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The Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences (ZAS) is launching a fundraising drive to support its efforts to promote the advancement of sciences in the country.

This month, the academy received a government grant of US$120,000. But according to the academy's president, biochemist Christopher Chetsanga, it needs about US$1.2 million over the next five years to carry out its planned activities.

In an interview with SciDev.Net, Chetsanga said that while the academy appreciated the initial grant, he did not know if it would receive further government funding in future.

Chetsanga said the academy would approach private companies and independent financiers, both locally and internationally, to fund projects identified by the academy as being important to the country, such those relating to HIV/AIDS and the environment.

He admitted that securing international funding might be difficult because of the country's negative political image abroad, but was optimistic that the target would be met.

According to Chetsanga, 70 per cent of the sought-after funds would be used for research grants and journal subscriptions. Ten per cent would be used to help set up a Zimbabwe Science Centre and Museum to stimulate interest in science students and the general public.

A further ten per cent of the funds would be used for scholarships to train researchers and lecturers at Zimbabwe's universities, six of which are involved in research in different fields of science and engineering, and two of which have medical schools.

The academy is trying to reverse the 'brain drain' of Zimbabwean scientists who left the country for employment and opportunities elsewhere by encouraging them to join the academy and contribute towards the country's development of science.

To achieve this goal, the final ten per cent of the funds sought will be used to promote dialogue with Zimbabwean scientists at home and abroad, and to encourage international scientists to train Zimbabweans.

The academy plans to collaborate with the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) to help secure scholarships for researchers who have left Zimbabwe to return and work in their native country.

As well as establishing annual awards to honour scientists who have distinguished themselves in research, Chetsanga said the ZAS plans to publish a journal called the Journal of the Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences.

The World Bank's communications officer for Africa, Herbert Boh, said he could not comment on whether the bank would fund the science academy, as it has not yet received a formal approach for funds.

The academy — Africa's tenth scientific academy — was launched in October 2004 and currently has a membership of 35 scientists — ten fellows and 25 ordinary members.

Chetsanga said it would work closely with the Ministry of Science and Technology and other stakeholders in the country to advise policymakers and promote development.