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DigiTalk: Mango Innovation

DigiTalk: Mango Innovation

The song among certain folks in Brisbane is “we love braaivleis, Mrs Balls Chutney, and Packo ….” I really do admire the Aussies. While the Chinese may copy and commoditise innovation, the Aussies simply improve on ideas and concepts, big time.

They have an ambition to develop the world’s most productive mango tree, with several constraints, one of which is the tree must be short. As a bantam, I salute and support this. And so it is that as you drive down Queensland’s highways, during summer, you will find beautiful mango trees laden with mangoes. And there appear to be no takers for the fruit!

I was in Australia on an academic trip, with several colleagues, including my erstwhile travel mate, Nicole Muller. Nicky and I carefully, though a little enviously, studied innovation and knowledge systems during the day and engaged with Aussie beer a little carelessly at night.

We South Africans are in the hunt for the World Cup cricket title. The Aussies are looking for the Tasmanian Devil. As the latter seemed easier to find, we went to Tasmania to try to help, and we had a meeting with the University of Tasmania. We ended up in gorgeous Hobart which, alas, was on the wrong side of this island. But to me there is no such thing as a challenge – it is only opportunity – and so it was that we were rewarded, with the most magnificent scenic three-hour drive to the University of Tasmania. No Tasmanian Devil throughout, I am afraid, although we discovered paradise on earth with Nicky proving to be an able navigator.

Feeling homesick towards the end of the trip, my now ex-friend Nicky and her colleagues decided to visit our 12th province, Western Australia, where Perth is home to many a displaced South African. They simply abandoned me in Queensland. This is the story of my life – great friendship and then abject solitude.

Lonely, I decided to visit expatriates Kishore and Bharti Singh, who I consider academic refugees. They moved to Australia because they wanted to feel good about themselves as academics. Actually they feel so much better about themselves that they both ditched the tedious titles of Mrs and Mr for the unisex titles of Dr and Dr. The Doctors took me around Brisbane or Brissy (as they say) and I saw the mango trees on the traffic islands which the Brissy folk are growing experimentally.

I was on one of the trees in a flash! Not one but two cars slowed down, gave me a huge friendly hoot, and asked “where in Durban are you from!” I kid you not. My generation of Durbanites spent a good deal of our youth up in the trees, did we not?

So, why mangoes? Well let’s use the lowest common denominator – what is the tree that will grow that will do well in climatic Queensland? Who loves this tree so much that they will want to research it for personal, professional and ancestral pride?

What cultures and trees do we have to engender research that will create and sustain economic growth? By this I mean the entire value chain, not least the environmental, that is, plant extracts, fruit harvests, and then the recycling aspect. The success of the rooibos plant comes to mind. What can we do with the baobab tree? The carissa, or as we know it, the “mutton-gulla”? The curry leaf tree thrives in KwaZulu-Natal. How can we grind this and preserve the flavour for export nationally and internationally?

Like chess, the trick is to see what pieces you have on the board and maximise your return. Leverage the person, his culture and his pride for the selfish reason of nation-building.
When I retire I will study pickles. I know we Durbanites make better pickle then anybody in the world. Please learn from your parent how to do this before it is too late. Be warned, however, and just so you know, a major cause of gout in India is pickle. My late mom taught me how to make mango pickle and grated mango pickle. What I did not learn from her and now cannot was how to make lemon pickle.

I think I am really good at making mango pickle, although my boss DUT vice-chancellor Professor Ahmed Bawa, after a tasting session, cheerfully informed me to stick to e-skills as I am just average at pickle-making. Deflated? No! Although I respect his view, one really has to discount the opinion of amateurs in this gastronomic matter.

My mother always taught me to respect and acknowledge your seniors in what you do so they know you respect them. Somehow I think her advice was career limiting ….

*Colin Thakur is the Director of the iNeSi e-Skills CoLab at the Durban University of Technology. He is a digital activist keen on upgrading the e-skills of the nation to enhance the quality of life. He lives and subscribes to the mantra One-person-One-connected device.

* This edited article was published in the Dolphin Coast Mail.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Durban University of Technology.

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