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[JOHANNESBURG] Canada has become the first country to support an initiative by the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) to revive science across the continent. The announcement was made during the first-ever African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology for Development, held in Johannesburg this week.

The Ottawa-based International Development Research Centre has pledged Can$745,000 (US$563,000) to help African leaders promote the application of science and technology to economic growth and poverty reduction.

The money will fund projects to be completed before the next ministerial conference in two years. These include workshops and conferences, concept papers, feasibility studies and other research by the African Forum on Science and Technology for Development, a NEPAD programme.

"Africa can become an important player in science and technology at the international level," says IDRC president Maureen O'Neill. She adds that the IDRC hopes that other donors will match its support.

Finland is likely to be the next nation to step forward. Reijo Keurulainen of the University of Jyväskylä, an observer at the NEPAD science conference in Johannesburg, confirmed that Finland was particularly interested in funding research in open-source software at Africa's largest research agency, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, based in South Africa.

Finland has traditionally contributed a considerable portion of its funding through university partnerships.

Canada has already announced that it will spend Can$30 million on the Biosciences Centre of Excellence in Nairobi, Kenya, another NEPAD project (see Nairobi centre chosen to boost biosciences in Africa). Both amounts pale into insignificance, however, next to the Can$85 million which Canada is contributing to various research initiatives in Africa.

In total, the Canada Fund for Africa has Can$500 million (US$378 million) in its coffers, although it is not destined solely for science projects.

At the same time as the NEPAD science meeting, South African President Thabo Mbeki made his first state visit to Canada, where he signed a Joint Declaration of Intent with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to strengthen bilateral cooperation.

The leaders agreed to co-operate closely in support of NEPAD and to work together to build capacity in HIV/AIDS, rural development and communicable diseases.