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[BANJUL] The Gambia and Venezuela have finalised a five-year agreement to cooperate on improving research and development in agriculture, health, and energy sectors in the African country.

The agreement, finalised during the Gambian president's tour of South America last month, will see Venezuela providing funds, technicians and researchers to the Gambia, and encourage cooperation between public research institutions, universities and private enterprises in the two countries.

Venezuela will also help improve infrastructure in institutions such as the University of The Gambia.

The agreement — now in effect — was ratified by members of the Gambia National Assembly in April.

A joint international committee will decide on financing and identify institutions to benefit from and carry out the project, said Crispin Johnson, secretary of state for higher education, research, science and technology, in a speech in Banjul on 29 May to announce the agreement.

Vice chancellor of the University of The Gambia, Andreas Steigen, told SciDev.Net the agreement with Venezuela will stimulate science and technology in the Gambia.

The Gambian government and the university have a clear policy on developing science and technology but the lack of finances is hindering progress, he said.

With assistance from Venezuela, the national university will begin constructing a new science department with modern infrastructure and equipment, to be completed in 2010.