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[DURBAN] The African Union (AU) will have to prioritise its projects next year as funds for supporting continent-specific science programmes are running low.

Jean-Pierre Ezin, AU commissioner for science, technology and human resources, told delegates at the 11th TWAS congress in Durban, South Africa, this week (20–23 October) that the global financial crisis has led to a reduction in some funding sources.

"The future is worrying for all," he said, adding that "the only financial resource consists of 53 member countries, philanthropists, and rich country aid agencies". A decline in direct investment and possible cuts in overseas aid pose a serious challenge for African governments.

Ezin said the future lies in focusing on Africa–Africa cooperation and said that the Pan-African University (see Pan-African University could launch early next year) will be one of the surviving projects.

Naledi Pandor, the South African science minister, said that her country has adequate funding for science programmes — but revenue is much lower than in previous years. She said her ministry has cut "frills" such as parties and international travel. One crisis response has been to try and coordinate research among government departments to maximise use of resources.

"We want to share resources as a means of coming out of recession, sharing intellectual products and exploring how our various laboratories can work together." She added that South Africa has increased its funding for engineering students, an indication of its determination to expand scientific knowledge despite the difficult climate.

Other countries shared their experiences.

Indian science minister Prithviraj Chavan said oil price hikes, monsoon failure, swine flu and international terrorism have all slowed India's economy but science has not been affected.

"Political leadership has not allowed the financial crisis to affect science and technology funding," he told the meeting, adding that core funding for the education system has also remained untouched.
Chavan, who was reappointed as science minister in May, said that only science could provide the self-sufficiency needed.

He told the conference that the subcontinent supports South–South collaboration and new methods of technology transfer, adding that innovation often emerges in difficult situations.

Sergio Rezende, Brazil's science minister, told delegates that his country believed success was dependent on continuity in science and technology policies.

John Muyonga, of the department of food science and technology at Makerere University in Uganda, told SciDev.Net that many African economies were somewhat insulated against the financial crisis because of their informality.

"When the economic crunch happened it was not really pronounced to those already doing their research as they already had their funding commitments from foundations whose funding is more stable," he added.

But Christopher Chetsanga, the president of Zimbabwe Science Academy, told SciDev.Net that some companies had been unable to buy materials for research.

"You cannot be a scientist without carrying out research," he said.