The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) participated as a key partner in the recently concluded Third Africa Forum on Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) held in Cairo, Egypt. The Forum was organized by the African Development Bank, the Government of Egypt and other partners in Cairo, Egypt between 10th and 12th February 2018 under the theme STI for Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Transformation in Africa. The Forum was organized to accelerate investments in higher education, science and research to contribute to the knowledge economy that drives industrial revolution. The meeting was opened by His Excellency Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt and attended by H.E. Dr. Akin Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, ministers responsible for education, science and technology from a number of African countries, H.E. Prof. Sarah Anyang Agbor, Commissioner for Human Resources Science and Technology of the African Union Commission, other high level policy makers, experts, youth, and development practitioners. Over 15 high level panel discussions/ side sessions were conducted aimed at developing mechanisms for effective STI governance and coordination, establishing bilateral and multilateral agreements on implementation of STI and increasing investments in African Knowledge and STI and STI systems.
In his opening address, Dr. Adesina echoed that to effectively harness the potential of Science, Technology and Innovation for Africa, governments should facilitate the adoption of policies conducive to the development of science, technology and innovations. Scientists should be caught early in life and nurtured. Better national and regional innovation policies should also be developed and the share of GDP going into science, technology and innovations to implement such policies should be raised. He further emphasized that incentives must be provided for researchers to address grand challenges in the continent, set up funding alliances, establish more regional centers of excellence and innovation hubs, and facilitate researcher mobility and joint research and development activities and foster regional cooperation across regions for science, technology, and innovations.
It emerged from the meeting, that nurturing STI capacity requires a bold step to initiate and sustain innovation culture among young people. Africa is endowed with great potential but the universities and other training institutions need to be reoriented to practical training and identifying and nurturing talent.
Opportunities for partnership and funding Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa exist within and outside Africa. African Development Bank committed to establish a Higher Education Fund in Africa. Outside Africa, The World Bank African Centers of Excellence, Horizon 2020 of the European Commission, Islamic Development Bank among others, provide funding for STI in Africa.
In partnership with the African Development Bank, RUFORUM co-hosted a side event with the AfDB. RUFORUM also participated in the Forum Exhibition. Prof. Adipala Ekwamu, RUFORUM’s Executive Secretary, moderated the AfDB/ RUFORUM joint session on “Food and nutrition technology: Innovative pathways to build grey matter infrastructure in Africa. The Session discussed the human and research capacity gaps for nutrition in Africa, the investment plans for harnessing local foods, the partnerships required for effective nutrition programmes in Africa and how to develop the entire food chain as a whole. The Session panelists were H.E. Maria do Rosário Bragança, Minister of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, Angola; Dr. Habiba Hassan-Wassef, former Director of World Health Organisation, Prof. Joyce Kinabo, e-Nutrition Academy and Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania; Prof. Hany A. El-Shemy, Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, Cairo University; Mr. Kahitouo Hien, Young scientist Graduate from the International Institute of Water and Environment (2iE, Burkina Faso) and CEO, FasoPro; and Mr. Faris Farrag, Founder of Busan Aquaponics.
From this panel discussion, it emerged that Africa has made important strides in deployment of Science and Technology for Innovation and that more needs to be done. Harnessing the potential of Science and Technology for innovation especially in the areas of food and nutrition requires strengthening specific areas of strengths in the continent. These areas include:
- Building human resource and related capacity for people to effectively leverage STI to reduce malnutrition. Prof. Kinabo noted that ‘African governments need to promote basic education in science and technology at all levels accompanied by a conducive learning environment that encourages curiosity in children, high quality teaching’. Promotion of STI in primary and tertiary education also requires increased financial investment in these sectors. This would allow increased capacity for innovation, research and critical thinking. Dr. Habiba Hassan-Wassef also noted that ‘in addition to capacity building, there needs to be efforts toward retention of human resources trained in nutrition’.
- Harnessing ICTs to support knowledge sharing and e learning. The meeting participants agreed that Africa still faces a shortage of skilled professionals in information communication technology yet ICT is key for both dissemination of nutrition information and for training of nutrition professionals. Mobile messenger services, blogging, and nutrition Apps that track daily food intake or physical activity can all be leveraged to share nutrition information, promote healthy eating and lifestyles, and package research outputs in an accessible way. Prof. Kinabo noted that ‘Africa has been able to develop innovative ways to deliver online/virtual training for nutrition professionals which has circumvented problems of physical infrastructure and remoteness and the initial success needs to be strenghtned through harnessing the potential of STI’.
- Greater investment in local foods and leveraging indigenous knowledge to address malnutrition in Africa was highlighted as a precondition for enhancing food and nutrition security in Africa. There was a general concensus that, for example, certain insects are an important source high of protein and there is a need to invest in such foods. Secondly, indigenous knowledge of such foods needed to be harnessed to address malnutrition challenges. STI was identified as having great potential to generate new ways of presenting insects to appeal to a broader market and to scale up local production. Kahitouo Hien, who has an award winning start up ‘FasoPro’, said that “he uses highly nutritious shea caterpillars to create products that reduce malnutrition and improve food security in Burkina Faso’. He also noted that many other African countries have populations that eat insects and could harness them to avert mulnutrition.
- STI has a significant potential in increasing the efficiency and sustainability of whole food systems in Africa through multidisciplinary and multisectoral partnerships and collaboration. There was a general consensus that there is enormous potential in STI in increasing food production, creating more sustainable food packaging and monitoring food consumption. H.E. Maria do Rosário Bragança highlighted case studies in her country – Angola, where research and innovations were used in water conservation, desalination and biotechnology for increasing food and agricultural production and further stressed the need to combine them in efficient and sustainable systems. It was also noted that a lot of technologies already exist but there is a need to promote their use and scale up their impact. H.E. Maria do Rosário Bragança further emphasised that “a major gap exists with regards to monitoring and disseminating information about food benefits and consumption, which is key in effectively addressing issues of malnutrition’. Innovative ways such as a photographic food atlas developed in Angola to address community level food consumption monitoring could be adopted across the continent. To achieve scale of production and consumption of nutritious food, partnerships between academia, public and private sector are required. Moreover, within government, there is a need for multi-sectorial approaches to managing nutrition issues, at all levels. Dr. Habiba Hassan-Wassef noted that “nutrition coordination in government needs to be supra-ministerial and led, for example, by the office of the Prime Minister”. Academia and private sector need to partner and conduct research relevant to the needs of consumers said Mr Farag, the CEO of Bustan Aquaponics. Universities such as Cairo University, in Egypt have an established office which conducts studies to assess market needs. Such studies have been used to reformulate the faculty’s curriculum to fit market needs and create linkages between research, market needs, implementation of findings and entrepreneurship said Prof. Hanny El-Shemy, the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture from Cairo University, Egypt.
The Conference was an excellent platform for different countries and research institutions within and outside Africa to showcase what they are doing to advance STI Africa’s development. Through exhibitions, key note addresses, plenary discussions, it was evident that there is a political will and a commitment to harness the role of STI in advancing Africa’s economic growth. The represented member states of the African Development Bank, committed to enhancing the relevance of national, regional and continental research and innovation policies, building skills, infrastructure and promising sectors, sustainable financing of STI including higher education and scientific research, benchmarking and Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), strengthening regional cooperation and integration. The African Development Bank committed to the establishment of the Africa Education Fund, together with the Association for Development of Education in Africa, the Islamic Development Bank, and Government of Japan. The Forum Communique highlighting key commitments can be downloaded here
- Banks pledge funds for STI research and training http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20180221063806709
- Third Africa Science, Technology and Innovation Forum http://paepard.blogspot.ug/2018/02/third-africa-science-technology-and.html