In 1998, the University of Eswatini (then University of Swaziland), established the Centre for Research in medicinal and indigenous food plants with a mandate to conduct multidisciplinary research in traditional medicine and indigenous plants used as food and medicine in Eswatini. The establishment of the Centre was in response to the research gap in these subject areas. Among the key issues highlighted at establishment, was the collaboration between traditional health practitioners and scientists in order to bring an awareness of the potential that exists within this domain. Conducting research in indigenous medicinal and food plants can lead to the development of products that can address our health and nutritional needs and contribute to economic growth. Many years later, the Centre has evolved into a Research Institute and has grown to contribute to the University’s research output as well as being involved in many community research dissemination programmes. Today, the Institute has focused research in broadly four categories all of which are within the indigenous knowledge systems sphere; isolation and identification of bioactive compounds from plants, domestication and cultivation of indigenous plants, documentation and conservation of plant biodiversity and development of value-added products from indigenous foods and food plants.
In line with the University of Eswatini’s strategy for the period 2018-22, EIRMIP, as the Institute is referred to, has also aligned its activities to produce commercial products and partners with relevant industry to provide research services. This is aimed at responding to national needs and well as create that needed link between industry and the University. With the establishment of the Royal Science and Technology Park (RSTP), especially its Biotechnology Park, EIRMIP has upscaled its research for development (R&D). In partnership with RSTP, EIRMIP is embarking on pilot value-addition projects in order to meaningfully contribute to the country’s bio-economy.
The Institute conducts multidisciplinary research in different fields of the natural sciences through a dedicated team of researchers. It also works with both undergraduate and postgraduate students who are interested in research undertaken within the Institute, in collaboration with the relevant departments or institutions (internally and externally).
The food science unit conducts research on indigenous foods and food plants to establish knowledge on their chemical and nutritional value. This knowledge will lead to new product development, value addition and increased consumption of indigenous foods. These efforts will broaden the national food base and enhance food and nutrition security.
The aim of the Pharmacognosy unit in the Institute is to determine the physical, chemical, biochemical and biological properties of drugs, drug substances or potential drug substances of natural origin as well as the search for new drugs from natural sources. This process will ultimately inform the development of pharmaceutical products from plants or traditional medicine for the treatment of various diseases, especially infectious diseases. The unit also formulates herbal medicinal and cosmetic products based on Eswatini’s indigenous knowledge.
The phytochemistry unit deals with qualitative and quantitative analysis of plant secondary metabolites/phytochemicals with a view of establishing chemical structures of biologically active compounds. It employs a number of phytochemical techniques such as; extraction and isolation using various chromatographic techniques, as well as structure identification/elucidation using spectroscopic techniques.
This unit is responsible for the development of optimized technologies for domestication and cultivation of identified indigenous plants, for medicine and food, as a means to conserve them thus, ensuring their sustainability and the continuous supply of good quality plant material. This is achieved through plant propagation using conventional methods and plant biotechnology techniques, and also optimising cultivation practices (e.g. time of planting, irrigation, fertilisation etc.) for their growth and development. The ultimate goal is to have indigenous food and medicinal plants cultivated to sustainably meet their market demand, as opposed to their overexploitation on their natural occurring stands.
The Plant systematics unit seeks to foster the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources in the country. This goal is pursued through conducting multifaceted research on the indigenous medicinal and food plants of Swaziland. The main research areas include biogeography / phytogeography, conservation ecology, ethnobotany, population biology and systematics.
The Institute collaborates with both local and external partners. Several links with external universities have been established which enables the institute to conduct collaborative research.