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Research institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific have three months to apply for a 33 million fund to boost their ability to compete for international research funding.

The grant programme — the ACP Science and Technology Programme — is funded by the European Union (EU) and coordinated by the secretariat of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. Its call for funding was announced last week (27 November).

The money will not pay for actual research. Rather, it will fund projects that enhance the capability of under-resourced researchers to win funding. For example, it might fund projects to create collaborative research networks, train scientists in proposal-writing or promote peer review of scientific articles to bolster quality.

This programme is the first time funding has been made available for science and technology from the European Development Fund, the EU's main instrument for development initiatives, which has a budget of €22.7 billion for 2008–2013.

Such funding is sorely needed in Africa, policymakers say.

"African states have failed to access the available funds because of a lack of capacity," says Hakim Elwaer, director of the African Union's science and technology department.

Projects can last from one to three years, and can receive a maximum of 1 million. Applicants could be private companies, individual research institutions, nongovernmental organisations, government departments or groups of such organisations.

But researchers must act quickly to have any chance of accessing the funding, says Mario Catizzone, an envoy of the European Commission's science arm to the African Union (AU), urging interested parties to think of the deadline as tomorrow, not three months away.

Catizzone warns that researchers may balk at the level of detail required by the complicated EU funding rules. However, the EU and the AU are offering help to applicants, he says.

Gambo Laraba Abdullahi, director general of Nigeria's National Board for Science and Technology Incubation, says that her office will apply, adding that even if the application is not successful, the process itself will build know-how.