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Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced this week (26 May) that his government is to give Can$30 million towards setting up an African centre of excellence in "biosciences for agriculture".

According to Chrétien, the new centre "will serve as a focal point for African scientists to develop the capacity to conduct, drive and fund advanced biosciences research programmes in priority development areas".

The new grant is part of a set of initiatives with a combined value of Can$60 million, each concerned with either agriculture or youth, that are being financed out of the Canada Fund for Africa.

This Can$500 million fund was set up last year to support the implementation of an "action plan" for Africa that was agreed by leaders of the G8 industrialised countries when they met in Kananaskis, Alberta, last June.

The fund is also intended to support the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), an initiative spearheaded by six African countries that seeks to achieve sustainable growth and development on the continent. NEPAD will again be discussed by the G8 leaders when they hold this year's meeting in Evian, France, which opens on Sunday (1 June).

"As a principal architect of the G8 Africa Action Plan, Canada is fully committed to working with African nations that value democracy and good governance in priority areas, including health and education, trade and investment and peace and security," said Chrétien in announcing the new initiatives.

"Today's funding will contribute to healthy and safe futures for young people in Africa, and the development of agriculture on the continent."          

No details have been provided on where the new centre of excellence is likely to be based. However the principle of using such centres to build scientific capacity in Africa was endorsed at a NEPAD workshop held in Pretoria, South Africa, in February (see 'Roadmap' proposed for science in Africa).

Chrétien also announced that the Canada Fund for Africa will provide Can$12 million to support the work of a Canadian coalition on HIV/AIDS on the social impact of the disease, including its consequences for labour, children's education, and family structures.

Canada has already has committed Can$40 million for research on agricultural productivity in Africa in conjunction with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). As a result, all of the consultative group's 16 agricultural research centres are increasing their Africa-specific research, focusing on the needs of small-scale farmers and women producers.

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