Malawi to boost investment in science

Mutharika: prioritising science and technology Copyright: Flickr/World Economic Forum

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[LILONGWE] Malawi’s newly re-elected president has promised increased investment in science as part of a plan to transform the country into a net exporter of goods and services.

Bingu wa Mutharika, who was sworn in last month (22 May), said in his inaugural speech that he would prioritise science and technology along with other key areas including agriculture and food security; irrigation and water development; and environmental degradation.

Increased funding for science is widely expected in the 2009–10 budget, to be announced in the next fortnight. The increase will partly fund a new Commission of Science and Technology, which is expected to be established next month.

"Once the commission is established there will be no duplication of efforts on science and technology," Alfred Maluwa, Malawi’s deputy director of science and technology, told SciDev.Net. "All the activities will be coordinated under the umbrella of the commission."

Mutharika also emphasised continuing investment in tertiary education. He has appointed minister of local government and local development George Chaponda to the position of minister of education, science and technology in his 43-member cabinet.

"The next five years my government will continue to rehabilitate infrastructure development in education; provide better housing for teachers; and conduct a comprehensive review of the education, science and technology curriculum," Mutharika said in his speech.

But Vernon Kabambe, a crop scientist at the Bunda College of Agriculture — a constituent college of the University of Malawi — said that funding for research activities at the university was suffering at the expense of money being channelled into tertiary education.

He called for a return of Malawi’s disbanded research fund, which rewarded researchers who made good research proposals.  "where researchers would benefit depending on what research proposals with bright ideas were approved".

The new government plans to diversify its power sources from hydropower to solar, wind and geothermal, and to intensify the rural electrification programme.

Agricultural science is also a priority, Mutharika said. He pledged to research and disseminate good farming practices, crops storage techniques and irrigation.

Meanwhile UNESCO is funding a review of the country’s 2003 science and technology policy to align it to the Malawi Growth Development Strategy.