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An Africa-wide scheme for research grants and scientific awards has been given high priority for financial backing by top African and European officials.

Officials also agreed to give priority to a project strengthening Africa's ability to use science and technology to deal with food security problems. This would use the Nile basin as a "pilot case" for efforts to combine food production with effective water and land management.

The projects are among six "early deliverables" highlighted by African Union (AU) and European Union (EU) officials at a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, last week (1 October). The officials identified these as priorities to receive support from a wide range of public and private sources, at regional, national and international levels.

The six were selected from 19 "lighthouse" projects identified by the African Union as deserving support, and providing a framework for implementing the 'Science, Information Society and Space' partnership agreed between Africa and Europe at a summit meeting of EU leaders in Lisbon, Portugal, last year (see Positive partnership clinched at EU–Africa summit).

The joint identification of priorities, as well as increased access by African scientists to top projects and networks involving European researchers, means that "research cooperation between Africa and Europe is expected to become more substantial, more focussed and more relevant," reads a joint statement issued after the Brussels meeting.

The first objective of the research and scientific awards project is to set up a research programme to "promote sustainable science and technology research for Africa's technical, economic and social development".

It is also intended to strengthen the AU's capability to coordinate the implementation of that programme as a step towards what it describes as "an African framework programme for research".

The six highlighted projects also include two related to space. One — Kopernicus-Africa — would focus on remote sensing satellites for environmental and security tasks.

The second would build capacity within the AU Commission to use the geospatial sciences for a range of applications, including natural resources, food security, crisis management and renewable energies.

The remaining "early deliverable" projects relate to information and communication technologies. The AfricaConnect project will seek to integrate the African research community at both regional and international levels by improving bandwidth. And the African Internet Exchange System (AXIS) will support the growth of a continental African Internet infrastructure.

The lighthouse projects are based on priorities identified in the Consolidated Plan of Action (CPA), approved by African leaders at an AU summit meeting in 2007.

"The lighthouse projects represented the proposals of the AU Commission on the best way of implementing the CPA, for which both the will and the interest now exists," says Abdul Hakim Elwaer, head of the AU commission's directorate for human resources, science and technology, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

"We are keen to put forward not just a shopping list for Africa, but complete projects that are ready to be funded."

Link to joint AU–EU statement