Written by Kevin Wafula
Capacities in biosciences in various sectors are scarce and scattered in Africa, Bio-Innovate Program Manager Dr. Seyoum Leta said Monday in Addis Ababa at the on going Bio-Innovate Regional Scientific Research Conference at the United Nations Conference Centre, Economic Commission for Africa (UNCC-ECA).
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Leta said this is the key missing link in the path to Africa’s science-led development.
He noted that there are only a few strong regional initiatives, but even then, he observed that the research and development networks comprised of local institutions, regional and international research organizations have little effect in linking with private sectors to use modern biosciences as a tool for development.
But Leta acknowledged that there is abundant potential for harnessing bio-resources within East Africa, through the use of biosciences innovation and research.
This is illustrated by the increased focus by national governments and donors focusing on science, technology and innovation (STI).
The region and the continent in general are collaborating on development agendas within regional policy bodies including the New Partnerships for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), Project ICAD (Informing Climate Adaptation Decisions) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, where this week’s conference is taking place.
The Bio-Innovate Program was launched in 2010 to directly address this lack of organized regional initiatives. One of its strengths is a flourishing network of public private partnerships, such as one illustrated by conference presenter Adolf Olomi, CEO of Banana Investments Limited in Tanzania. Olomi’s company partnered with one of Bio-Innovate’s research projects, which focuses on developing innovative technologies for treating wastewater, producing biogas and re-using agro-industrial wastewater and the nutrients it contains in Banana wine-making company. Mr. Olomi was so interested in the innovations that he invested USD150,000 in the research project.
Key donors are equally excited about the potential of Bio-Innovate’s collaborative activities. “This conference is a true testament of the efforts you are putting in developing these products to be delivered in partnership with the private sector, civil societies and other market players,” said Gity Behravan of Nairobi’s Swedish Embassy, a major investor in the Program. “The presence of a good number of private sector players in this audience is very encouraging. Their full participation in this conference is crucial in fomenting this crucial linkage with the scientists necessary to develop innovation systems that work.”
The Bio-Innovate Program is currently supporting nine bioscience innovation and policy consortia projects bringing together 57 partnering institutions from the six eastern Africa countries of Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda and outside the region. Most of the findings from these projects will be presented at the upcoming conference.
The Addis conference brings together rmore than 150 scientists, policy makers, the private sector, donors, and other stakeholders to share the successes and challenges of implementing Bio-Innovate’s activities in the eastern Africa region.
Organizers say these activities present extraordinary opportunities for a knowledge-based bio-economy in sub-Saharan Africa.
Bio-Innovate is providing a novel regional, broad-based biosciences innovation platform that links science, technology and innovation to the marketplace to address urgent regional development challenges.
Those challenges include increasing food insecurity, climate change problems exacerbated by disposal of harmful agro-industrial wastewater and the need to promote value addition in traditional crops. Bio-Innovate research also supports the adoption of disease and drought-resistant varieties of orphan crops like sorghum and millet.
The Program is also attempting to facilitate a policy environment that is more receptive to innovation and proactive about incorporating research into development policy.
Among the dignitaries who participated in Monday’s opening ceremony were: Gity Brehravan the First Secretary, Regional Research Cooperation at the Embassy of Sweden in Nairobi; Carlos Lopes, Secretary General, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA); Jimmy Smith, Diretor General of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and Aggrey Ambali, Director, Policy Alignment and Program Development, AU/NEPAD Agency among others.