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Southern Africa will market itself as a destination for international research funding through a regional science desk to be set up by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The desk, which will promote joint science and technology programmes, will be housed in SADC's secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana. It was launched on the eve of an SADC science and technology ministerial summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week (11 December).

An annual SADC science week, a women-in-science initiative and an online portal for information about science activities in the region are among projects that the desk might pursue.

South Africa, the current chair of SADC, is seconding an official from its Department of Science and Technology (DST) to man the desk for three years. But, on launching the desk, South African science minister Mosibudi Mangena said he hoped other SADC countries would contribute to its expansion.

Mangena also said that the desk would speed up progress on existing SADC agreements to coordinate science, such as the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan adopted in 2003.

Finding funding for all the planned projects is a "work in progress", a DST official told SciDev.Net. The region's governments will be expected to contribute but SADC will also look for resources among development partners, in particular Japan and the European Union, she says.

On the day of the launch, Finland and South Africa announced a joint investment of 11 million (around US$15 million) in the Southern African Network for Biosciences (SANBio), a three-year-old project to pool bioscience resources in the region.

SANBio is an example of successful regional coordination of research, says Emmanuel Kaunda, technical coordinator of the SANBio fish sciences group at Bunda College, University of Malawi.

Being a member increases his institute's chances of winning competitive research funding, he says. "As single countries we are really weak. But if we integrate and work together we are going to see very good results," he told SciDev.Net.

The SADC comprises Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, the Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.