The opening of a local office of the UK-headquartered Planet Earth Institute (PEI) late last year (23 November) is to strengthen the charity’s aim of making scientific research an attractive career option in Africa for trained scientists who can stay on the continent and get their own subsidies to solve local problems, the PEI says.
In June this year, business leaders, President Macky Sall of Senegal and representatives of heads of state of Ethiopia and Rwanda helped launch a fund to support the World Bank’s Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET) programme, which aims to train 10,000 PhD students in Africa over the next ten years.
“Africa should become scientifically strong in order to set its own agenda and develop its own solutions to the challenges it faces.”
Alvaro Sobrinho, Planet Earth Institute (PEI)
According to the PEI, which is supporting the fundraising for PASET, the initiative will be funded by African governments and a group of companies investing in science, technology and innovation in Mauritius and across Africa.
“The idea is to make Africa a producer and not only a consumer of scientific knowledge,” says President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius.
Gurib-Fakim, a world-renowned scientist, expressed concern that Africa accounts for only 79 researchers for a million population, compared to 4,500 for a million people in the United States, noting that many of Africa’s best and brightest minds continue to seek jobs outside the continent.
Calling for bold steps for more investments in science and technology, Gurib-Fakim, a vice-chairman and trustee of PEI, says: “Business as usual is no longer an option, particularly in the light of the disproportionate impact of climate change in Africa. Protecting and capitalising on our biodiversity, fighting the risks of climate change, increasing information and communication technology connectivity, harnessing renewable energy, [and] preserving our surrounding oceans will depend on local knowledge and expertise.”
Alvaro Sobrinho, an Angolan businessman and the PEI’s chairman, who also chairs a group of companies championing science in Africa, says scientific independence for Africa does not mean that the continent should work alone. “Africa should become scientifically strong in order to set its own agenda and develop its own solutions to the challenges it faces,” he adds.
Sobrinho notes that young people in Africa need to be supported to become leading scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs. “We must be ambitious in our plans by investing in higher education, in PhD research,” he says.
Amarjeet Beegoo, a Mauritian agricultural entrepreneur, tells SciDev.Net that the PEI’s local presence could drive the next “economic miracle” in Mauritius through scientific research, adding: “Nanotechnology and biotechnology can only strengthen the existing pillars of our economy if we seize the available opportunities.” According to Beegoo, Mauritius already uses scientific knowledge in some sectors, citing the poultry industry, where he believes the island country could never have been self-sufficient without research.
“The seafood hub, the food industry and the health sectors are following the path of the poultry industry. However, most of our scientists work abroad and we should find ways and means to bring them back home,” Beegoo explains.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.