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  • Biosciences boost for eastern and central Africa

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[NAIROBI] A 'biosciences facility for eastern and central Africa', one of four projected 'centres of excellence' in Africa, will begin its research activities on 1 November 2004. The institute, located in Nairobi, will focus on agricultural production and should give a boost to the application of science and technology to development in Africa.

The announcement was made at a meeting of the project's implementing group in Nairobi last week. Gabrielle Persley, director and chair of the Doyle Foundation, which has supported the initiative, told SciDev.Net that she expects the 12 participating countries to have signed the charter — defining the facility's objectives and operating principles — by 31 October.

The facility is one of a continent-wide network of scientific 'centres of excellence' being established by the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) as part of its efforts to revitalise science across Africa. It will focus on priority problems in agricultural production as identified by national governments and regional organisations.

According to Norah Olembo, a lecturer at Nairobi University, researchers will use the new facilities to develop nutrient-rich plants that are resistant to stress and disease, and to create vaccines against livestock diseases.

Persley says, "The 'weakest link' for many research institutions in Africa — the failure to move from discovery to delivery — will be a thing of the past."

She says the bioscience facility will establish "downstream" links — reaching out to the farmers who most need to be made aware of research findings.

The research facility will be located at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi. From there, it will interact with other institutions in Kenya and internationally. It will be an independent body with its own secretariat, of which ILRI will be a member.

Ed Rege, ILRI's director of biotechnology told last week's meeting that although "Africa has some top notch scientists" they are constrained by a lack of facilities.

Persley reported that a Can$4 million (US$3 million) grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has financed the design of a new laboratory, the purchase of equipment, and an environmental impact assessment (EIA). Canada will provide a further Can$26 million (US$19.6 million) for the project's second phase, subject to the development of a business plan and the results of the EIA report.

The biosciences facility will serve Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. NEPAD also intends to establish similar centres of scientific excellence in southern, western and northern Africa, and is currently researching the best-suited locations for their establishment.

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