Zim researchers to benefit from $5,4m facility

Sifelani Tsiko
Scientific researchers from Zimbabwe and other SADC countries will benefit from a 4,7 million euro (US$5,4 million) research funding facility from France and other partners that aims to promote applied scientific studies through support to post-graduate students.
Speaking at a ceremony to sign and launch the third phase of the Research Platform — Production and Conservation in Partnership (RP – PCP) in Harare this week, Scientific Steering Committee chairman and Bindura University of Science Education Vice Chancellor Prof Eddie Mwenje said the facility would enhance the country’s research capacity as well as supporting academic research in the region.
“I’m glad that the signing of the 3rd phase for Research Platform will help greatly to promote applied scientific research in our communities and improve livelihoods,” he said.
The Research Platform was established in 2007 and brings together the University of Zimbabwe, National University of Science and Technology and two French research organisations — Cirad and CNRS.
Funding for both new and on-going projects in Zimbabwe, which is implemented in collaboration with research institutions in Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia for varying periods up to 2017 was made possible through support from the European Commission — Dream Fund, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the French National Agency for Research (ANR).
Since its inception, Prof Mwenje said the Research Platform has benefited more than 70 post-graduate students studying for their MSc, MPhil and PhDs and produced more than 80 research articles that have been published in highly-rated journals.
“Some of the people that have been trained under the platform are now lecturers and others have been promoted in their work places,” he said.
“The World Bank is bringing Centres of Excellence and I’m glad that the platform has contributed already to the creation of Centres of Excellence.”
Cirad director general Michel Eddi hailed the project saying there was need for political support to drive the programme forward.
“This is a proof of our success and we need political support in order to succeed on this research platform,” he said.
“What we have done with Zimbabwe will be useful for other countries in the region.
“I’m very proud of the platform and our collaboration with Zimbabwe research institutions.”
He pledged continued support for the research project which focuses on four broad thematic areas covering animal health and environment, ecology, agriculture and conservation and natural resources governance and institutions.
“Cirad will be here in Zimbabwe to support you for a long time,” Eddi said. “Be assured that Cirad is willing to continue supporting you.”
The Research Platform aims to contribute to sustainable development, biodiversity conservation and improved livelihoods in southern Africa through strengthening national research capacities, multidisciplinary approaches and institutional partnerships with a focus on protected areas and adjacent communities.
It seeks to promote applied research on conservation matters to address issues related to the co-existence of humans and nature.
“We have grown big and we are now visible. We have support from the EU and I’m confident that the Research Platform will play a major role in the sustainable development of the region,” Prof Mwenje said.
Zimbabwe and most other SADC countries have failed to make meaningful investment in research and development owing largely to lack of funding and other material resources.
As a result, SADC countries have failed to keep pace with the standard set by the African Union’s 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa Strategy (STISA – 2024) which seeks to reposition Africa as a technology-driven economy, away from the supplier of raw materials for the global economy.
Zimbabwe ranks very low in overall research and development investments, behind countries such as South Africa, Namibia and Kenya. The Government, owing to lack of resources, has failed to fulfil its 1 percent of GDP obligation for S&T.
A lack of investment in the research can discourage young people from entering the field of science and engineering and one researcher remarked that: “To expect continued technological advancement and job growth without investing in research is akin to attempting to operate an automobile factory without a loading dock for steel, aluminium or rubber.”
Analysts say there is need to establish more long-term and sustainable funding from the Government while universities should adjust some of their policies to allow for more collaboration with the private sector.
Supporting basic research at universities can in turn help support job growth in the private sector, which often draws on the products of university research for their own business. Funding individuals is essential to the research enterprise. Analysts, further say that to attract and retain smart, aggressive people in the field of research, resources are key as well as a conducive research environment with clear funding, research and development, commercialisation and technopreneurship policies.
And, this 4,7 million euro funding opportunity will no doubt help the Research Platform to exploit the academic talents that exists in Zimbabwean universities.
It represents a major step forward in Zimbabwe and other SADC countries’ ability to solve challenging social and analytical problems.

December 2015
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