By: Kimani Chege and Duncan Mboyah


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[NAIROBI] Details of a US$21 million initiative to improve Africa's bioscience research facilities and encourage African researchers to stay in the region was announced yesterday (30 October) in Nairobi, Kenya.

The initiative includes a commitment to set up a biosciences research facility for East and Central Africa at the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the New Partnership For African Development (NEPAD) are backing the initiative, which will upgrade laboratories at ILRI and elsewhere to create state-of-the-art research facilities. This is intended to pave the way for a network of African ‘centres of excellence’ in science and technology.

"African scientists from all parts of the region [will be able] to contribute to world-class research on some of Africa’s biggest problems," says Wiseman Nkuhlu, chairman of the NEPAD steering committee, "These advanced research facilities will be shared, offering a 'swing door' rather than an 'ivory tower' to the wider research community."

Researchers will use the ILRI facilities to work towards a range of objectives, such as developing nutrient-rich plants that are resistant to stress and disease, and creating safe vaccines against livestock diseases.

The initiative will also provide funding for strengthening research capacity elsewhere in Africa, and will include a fellowships programme for African scientists. It also aims to promote greater collaboration between African researchers and leading public- and private-sector research institutes worldwide.

"Individual countries cannot afford to tackle serious agricultural problems alone," says Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI. "We need to find ways of doing science that are more appropriate to poor countries. We believe that the facility will attract many African scientists to remain in Africa working on African problems."

Plans to launch the facility were first announced by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in May prior to the G8 summit in Evian, France (see Canada backs African centre on 'agricultural biosciences').