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African and Western governments will next week be asked to support a broad plan to boost science and technology across Africa.

The plan seeks to combine into a single package several individual initiatives in fields ranging from biotechnology to laser research, each intended to have a regional or continent-wide impact.

The total cost is estimated at US$157 million over five years (see table below). Part of this would be provided by African governments themselves, which have agreed in principle to increase spending on research and development to one per cent of their gross domestic product.

It is hoped national and international aid agencies will provide the remaining funds.

Such support would reflect the G8 leaders' acknowledgement of the importance of science to development, which they made at their summit in Scotland this year (see G8 leaders give indirect boost for science in Africa).

The science and technology commission of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) — the African Union's social and economic development programme — drew up the action plan.

The decision to do so was made at the first African Ministerial Meeting on Science and Technology, held in the South African capital Pretoria (now Tshwane) in November 2003 (see African nations agree on science spending targets).

It will be presented for adoption next week at the second ministerial meeting, being held on 29-30 September in Dakar, Senegal. Science ministers and senior government officials from 45 African states will attend, along with counterparts from most of the G8 countries.

These will include the chief scientific advisors to the British and Canadian governments — both of which have expressed their support for Africa's efforts to develop its science capacity — as well as officials from USAID, the US Agency for International Development (see Building S&T Capacity with African Partners).

John Mugabe, executive secretary of NEPAD's science commission, points out that as well as reflecting the views of the G8 countries, the plan responds directly to wishes of the international community expressed at the UN World Summit in New York, United States, earlier this month.

 

The final document approved at the summit stated not only that science and technology were "vital" for achieving the UN millennium development goals, but also that "international support can help developing countries to benefit from technological advancements and enhance their productive capacity".

 

"We also expect to see in Dakar both African ministers and representatives from potential donor governments discussing how they take some of those decision forward," says Mugabe.

 

He emphasises that, although NEPAD produced the document outlining the plan of action, the contents are based directly on projects and priorities proposed by African countries themselves.

"This has been a very consultative process, and we have spent the last two years agreeing on common projects," he says.

"From our perspective, both the Dakar meeting and the proposed plan of action present an opportunity to engage the international community around Africa's own science and technology agenda."

Mugabe accepts that the proposed budget is considerably less than figures suggested earlier this year in a report by the UK-led Commission for Africa (see Science capacity 'imperative' for Africa's development).

This recommended that the international community should provide "up to US$3 billion over ten years" to develop centres of excellence in science and technology alone.

Mugabe argues that although the figures in the NEPAD plan are less ambitious, they are more realistic as they represent concrete proposals that, in many cases, have already been discussed in detail with potential donors.

For example, he points to a proposed programme to create a new generation of biodiversity scientists for the continent.

"To achieve this, we are only seeking a sum of several million dollars," he says. "Our main concern is to add value to what already exists in terms of university research and training programmes, not to create large new institutions."


NEPAD S&T action plan:
Estimated budget 2006-2010

 

US$

Conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity

2,500,000

Safe development and application of biotechnology

45,000,000

Securing and using Africa's indigenous knowledge base

650,000

Building a sustainable energy base

15,000,000

Securing and sustaining water

45,000,000

Combating drought and desertification

8,000,000

Building Africa's capacity for material science

4,500,000

Building engineering capacity for manufacturing

2,500,000

Strengthening the African Laser Centre (ALC)

20,000,000

Technologies to reduce post harvest food loss

2,500,000

Information and communication technology

2,000,000

Establishing the African Institute of Space Science

500,000

   

Improving policy conditions and building innovation mechanisms

African Science, Technology and innovations Indicators Initiative

5,000,000

Improving regional cooperation in science and technology

450,000

Building public understanding of science and technology

800,000

Building a common Africa strategy for biotechnology

350,000

Building Science and technology policy capacity

850,000

Promoting the creation of technology parks

300,000

   

Institutional arrangements, overall governance and resource mobilisation

Secretarial / administrative services

1,000,000

Steering committee

250,000

Ministerial conferences and inter-ministerial forum

600,000

Resource mobilisation

150,000

   

TOTAL

157,900,000

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