Making good use of scarce resources for Africa-EU joint research

CAAST-NET website. A dozen institutions from Africa and Europe are hoping to develop a multi-million dollar project to mobilise funding for joint research activities. The project, known as Developing African European Joint Collaboration for Science and Technology, is expected to begin operation in 2011, says Paris-based coordinator Yves Savidan.

Savidan, who is also an official with France’s leading development research institute, the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), says the proposed project seeks to reduce duplication of efforts. The collaboration is meant to optimise the use of scarce research and development funding.

The proposed project represents an expansion of the successful European Research Area Network (ERA-NET), from national and regional cooperation within Europe under the Sixth Framework Programme to international cooperation under the Seventh Framework Programme.

“The project will help European funding agencies and governments to coordinate what they are doing in Africa,” says Savidan, who was editor of the international seed research newsletter, the Apomixis Newsletter, until it closed in 1999.

”Each country has its own programmes and there is little coordination between governments in what they do bilaterally. It means duplication of efforts and gaps. This collaboration will see different countries putting money together and funding research collectively.”

Savidan says each of the African and European partners has agreed to provide funding but a decision is still to be made on how much each will contribute.

The three African partners include the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in South Africa, headed by Naledi Pandor; the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Egypt, headed by Hani Helal, and the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology in Kenya, headed by Sally Kgosei. The European partners, among others, include the Commission for Development Studies in Austria, led by Hubert Dürrstein, Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (Ministry of Science and Innovation) in Spain under minister Cristina Garmendia, and the Swiss National Science Foundation in Bern. Calls for proposals will be issued once the funding has been pulled together and awards will be granted to successful consortia.

Savidan strongly believes that the calls for proposals should be designed to strengthen collaboration between African scientists, who have often been found to work in isolation. According to a study published by the Kenya-based African Technology Policy Studies Network last year, there is more networking between African and European scientists than among African scientists.

“I believe we have to develop proposals to strengthen links between African scientists. We will work with regional economic bodies and all organisations involved in science and technology in Africa to make scientists work together and not in isolation. It will not be for us to say if scientists should have partners in Europe,” he says.

Savidan adds that the proposals will be evaluated based on their scientific excellence and their impact on the development of the continent. The continent’s political blueprint for science, the Consolidated Plan of Action currently being implemented by African Ministers Conference on Science and Technology (AMCOST) headed by Hani Helal, will be used as a guideline for developing the calls for proposals.

The partners are also negotiating for 2 million Euros from the European Commission to enable them to define priorities for developing calls and to attract more funders. The money will also be used for ironing out the details on the implementation of the project and this will encompass information on the ownership of intellectual property.

“The first year will be used for preparation. In the second year, we will start issuing calls for proposals,” says Savidan.

South Africa will lead the activities to attract more funders, says Daan du Toit, the minister-counselor for the DST. Du Toit, who is based in Brussels, Belgium, says the DST will organise outreach initiatives to help it raise funds.

DST “will specifically lead the work package tasked to mobilise the participation of other researcher funders,” he says. South Africa “will also be responsible for setting up a scientific advisory council tasked with giving independent scientific advice to the project,” he says.

He adds that participation will help “contribute to the internationalisation of South African research” and provide new resources. The initiative, which has four other work packages, will task Finland with the job of leading a review of existing programmes.

Eric Mwangi, an official with Kenya’s Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, says participation will help build the capacity of Kenyan scientists.

“Participating in joint projects helps to build the capacity of scientists. European scientists will also benefit in experiencing the Network for Coordination and Advancement of Sub-Saharan Africa-EU Science and Technology Cooperation (CAAST-Net),” Mwangi says.

He adds that the project should also look into addressing weaknesses in infrastructure, saying the shortage of infrastructure is one of the factors fuelling brain drain in Africa.

This article, published on the Coordination and Advancement of Sub-Saharan Africa-EU Science & Technology Cooperation Network’s website (CAAST-NET) as part of the first issue of the website’s newsletter, was written by Deborah-Fay Ndhlovu (dfn@research-africa.net), Senior Reporter at Research Africa. For more information, Yves Savidan can be contacted by email on yves.savidan@ird.fr

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