Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) Smart Village Initiative for Rural Development was commended for going to the very heart of the dilemma facing tertiary educational institutions in ensuring that their research findings, products and services transform rural livelihoods in a positive way. This was revealed by BIUST Vice Chancellor Professor Otlogetswe Totolo last week on Wednesday when addressing audience at the university’s public lecture on smart village initiative.
Totolo’s view was that BIUST research must be relevant, empathetic and responsive to challenges faced by rural communities, . “We must identify with, and feel the pain that our rural communities feel, and make every effort to uplift rural communities, this is why we have invited key stakeholders from the community, business and policymakers to be part of the conversation.”
He said using science, technology and innovation can turn the challenges into opportunities and find workable and marketable solutions to address them. “The smart village is one such initiative where BIUST, along with UB, BUAN and BITRI and the University of Toronto, Canada endeavour to take research and innovation to rural communities.”
BIUST has set up a Smart Village Committee and has roped in experts from Canada as their strategic partners in piloting a smart village. A smart village is a community in a rural area that uses innovative solutions to improve its resilience, building on local strengths and opportunities. The Committee has so far chosen Pilikwe and is in the process of identifying two other villages. It decided to pilot on villages that are around Palapye as it will be the BIUST staff and students who will be working on the solutions hand in hand with the community. The successful piloting coupled with translation to other villages has tremendous opportunities for rural development in Botswana. It can also create vast opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship. The Committee invited Dr Arun Chockalingam and Dr V. Lakshmanan from University of Toronto to share their experiences on the Smart Village.
Chairperson of the Smart Village Committee, Professor Patricia Masego Makepe explained that their initial plan is to engage with the community in and around Palapye and identify priority issues for research. She added that then they will rank them in order of importance and focus their efforts more on where the need is required the most. “We want the villages to be more attractive so that people who reside in villages should not leave for towns. So in finding solutions to community problems using science to solve them then we can add value to the communities.” She added that with their technology they can identify a product, then create an arts and crafts section at BIUST souvenir shop to expose the product to better markets. “And through our partnership they can help us using digital technology to market these local products abroad. So, when a customer in Canada sees this product and makes an online order, then we can alert the lady in the village to make the product as per the purchase order.” Makepe added that the concept extends even to agriculture to assist farmers experiencing difficulties in selling their products. She said their students can develop mobile apps which can help the farmers to get better access to markets without physically leaving their farms. “ So there is a lot that we can do with science and technology that we re not currently exploiting. Our idea as a smart village is for the communities to feel the impact immediately.”
Dr Arun Chockalingam lectured on the necessity for public health approaches to enhance the quality of life of people in villages and how to empower them to deal with ongoing and emerging epidemics. “Botswana is moving towards double burden of unfinished agenda of control of HIV/AIDS and the growing epidemic of chronic diseases.Botswana s health system should place greater emphasis on the detection of hypertension at early stages and create awareness programmes for both the general population and health personnel with respect to the detection, treatment and control of hypertension. “If we take responsibility for our health, then we can live longer. We should make healthier choices of eating in moderation and avoiding processed foods.” He said putting up telemedicine technology in the villages will allow health care professionals to evaluate, diagonise, and treat patients at a distance. “This will will help in remote chronic disease management and remote post-hospitalization care.Primary health care is an important element for any village to be “smart” and self sufficient.” Dr V. Lakshmanan said their vision of a smart village is to eliminate the growing divide between urban and rural by creating a connected ecosystem with information and knowledge resulting in economic connectivity while retaining the traditional skills and cultural identity. “The reality is that when implemented the smart village will serve as a customizable and measurable model for other smart village developments.”