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[DAR ES SALAAM] Tanzania is set to increase its funding for science research and development (R&D) from 0.3 per cent to one per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year — six years ahead of schedule.

Expenditure is expected to total around 311 billion Tanzanian shillings (approximately US$235 million) in the 2009–2010 financial year and will be overseen by a directorate established under the prime minister's office.

"With this decision, Tanzania will be flying while others are walking," Peter Msolla, the minister for communications, science and technology, told parliament last month (22 July) while announcing the decision.

Five priority areas have been identified for the raised budget: training scientists and researchers; improving R&D infrastructure and facilities; facilitating the use of research findings and technology harmonisation; directing research and technology towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and coordinating and evaluating science and technology performance.

Hassan Mshinda, director general of the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), says the one per cent commitment will boost the country's economy.

"Previously, the ministry was providing money for infrastructure development, salaries and other operating expenditure, and there was no funding for research, but with this boost we look forward to commercialising science," Mshinda told SciDev.Net.

He singles out tissue culture as a good example of a simple technology that could be put to better use to enhance the prosperity of his country, thanks to the raised R&D budget.

He says: "Currently one hectare of land is producing nine tonnes of banana, but if you use tissue culture, the same piece of land will harvest 30 tonnes."

Tissue culture is currently used on a small scale in Tanzania but according to Mshinda, there will now be major investment in tissue culture research and the findings will lead to greater usage.

Tanzania's one per cent GDP pledge was first made by President Ben Mkapa, during his tenure from 1995–2005, and subsequently confirmed by his successor, the incumbent president, Jakaya Kikwete. The budgetary increase was not, however, expected to come into effect until 2015.