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The Canadian government has announced significant increases in its support for a range of research activities in Africa, particular those related to the search for an effective vaccine against HIV/AIDS, and for agricultural research.

Overall, the country plans to increase its spending on HIV/AIDS in Africa four-fold. It will also double its support for Africa-related agricultural research by investing an extra Can$40 million (US$26 million) over three years in programmes carried out through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

The Canadian moves were announced by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien at the end of last week’s G8 meeting of the heads of the world’s leading industrialised nations, held in the Canadian resort of Kananaskis.

Although the G8 meeting gave its support in principle to a broad action plan for Africa that included a commitment to the importance of research, both in general and in the specific fields of HIV/AIDS and agriculture, no firm funding commitments were made.

In contrast, the Canadian government — which had been determined to make Africa’s needs a priority topic at the summit, and had earlier this year announced a Can$500 million (US$329 million) Canada Fund for Africa — has now given details of how some of this money will be spent.

According to the announcement by Chrétien, for example, Can$50 million (US$33 million) will be provided towards the development of an HIV vaccine for Africa “and other Africa-based HIV/AIDS health research”.

This money will in particular be used to support the work of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), as well as the newly formed African AIDS Vaccine Programme (AAVP).

“One of the major obstacles for HIV vaccine research on the continent is the inadequacy of research infrastructure,” says a statement accompanying the announcement.

“Funding for IAVI and AAVP will help strengthen regional capacity, research facilities and local expertise”, it adds, pointing out that part of the AAVP strategy “is the active participation of African scientists and institutions”.

The extra funding being provided for the CGIAR’s network of 16 centres across the world will concentrate on the special needs of smallholder farmers and women producers — both identified as priorities at a recent international meeting organised by the Food and Agricultural Organisation in Rome.

In particular, the support will be focussed on programmes in sustainable agriculture, on national agricultural research systems — including African research networks — and on the policy, trade and social dimensions of agricultural and good security research.

In addition, and in line with pressure from non-governmental organisations to develop new ways of setting research priorities, the government has said that the money will be used to support “African research which addresses the food security objectives of the poor, and includes the participation of stakeholders in project design and analysis.”

Another new initiative is a decision to provide Can$25 million (US$16 million) over three years to set up an ‘e-policy’ resource centre for Africa, intended “to enable African institutions to strengthen democratic governance and improve the investment climate”, and a Centre for Connectivity.

The latter is intended to build on Canada’s experience in connectivity projects in Africa and adapt Canadian expertise and models. It will be supported by the International Development Research Centre, and will work with the Open Knowledge Network, an initiative to support the creation of local content and application in Africa.

The G8 meeting itself has disappointed many African governments and aid agencies by refusing to endorse a substantial increase in aid funding for the continent.

However it has agreed to an ‘action plan’ that includes a commitment to working with African partners “to increase assistance to Africa's research and higher education capacity” in “enhanced-partnership countries”, a term used to refer to countries that sign up to the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

This will be achieved by, for example supporting the development of research centres and the establishment of chairs of excellence “in areas integral to the NEPAD”.

It will also include favouring the exchange of visiting academics “and encouraging research partnerships between G8/donor and African research institutions”.

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