[LILONGWE] Malawi has fallen far short in funding its ambitious science plan, despite some successes. This provides a sobering reminder of financial realities ahead of the African Union science summit in Ethiopia this month.
In January 2006, Malawi's then science and technology minister, Khumbo Chirwa, announced a five-year science plan costing one billion kwachas (US$8.3 million) to foster rapid industrialisation (See Malawi announces plans to boost science).
But Malawi may have announced the plan without guaranteed support from international partners. One year on, the science plans – which now fall directly under president Bingu wa Mutharika — have been cut back to the absolute minimum.
Kedrone Chisale, deputy director of science and technology, said current funding from the treasury for the five-year science expansion plan stood at 44 million kwachas (around US$315,000), "far below the annual requirement for the science plan".
Chisale confirmed that the plan has been severely curtailed due to a lack of government funding — and the subsequent reluctance by international donors to participate on their own.
"This has forced us to scale down our planned activities in line with government funding," he told SciDev.Net.
In both the 2006 and 2007 budgets, the finance ministry rejected efforts by the science ministry to increase Malawi's scientific research spending to one per cent of its total economic output to reach the goals set by the New Partnership for Africa's Development. Malawi currently spends just over US$1 million on science each year.
Despite the financial setbacks, Chisale said progress had been "remarkable".
He noted that local entrepreneurs were now producing animal food supplements for dairy and beef farms, while a network of more than 60 female scientists has been started. Other positive signs included tests on locally manufactured ethanol-fueled vehicles in December and January (see Ethanol-driven vehicle under test in Malawi), and science clubs in tertiary institutions.
A government official also confirmed that a secretariat had been formed to identify a location for the country's first university dedicated to science and technology in Lilongwe, though building has yet to begin.