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[LILONGWE] Malawi has launched a comprehensive five-year plan intended to foster rapid industrialisation through the use of science and technology.

The plan, announced on 19 January, is the first of its kind, has a budget of one billion kwachas (US$8.3 million), and places a heavy emphasis on popularising science.

The money will be spent in four main areas: capacity building (US$3.5 million), promoting and popularising science (US$2.3 million), developing and commercialising research (US$1.5 million) and administration (US$1 million).

It will be in addition to the ministry of science's annual budget, and Malawi will ask international donor agencies to partly fund the activities.

Under the plan, the ministry will develop policies to support research and development and the transfer of technology from industrialised nations. In particular, public-private partnerships will be encouraged to achieve these goals.

The way that science is taught in Malawi's schools and universities will also be reviewed and improved.

Launching the plan, science minister John Khumbo Chirwa said the time had come for Malawi to use science and technology as a tool for creating wealth. But he added that for science to become a driving force behind Malawi's development, his ministry would need both additional funding and greater political support.

The ministry, which was created in 2004, will ask the finance ministry to increase Malawi's research spending to one per cent of its GDP — to about US$2 million — in the 2006 budget. Currently Malawi spends around US$1.2 million on science.

In a related development, Malawi will in the coming year begin building its first university dedicated to science and technology.