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[ADDIS ABABA] Africa must shift its focus from basic to applied research if it is to transform from poverty to prosperity, a conference in Ethiopia has heard.

The second Science with Africa Conference — focusing on science, innovation and entrepreneurship — took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last week (23–25 June). It examined policies and actions needed to promote innovation and entrepreneurship geared to helping Africa's development.

Various presentations claimed that Africa is lagging behind other continents in innovation because of overemphasis on basic research — conducted solely for information gathering and building on existing knowledge — instead of urgently needed applied research, which is geared towards the resolution of a particular question.

"Africa doesn't need research to learn about how something works, we need studies into the origins of the problems and recommendations of realistic solutions," said Umar Buba Bindir, director general of the Nigerian National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion, in his keynote address.

A spirit of information-sharing among nations and national agencies, which could influence innovative behaviour and performance, is also lacking, he said. "Right now, coordination of government agencies and private actors is difficult, complex and undermined by vested interests."

"The traditional linear approach to innovation has been challenged," said Anne Kingiri, a research fellow at the UK-based Department for International Development's Research into Use Programme. "It is time to move from building science and technology capacity towards building innovation capacity."

As latecomers African nations need innovation policies and institutions that are relevant, including technological capability, technical progress and imported know-how, she said.

Ousmane Kane, a research fellow at the National Academy of Science and Technology of Senegal, proposed that governments should prioritise science, technology and innovation, and allocate more funds for education and the publicising of research findings and technology applications.

"Knowledge is the main driving force of world economies and the basis of socio-economic development," Kane said. "Unless people are informed about innovation, they cannot advance."

Research should be geared towards the development of technologies that communities can use to add value in practical and immediate ways, said Kane. Technological innovations should target users' social conditions, and be clear and concise, he added.

In line with these views, the conference saw the launch of The African Science, Technology and Innovation Endowment Fund, along with the African Science to Business Challenge. In addition, the African Technology Development and Transfer Network was launched. This aims to be a platform whose members — small and medium-sized enterprises and institutions — can help solve each others' technological and non-technological challenges.