Investment in STI growing in Africa

By Sifelani Tsiko

African governments are steadily increasing their investment in science and technology-driven innovation as there is now growing appreciation of the role of science, technology and innovation in driving economic growth on the continent, a senior NEPAD official says.

Tichaona Mangwende, head of Nepad Research and Statistics Cluster, told Zimpapers Syndication last week on the sidelines of a Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) seminar for researchers that African leaders had demonstrated their commitment to S & T innovation by crafting a continental agenda and agreeing to implement the S&T Innovation Strategy for Africa (2024).

“Political will is now there and as academics we must not rush to criticize our governments when we have not even read national S&T Innovation policies and STISA – the one that feeds into the Agenda 2063,” he said.

“As researchers we must first seek to understand our own national strategic plans, read them fully before we critique them. We must be proactive and make sure our S&T Innovation projects fit in or speak to our own national development plans and broadly into the 2063 continental agenda.”

Mangwende said most countries on the continent were all agreed that a knowledge-based economy is the bedrock of creativity and innovation which feeds into weal creation through sustainable industrialisation.

SANBio, a shared biosciences research, development and innovation platform working to address issues on health, nutrition and health- related interventions in agriculture and the environment organised the seminar which attracted researchers from South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

BioFISA , a Finnish – Southern African Partnership Programme — is supporting the SANBio which also includes researchers in Angola, Malawi, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Lesotho, Seychelles, and Swaziland

Zimbabwe secured funding for five different projects covering research on ARVs, TB meningitis, livestock feed and micronutrients, rape kit and goat milk products.

The projects which have received funding support focus on the development of innovative products in the health and nutrition sectors and also in the development on entrepreneurial skills.

Ereck Chakauya, head of the SANBio Network, said most of the projects were being implemented by researchers within government tertiary institutions and independent research institutions.

“We want to support the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063 which was agreed upon by our regional leaders. We are also focusing on the key priority areas identified by SADC countries which include agro-processing,” he said.

“Co-funding is one thing that is unique about the projects. Our implementing partners are contributing about 20 percent of funding budgets to ensure sustainability of the projects when major funding partners leave.

“In past, we would leave all the financing arrangements to donors. This is changing and it’s very important for the sustainability of projects.”

For the Zimbabwe projects, the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund (Zimdef) contributed up to one million rands while SANBio contributed another million rands to make it two million rands.

Other countries in the region such as Zambia, Botswana and Namibia have also chipped in with funds to support the projects.

South Africa and Finland are the major funders and up to two million euros have been raised to collaborative research initiatives by SADC member states.

Netherlands also supported the programmes with 8 million euros while an additional four million rands was secured from SADC member states.

“It’s a good start, a good strategy and the projects support the continental vision on science, technology and innovation as a major force for driving the industrialisation agenda for Africa,” Mangwende said.

“The political will is now there, investment in science, technology and innovation is growing steadily but what we need to do more is implementation and wealth creation to transform the livelihoods of people in Africa.

“We have to carry out research that brings the business value and for us to do this we need to do some kind of integrated knowledge ecosystem. We generate so much data in Zimbabwe and most other countries in Africa, but how are we using this data to drive development?”

The Nepad statistician further added: “The future of development hinges on how much data we generate and how much business value we add on it.

“Data is a renewable resource, but what are we getting from it.”

SADC countries drew up their industrialisation agenda which seeks to speed up industrialisation by strengthening the comparative and competitive advantages of the economies of the region.

The strategy which covers the period 2015 – 2063 is anchored on three pillars – industrialisation, competitiveness and regional industrialisation.

The whole industrialisation agenda aims to help SADC member states to achieve high levels of economic growth, competitiveness, incomes and employment.

To access the funds, SADC countries have set up committees made up of government and private sector players to identify priority areas for funding.

At regional level, three areas have been prioritised, namely – agro processing, mining and downstream processing.

But central to this transformative agenda will be the role of science, technology and innovation, both as a driver of economic growth within the countries and as a core element in nurturing managerial and governance competencies, a researcher said at the SANBio seminar.

SANBio flagship projects include the research for a simple and rapid field test for Bovine Brucelossis – a serious neglected tropical disease which affects cattle causing high incidences of abortions, infertility and livestock production losses.

The disease prevalence is about 53 percent in some southern African regions. Research on this disease is being jointly done by academics from South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

The other flagship project is on research for an international testing of forensic genotyping prototype kit which will not only facilitate better examination of rape and sexual assault cases but also studies paternal geneaologies and lineages (line that follows your father’s paternal ancestry).

Simply put, this refers to a forensic technique used to identify individuals by characteristics of their DNA.

South Africa has the highest rape incidents in the world and has an estimated 55 000 cases per year.

Current test kits were not designed to take into account the genetic diversity of African males and tend to perform poorly here in Africa.

Researchers now want to develop a new male-specific DNA identification kit tailored for Africa.

Other projects aim to find a new test to improve the diagnosis of tuberculous meningitis, produce animal feed through the industrial mass rearing of an edible insect called the yellow mealworm, develop a new kit for ARV treatment optimization and the development of a foot and mouth disease diagnostic kit (serving to identify a particular disease) for southern Africa.

Other projects are focusing on the development of a nutrient dense indigenous food product to address micronutrient deficiencies in children, pregnant women, vulnerable adults and the elderly.

Researchers at the seminar all agreed that African Governments should promote public – private partnerships and encourage the involvement of the private sector in the generation, development and commercialization of innovations and creative works.

“The academia should play a critical role in finding answers to improve the quality of life through innovations that can benefit our people,” Chakauya said.

Despite, major constraints such as poor funding, lack of skills and poor laboratory infrastructure, poor uptake of technologies and weak support from governments, there is a glimmer of hope for STI in Africa.

Through various platforms, African leaders are gaining deeper understanding of the link between STI and poverty reduction and job creation on one hand and sustainable economic growth on the other.

Most researchers are upbeat that this growing recognition by firms and government agencies on the continent will lead to more investment in STI and propel sustainable development that will benefit the majority of the poor on the continent.

Investments in STI and the integration of STI into education, economic and industrial policies can help increase global market competitiveness, create employment and increase productivity, analysts say.

And while, decision – makers face the challenge of developing and implementing STI policies and the quality of their decision – making is largely dependent on the work done by researchers on the ground. -Zimpapers Syndication

May 2017
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