Burkina Faso aims to unite science for development

New science ministry will focus on research for increasing literacy Copyright: Flickr/UNDP

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[OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA FASO] A new science ministry in Burkina Faso, said to be one of the first dedicated solely to research and innovation in West Africa, is aiming to unify science across the country’s government departments.

Burkina Faso’s science minister, Gnissa Isaïe Konaté, who is also a researcher, said that development is best carried out with a united voice for science. "Our main vision is to see united actions rather than just set up an institutional unit," he told SciDev.Net.

"Research is conducted in different ministerial departments in Burkina Faso. Our objective is to give a common thread to all these research structures to solve development problems," he said, adding that he believes this is the first ministry in West Africa dedicated to science and innovation.

Konaté said that priorities for the new ministry will be addressing illiteracy and engaging the construction sector. More than 70 per cent of people in Burkina Faso are illiterate, according to UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), and researchers will be encouraged to find ways to reduce this number. "We are expecting a lot of innovation in this area," he said.

The country’s construction sector is also in need of more research, Konaté added. For example, he would like to see the use of local building materials such as cut stones, clay and laterite to keep buildings cool — instead of spending money on expensive air-conditioning.

The new ministry of scientific research and innovation was formed in April, after the country’s 2011 budget was adopted, so it shares a budget with the ministry of secondary and higher education, within which it operated in the past. Konaté said he expects separate budgets to be allocated in 2012.

The budget allocated to research — which is less than one per cent of the national budget — mainly covers the running costs of research institutions. Actual research programmes have been funded mostly by foreign donors, Konaté said.

But the director of the Swiss Centre for Scientific Research (CSRS) in Côte d’Ivoire, Bassirou Bonfoh, said that creating a dedicated ministry does not guarantee the success of research. It may instead lead to confusion about functions, he said.

"A large number of researchers [in Burkina Faso] are teachers. They will therefore be straddling two ministries. Scientific research and university education have always been combined. The best thing to do is increase the research budget in a well-organised ministry of higher education," he said.