The scientific community should create a new generation of intergovernmental organisations that promote innovative science to address economic problems in Africa, argues Calestous Juma, professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, United States.
Science, technology and engineering are crucial to overcoming challenges in various sectors including health and agriculture. Yet, key international organisations do not encourage the role of innovation in development, says Juma.
For example, sustainable agriculture and food production in Africa will only be possible with biotechnology and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But, organisations such as the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) have even opposed the use of biotechnology in regions that stand to benefit from it, explains Juma.
The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), created by the 1992 Earth Summit to advance fair sharing of the benefits of biotechnology, has limited the use of GMOs.
This is the right time for African countries to "break the logjam" by setting up new international organisations that focus on innovation, writes Juma. He suggests creating an "International Institute for Biotechnology" to help African farmers benefit from technological knowledge.
The International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR), established by scientists and engineers in the early 1900s to promote refrigeration-related technologies, could serve as a model, he says. Like the IIR, the International Institute for Biotechnology would be created with legislative authority from governments and invited agencies.