[LUSAKA] The government of Zimbabwe has announced that it will allocate US$1.5 million a year to research, development and commercialisation, becoming the first Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) member state to do so. This is expectedly to be included in the 2013 budget.
COMESA is a trade bloc — formed of 19 member states in Eastern and Southern Africa — that aims to achieve sustainable growth through increased co-operation and integration in trade, technology, energy and agriculture, among other areas.
It is pushing for investment in research and development (R&D) and commercialisation across the region, in order to catalyse economic development. The Zimbabwean government's investment decision is an important first step in this process.
The fund, to be disbursed through the Ministry of Science and Technology Development via a newly formed national innovation fund, will support research institutions or individuals with viable scientific innovation proposals.
COMESA secretary-general, Sindiso Ngwenya, told SciDev.Net that Zimbabwe is the first regional country to implement the resolution from the inaugural COMESA meeting of ministers responsible for science, technology and innovation.
Held on 28 June in Lusaka, Zambia, the meeting urged each member state to set aside at least US$1.5 million annually for the establishment of national innovation funds.
These research areas are supported by Zimbabwe's revised science, technology and innovation (STI) policy, launched on 14 June, to replace the country's first STI policy, which was launched in 2002.
Calestous Juma, co-chair of the African Union's High Level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation told SciDev.Net that Zimbabwe has taken the lead in providing home-grown funding for innovation.
The additional focus on the commercial application of new ideas represents a significant shift away from traditional approaches to R&D, which focused on research without taking into account financial considerations, Juma said. This new vision links research directly to economic transformation.
"Zimbabwe has a long history of commitment to science and innovation, and this has continued to enjoy political support despite the challenges that the country has faced over the years," Juma said.
The resolutions resulting from the June meeting of COMESA's science ministers included a call for the region to create identify and designate science parks and industrial clusters with the assistance of universities and other higher education institutions.
These decisions will be submitted for official adoption at the COMESA heads of state and government summit, taking place in November in Kampala, Uganda.
This article has been produced by our Sub-Saharan Africa desk.