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Two initiatives launched this month aim to mitigate the 'brain drain' caused when scientists and others emigrate from African countries to work elsewhere.

Last week (11-12 July) government ministers from 58 European and African countries met in Rabat, Morocco for the first Euro-African Conference on Migration and Development.

They approved an action plan that, among other things, calls for Euro-African partnerships and networks to be developed between scientists and research institutions, with a focus on training courses for young African professionals.

African students should have greater access to top universities and institutes in both Africa and Europe, urges the plan. It also calls for incentives to encourage students to return home after their studies.

This should be done "through the creation of 'regional centres of excellence' in the South and the support of the existing centres", says the plan.

It also calls for simpler procedures to make it easier for certain categories of people — including researchers and students — to migrate.

These measures must also limit the harmful effects of selective migration on African development, says Mamadou Goita, special advisor to the director-general of the Mali-based Rural Economy Institute.

Earlier this month (1-2 July), the council for the African Union held a summit meeting in Gambia and backed a proposal from Mali to host an African Centre for Study and Research on Migration.

The centre will identify how African nations can retain skilled personnel, especially scientists, and how they can take advantage of the brain drain to improve training and technology transfer.

Nagib Nassar, a professor of genetics at the University of Brasilia who moved to Brazil from his native Egypt in 1974, welcomes the new initiatives.

He says foundations should be set up in countries with large numbers of African immigrant scientists to encourage them to contribute to their home nations' scientific development.

Nassar says a good model for this is the TOKTEN (Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals) programme. UN agencies and countries including India use it to get skilled personnel to undertake short-term consultancies in their countries of origin.