began when he found a dead beetle, dissected it and incorporated into it with watch parts and gears making it look like something out of a Transformers film.

“There are a lot of different things in science fiction and there are a lot of things in real science that create context for this type of work to develop,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

He collects beetles from licensed dealers all over the world, including Africa.

One of the beetles he has collected is the African flower beetle that feeds from the pollen and nectar of flowers. Its biological name is Cetonidae/Eudicella Gralli Orientalis and is 3.5 inches wide.

Libby customized this beetle with his own idea of an exoskeleton, giving it brass and steel parts, gears, a crown, springs, screws, watch jewel, pulley and belt.

Today, he sells these pieces for $500 to over $8,500 to clients all over the world.

Cetonidae/Eudicella Gralli Orientalis created by Mike Libby. Picture: Supplied

“Just a couple of weeks ago, I sold a small beetle to a gentleman in France whose wife’s birthday was coming up and I think that’s where 50% to 60% of the gifts end up, as special gifts,” he says.

He has also created art using crabs and lobsters.

If he can do this using dead bugs and broken technology, imagine what the next few years could be with moving AI, robotics and living insects?

Perhaps we are closer than we think to living in a world with one of the Transformers’ contraptions next door.

Africa’s dung idea

There are about 800 species of dung beetles in South Africa alone, and a wider variety of them on the rest of the continent.

With all this wealth of insects and diversity on our content, it is safe to say that Africa is at a higher advantage than most to develop technological solutions from the natural environment.

With AI and the fourth industrial revolution on the rise, Africa should have clear advantage to merge AI, robotics and insects.

Rosman believes the same.

“I think we have a lot of opportunity here. In the research space, we are always looking for what are the advantages of being in Africa. And I think one of the things we can think about is this kind of natural diversity,” he says.

“The diversity of animals we have here is another big strength which can come into the way we think about machines doing intelligent things.”

Therefore, for Africa to get ahead, ideally, we need to leapfrog into such technologies.

However, there are challenges.

“There’s the technical challenges of how do we build these systems that can work in those kind of ways. Then there are questions around how it interacts with our politics, particularly the unemployment situation,” Rosman says.

The big question, Rosman says is: “Should we be spending government money on building autonomous dung beetles?”

However, the plus side of such innovative tech is the potential it has to encourage young Africans to get involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

It is important to educate and inform the masses on such trends and how it could enhance our daily lives.

As tech advances, it is possible that we will live in an autonomous world where we don’t have to tell our tech what to do, it will already know what to do and when.

“That’s the world we want to live in, that our technology helps us without us even having to think about it… and I think that’s the kind of thing we could get more easily by studying how animals and insects interact in these kinds of ways,” Rosman says.

Dung may be the currency for the beetle, but maybe the beetle can be the currency for our technology.

With the natural environment at our finger tips, Africa may just have the potential the world has never seen before, thanks to a small, unassuming, rotund insect with a steely resolve.

The Power Of Rolling Stones

In the 1960s, dung beetles from South Africa were introduced in Australia to help improve the quality and fertility of cattle and reduce the population of flies that feed off cattle dung.

The African dung beetle was also introduced in North and South America for the same reason.

Dung beetles assist with nutrient recycling, aeration, soil penetration and pest control.

“They are massively important in any agricultural economy,” Byrne says, adding that the value of dung beetles is in the billions as they play a crucial role in natural and agricultural ecosystems.

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How LinkedIn Is Looking To Help Close The Ever-Growing Skills Gap





As the job market has evolved, so too have the skills required of seekers. But when 75% of human resources professionals say a skills shortage has made recruiting particularly challenging in recent months, it would appear as though the workforce hasn’t quite kept pace. Now LinkedIn is stepping in to help close the gap.

On Tuesday, the professional social network announced the launch of a “Skills Assessments” tool, through which users can put their knowledge to the test. Those who pass are given the opportunity to display a badge that reads “passed” next to the skill on their profile pages, a validation of sorts that LinkedIn hopes will encourage skills development among its users and help better match potential employees with the right employers.  

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“We see an evolving labor market and much more sophistication in how recruiters and hiring managers look for skills. … We also see a changing learning market,” says Hari Srinivasan, senior director of product management at LinkedIn Learning. “The combination of those two made us excited about changing our opportunity marketplace to make the hiring side and the learning side work better together.”

So how exactly does it work? Let’s say a user wants to showcase her proficiency in Microsoft Excel. Rather than simply listing “Excel” in the skills section of her profile, she can take a multiple-choice test to demonstrate the extent to which she is an expert.

If she aces the test, not only will a badge verifying her aptitude will appear on her profile, but she will be more likely to surface in searches by recruiters, who can search for candidates by skill in the same way they might do so by college or employer. If she fails, she can take the test again, but she’ll have to wait a few months—plenty of time to develop her skillset.   

The tool has been in beta mode since March, and while just 2 million people have used it—a mere fraction of LinkedIn’s 630 million members—early results seem promising. According to LinkedIn, members who’ve completed skills assessments have been nearly 30% more likely to land jobs than their counterparts who did not take the tests.

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“This has been a really good way for members to represent what they know, what they are good at,” says Emrecan Dogan, LinkedIn group product manager.

While new to LinkedIn, the practice of assessing candidates’ skills has been a standard among hiring managers for decades. But when research commissioned by LinkedIn revealed that 69% of employees feel that skills have become more important to recruiters than education, LinkedIn felt as though this was the time to give job seekers the opportunity to prove themselves from the get-go.

As important as the hard skills that members can put to the test through LinkedIn’s new tool may be, Dawn Fay, senior district president at recruiting firm Robert Half, encourages those on both side of the job search not to forget the importance of soft skills. “You wouldn’t want to rule somebody in or out just based on how they did on one particular skill assessment,” she says.

“Have another data point that you can use, question people about how they did on something and see if it’s something that can feed into the puzzle to find out if somebody is going to be a good fit.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market





While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.

The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.

This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.

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“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”

The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership

The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.

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The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.

In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”

Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.

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“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.

So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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No Seat At The Global Table For Indigenous African Cuisine



Gastronomic tourism based on African food could easily increase and create new value chains that unlock billions in untapped wealth for the continent, but what is stopping us?

Food and tourism are an integral part of most economies, globally. Food is undeniably a core part of all cultures and an increasingly important attraction for tourists. To satisfy their wanderlust, contemporary tourists require an array of experiences that include elements of education, entertainment, picturesque scenery and culinary wonders.  The link between food and tourism allows destinations to develop local economies; and food experiences help to brand and market them, as well as supporting the local culture and knowledge systems.

 This is particularly important for rural communities, where 61% of sub-Saharan Africans live, according to the World Bank last year. These communities have often felt the brunt of urbanization, which has resulted in a shift away from rural economies. If implemented effectively, Africa could get a piece of the gastronomic tourism pie, which was worth $8.8 trillion last year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

World-renowned chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu and author of her self-published cookbook, Through the Eyes Of An African Chef. Picture: Motlaban Monnakgotla

However, there is currently very little public information to pique the interest of tourists about African food. World-renowned South African chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu sought to remedy this with her self-published cookbook, Through the Eyes Of An African Chef.

“I think where it was very clear to me that I needed to do something was when I went to cooking school. I trained at Christina Martin School of Food and Wine. I thought I was actually going to get training on South African food and, somehow, I assumed we were talking indigenous food.

 “I was shocked that we went through the whole year’s curriculum and we didn’t cover anything that I ate at home; we didn’t cover anything that my first cousins, who are Sotho, ate in Nelspruit (in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province); we didn’t cover anything that would come from eSwatini, which is where my mother is from,” Mqwebu says.

By self-publishing, she has ultimately contributed to a value chain that has linked local food producers and suppliers, which includes agriculture, food production, country branding and cultural and creative industries.

“I am a member of Proudly South African, not only my business, but the book as well. Part of the reason is that the cookbook was 100% published in South Africa. So, everybody who worked on the cookbook, and printing, was all in South Africa, which is something quite rare these days because authors have their books published abroad.”

The Proudly South African campaign is a South African ‘buy local’ initiative that sells her cookbook on their online platform as its production adheres to the initiative’s campaign standards. Self-publishing has allowed Mqwebu to promote her book for two years and to directly communicate with her audience in a way she thought was best, while exposing her to a vast community of local networks. She recalls her first step towards creating her own body of work.

Amadumbe gnocchi. Picture: Nompumelelo Mqwebu and Nicole Louw Photography

“I was in culinary school when I wrote the recipe for amadumbe (potato of the tropics) gnocchi. We were making gnocchi and I thought, ‘so why aren’t we using amadumbe because it’s a starch?’ and when I tasted it, I thought, ‘this could definitely work’. I started doing my recipes then.

 “And there was talk about, ‘we don’t have desserts as Africans’. I did some research and found we ate berries, we were never big on sugar to begin with. That’s why I took the same isidudu (soft porridge made from ground corn) with pumpkin that my grandmother used to make and that became my dessert. “I also found that when I went to libraries looking for indigenous recipes, I couldn’t really find something that spoke to me as a chef. I found content that looked like history books. It was not appealing. It was not something, as a chef, I could proudly present to another chef from a different part of the world, so I knew I had to write my book,” Mqwebu says about the award-winning recipe book that chronicles African cuisine.

Isidudu (soft porridge made from ground corn) with pumpkin. Picture: Nompumelelo Mqwebu and Nicole Louw Photography

Financial and health benefits

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, in 2018, the tourism sector “contributed 319 million jobs, representing one in 10 of all jobs globally and is responsible for one in five of all new jobs created in the world over the last five years. It has increased its share of leisure spending to 78.5%, meaning 21.5% of spending was on business.”

To narrow in on how lucrative food can be, the World Food Travel Association estimates that visitors spend approximately 25% of their travel budget on food and beverages. The figure can get as high as 35% in expensive destinations, and as low as 15% in more affordable destinations. “Confirmed food lovers also spend a bit more than the average of 25% spent by travelers in general.”

However, there is a widely-held view that the African continent is not doing enough to maximize its potential to also position itself as a gastronomic tourism destination, using its unique edge of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS).

“We are not a culinary destination and we will never be while we are still offering pasta as the attraction for our tourists,” Mqwebu says.

Dr George Sedupane, who is the Coordinator of the Bachelor of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems program in South Africa’s North-West University, echoes Mqwebu’s sentiments.

“I often cringe when I go to conferences and there are guests from all over the world and we serve them pasta. Why would they come from Brazil to eat pasta here? They can have pasta in Italy. Why don’t we serve them umngqusho (samp and beans)?

Umngqusho (samp and beans). Picture: Nompumelelo Mqwebu and Nicole Louw Photography

“We need to be creating those experiences around our culture. We are failing to capitalize on our strengths. There is a lack of drive to celebrate what we have,” says Sedupane, who also teaches modules and supervises research in indigenous health and nutrition.

Writer and historian Sibusiso Mnyanda says current innovations in African food technology are born out of necessity, rather tourism and cultural ambitions.

“Food security is becoming an issue that is leading to IKS around farming being prioritized. In Nigeria, they are innovating dry season farming, because of deforestation and soil being de-cultivated. 

“So those indigenous knowledge strategies are being used in countries where it is a necessity and where there are enough advances related to the fourth industrial revolution. The traditional ways of producing food are not only much more organic, they are also crop-efficient,” Mnyanda says.

Nigeria may have inadvertently innovated a health solution related to colon cancer through its diet. Sedupane tells FORBES AFRICA an anecdote.

“There was a study where the colons of an African country that did not consume a lot of meat was compared to Europeans. The Africans had a much better profile as a result and there are people who want to buy African stool to get that kind of rich bacteria, that you get on an African plant-based diet.”

Dr George Sedupane, who is the Coordinator of the Bachelor of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Picture: Supplied

The study Sedupane is referring to was conducted in Nigeria and it states that: “Nigeria showed the average annual incidence of colorectal cancer was 27 patients per year. This shows that even if it seems that incidence rates are increasing in Nigeria, such rates are still about one-tenth of what is seen in the truly developed countries.”

In a bid to find reasons for this rarity of colon and rectal cancer, the study concluded that, among other reasons, the protective effects of Nigeria’s starch-based, vegetable-based, fruit-based, and spicy, peppery diet, and geographical location which ensures sunshine all year round, played a role in the country’s colon health.

Interestingly, it seems the potential value of African food could not only be based on what goes in but what also comes out as healthy faecal matter is big business globally. In 2015, The Washington Post published that one could potentially earn $13,000 a year selling their poop. 

The American-based company OpenBiome has been processing and shipping frozen stool to patients who are very sick with infections of a bacteria called C.difficile. It causes diarrhea and inflammation of the colon, leaving some sufferers house-bound. “Antibiotics often help, but sometimes, the bacteria rears back as soon as treatment stops. By introducing healthy faecal matter into the gut of a patient (by way of endoscopy, nasal tubes, or swallowed capsules), doctors can abolish C. difficile for good… And yes, they pay for healthy poop: $40 a sample, with a $50 bonus if you come in five days a week. That’s $250 for a week of donations, or $13,000 a year,” the publication stated.

Sedupane is of the view that a diet which includes indigenous foods could vastly improve one’s quality of life.

He says small changes could be made, such as including more of indigenous greens, namely sorghum and millet, to breakfast. The grains are gluten-free and produce alkaline which boosts the pH level of fluids in the body and reduces acidity.

Moringa fruit which is an African superfood. Picture: Getty Images

“Moving to our legumes, we have indlubu (Bambara groundnut) which is very rich and helps in the secretion of serotonin in the brain. This so important nowadays with the increase of depression. It’s easy to digest, and is great for cholesterol and moderating blood sugar,” Sedupane says.

 Mnyanda is also of the view that food is imperative to health and medicinal properties. He says traditional healers primarily use natural herbs in their practice. “These are used in pain relief and healing. Things like cannabis, camphor, African potatao and red carrots. So, food is not just used for nutritional purposes.”

Other African superfoods include, Baobab fruit, Hibiscus, Tamarind, Kenkiliba, Amaranth, Moringa and pumpkin leaves. 

Cultural and historical benefits

Gastronomic tourism also includes the promotion of heritage sites that are known to revolve around dishes that are of historic importance. They enhance the travel experience, they encourage the acquisition of knowledge and a cultural exchange.

There is a unanimous view that vast amounts of knowledge have been lost to history and there is a huge knowledge gap in African societies as a result of colonization and urbanization.

“Part of the colonial agenda was to make sure food security did not belong to indigenous groups. Therefore, archiving of these knowledge systems was not a priority. Especially during industrialization, where people moved from their villages to the city you found that the knowledge got left behind,” Mnyanda says.

Abathwa (the San people) hunting. Picture: Getty Images

He offers a contemporary example of how modernization continues to push African practices to the fringes: “To this day, abathwa (the San people) hunt their meat, but you find that because of changing agricultural practices and land reform on the Kruger National Park, they are being forced to move into the cities and industrial areas, therefore they are no longer able to practice their culture of hunting. As a result, their diet is changing.” Sedupane shares the view that the fundamentals of farming and astrology have also been exiled from public knowledge.

“The fundamentals of IKS were based on the understanding of the laws of nature – how and when things were done. Harvest cycles were linked with understanding astrology. They would not harvest until certain stars were visible in the sky. There was a dependence on nature.

“With industrialization, rather than working with nature, humans are seen as being above, as controlling, as directing it. The natural cycle is often tempered with rather than trying to work with it.”

Not all is lost however. There are historical practices that have stood the test of time and continue to be a part the few foods that are internationally associated with South Africa. Mqwebu says that, “historically, we ate more plants than meat because our ancestors had to hunt and the game back then was not tame. So, there were no guarantees that you would return with meat. And that’s where things like umqwayiba (biltong) come from. They had to preserve the meat, because wasting was not part of the culture”.

Umqwayiba (biltong). Picture: Getty Images

According to a 2015 exploratory research project conducted under the guidance of research institute Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society director Professor Melville Saayman, biltong contributes more than R2.5 billion ($163 million) to the South African economy.

Perhaps, like the faecal transporting company, Africa will soon realize the ‘wasted’ opportunity and that there is loads of money to be made in gastronomic tourism for all its inhabitants, whether they are rural or urban, technological or indigenous.

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