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[CAIRO] A strategy to establish a formal basis for cooperation on scientific and technological research throughout the Arab world was endorsed by research and education ministers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, earlier this month (11-13 March).

The Arab Strategy for Science and Technology is intended to turn research and development (R&D) investment and activities into tangible projects of development value.

The existing gap between science and technology knowledge and its application in the region stems from a lack of strong regional and interdisciplinary collaboration between the public, private and research sectors, according to the rationale for the strategy.

The strategy was first proposed by the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization in 2009, as part of a bigger plan to establish a council for scientific research and technological development and innovation.

It is designed to help identify and develop mutually beneficial R&D in areas of common interest in the region, as well as to streamline R&D funding to avoid duplicated efforts.

The areas of proposed cooperation are: biomedicine and health; agriculture, food security and fisheries; secure and renewable energy; natural resource management and environmental protection; materials sciences; meteorology; information and communications technologies; biotechnology; and marine sciences and technology.

“Some research fields are regional in nature and this is why the Arab neighbours need to combine their expertise and efforts to work together.”

Mohamed Mrayati, UN

The strategy also plans boosting scientists’ public outreach, including work with government officials and policymakers, media, businesses and citizens; and investment in training and higher education to help build a critical mass of science and technology experts.

The strategy has several other goals. These include promoting open access to research and technology, showcasing Arab achievements regionally and internationally, and improving Arab states’ participation in European Union and other international science and technology research initiatives, partnerships and networks.

In addition, the strategy’s goals include applying research results by policy and industry sectors to foster social and economic development, and supporting science and technology policy, management and training to promote a knowledge-based society.

“Some research fields are regional in nature — examples include water, environment, health and space — and this is why the Arab neighbours need to combine their expertise and efforts to work together,” Mohamed Mrayati, senior advisor on science and technology for sustainable development at the UN, tells SciDev.Net.

Declan Kirrane, managing director of ISC Intelligence in Science, a Belgian communications agency, says: “It’s always better to address the global challenge collectively, and this relies on scientific leadership and political leadership too.”

Working on common science activities will also give Arab countries greater influence when applying to international funding programmes, he adds.