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[LUSAKA] Zambia's ambitious plan to use science to boost its economic development and reduce poverty has received financial backing from the African Development Bank.

A Ministry of Finance spokesperson, Chileshe Kandeta, announced this month that the bank has approved a loan of 123 billion kwachas (US$30 million) towards the country's fifth national development plan.

The US$15.5 billion plan, in which science is a key priority, aims to train 300 researchers to post-graduate level and improve basic teaching and working conditions for scientists in a bid to stem the brain drain from Zambia.

The Zambian government has committed US$12 billion towards the plan, of which US$23 million is earmarked for science and technology.

Paul Zambezi, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Vocational Training told SciDev.Net that this is the most the country has ever invested in science and technology, and represents 0.3 per cent of the national budget.

The plan was welcomed by the University of Zambia, which also urged the Ministry of Education to increase researchers' salaries and their allowances for accommodation and transport.

Under the plan, Zambia will refurbish almost 300 laboratories and lecture theatres atschools and universities in the hope of encouraging scientists to stay in the country.

The University of Zambia's vice chancellor Robert Serpell told SciDev.Net: "more than 200 scientists have left the country in search of good salaries and better working conditions in the last 15 years."

The African Development Bank says the Zambian government can do more to combat the brain drain. It has urged Ng'andu Magande, Zambia's Finance Minister, to consider tax breaks to encourage the private sector to invest in research and development.

But Magande says there are no statistics available to show how much the private sector has already invested in research and development in Zambia.

The funds are expected by the end of January and must be spent by the end of 2007. They have been provided by a group of international donors that include Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden.