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[NAIROBI] Scientists met yesterday (25 November) in Nairobi, Kenya, to officially launch the Biosciences for Eastern and Central Africa (BECA) facility, one year after the initiative to improve the region's agricultural research capacity was announced.

The facility will give African scientists access to state-of-the-art biosciences laboratories and training, which are expected to help reduce the brain drain of scientists from the region to developed countries.

Researchers will use the facility — based at Nairobi's International Livestock Research Centre in Nairobi — to develop nutrient-rich plants that are resistant to stress and disease, and to create safer vaccines against livestock diseases. By forming a network with other laboratories in the region, BECA aims to promote capacity building and research collaborations.

The US$21 million initiative was backed by the New Partnership For African Development (NEPAD) and the government of Canada, which provided a C$4.5 million (US$3.8 million) grant for the facility's design and planning phase.

Speaking at the inauguration, John Mugabe of the NEPAD secretariat, called for more commitment by African policy makers to reduce the brain drain.

Other scientists present observed that many of their African colleagues have left the continent for well-paid jobs in Europe and North America.

Romano Kiome, chair of the BECA steering committee and head of the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute, said that only a handful of more than 70 scientists the institute has sent for training in Western universities recently have returned home.

"We have sent many scientists to Europe, the United States and Canada who refuse to come back," said Kiome. "We often sack them, but they don't mind because they are earning better salaries where they are."

Canada's ambassador to Kenya, James Wall echoed Kiome. "A lot of scientists in the region have crossed the seas and we have to find ways of stopping that [becoming a permanent move]. Its time they return home to develop the continent." 

The inauguration was attended by Kenya's minister for agriculture Kipruto arap Kirwa who called on African states to share the continent's few scientific facilities to research solutions to problems facing Africa, rather than setting up costly facilities in each country.

Noting that science and technology issues were getting rarely given attention from African politicians, Mugabe said it was time for greater efforts to be directed at harnessing science for development.