2015 is set to be a hugely important year for the future of science, technology and innovation in Africa. It represents the culmination of months of consultation around the post-2015 development agenda and the formulation of sustainable development goals, which will set the international priorities for the coming decade and beyond. While 2014 again strengthened the growing shift in perceptions around the need for greater focus on STI on our continent, 2015 must continue to lock actions and commitments into place.
Mood shift on the importance of STI
As I’ve written before, there has undoubtedly been a mood shift in how STI is viewed in Africa over recent years. More and more people are recognising the increased quality and quantity of African scientific research. Our partners at Elsevier and the World Bank published their joint report recently pointing to sub-Saharan Africa’s scientific research, which showed that African researchers more than doubled their output in these areas between 2003-2012. This was largely fuelled by an impressive growth in health sciences research, which will have really positive long-term effects for the region.
The continent is also now being increasingly lauded for home grown innovations and latest technological advancements to address local development challenges such as food insecurity. For example, scientists in Uganda are using genetic modification to boost the disease resistance of bananas, a local staple food. From the world’s largest telescope to the latest on Africa2Moon, Africa is now finding the global spotlight not just for progress, but also for leadership. With large international organisations, from the World Bank to the UN and the EU having now all outlined ambitious plans to continue to support such developments and scientific innovations, the future landscape is looking more positive.
As ever, the start of the year is an opportunity to take stock of our previous work and reflect on what might improve future activities. 2014 was a great year for us, as we continued our efforts to build a coalition of people passionate about and working in science in Africa, reaching thousands across the globe and engaging 40 individual African governments on their own plans and strategies. We were honoured to host His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, President of the Republic of Ghana, at a high-level parliamentary session on Ebola, and I met personally with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Macky Sall of Senegal to discuss our support for their own local scientific programmes.
This year we will continue our campaign for science, technology and innovation in Africa. With the support of our Partners Forum, the PEI will host events across the continent to drive further awareness around science, tech and development, and how it can help address the critical issues Africa is facing. Tragic instances such as Ebola have again shown the need for strong, resilient and well managed systems with sound scientific expertise at their centre.
Our 2015 priorities
Our priorities this year will be to continue our work on public health and the potential for new e-health technologies, as well as to focus on the important role of business in Africa’s STI agenda, and finally the ‘data revolution’, and its likely future impact on scientific development.
Not only will these priorities help define much of our campaigning work this year, but they will also involve the launch of some new projects. We’re particularly excited about helping the AWP Network and TReND in Africa implement their projects as winners of our first ever Africa Data Challenge, held at our #ScienceAfrica UnConference in November.
What’s so exciting about these projects is that they demonstrate the breadth of approaches to harnessing data on the continent for practical, human impact. TReND in Africa’s project will use 21st Century science to build the research capacity of scientists. It aims to foster a new generation of data analysts who have a deep grounding in the biology and the analytical skills to study genomics datasets. Given the low cost of computing infrastructure, TReND in Africa argued that this is a promising area of research for ambitious African scientists.
The AWP Network’s project is a local programme that aims to empower female farmers in Nigeria. The AWP Network observed that many African women are involved in agricultural production, but they do not receive support to grow and develop their businesses. To help address this challenge, Mary Olushoga proposed a project that will provide female farmers who are part of the AWP Network Agropreneur Project with relevant training. The AWP Network Agropreneur Project will also use the data collected during these activities to inform the Ministry of Agriculture and other stakeholders of the services that women farmers need.
2014 was a year where Africa found important new champions and advocates for STI as the key to address its most important development challenges. I look forward to seeing our beloved continent build on these achievements in 2015, and support it through the PEI’s campaign and projects. Thanks to all our partners, supporters and colleagues for working with us, and here’s to a great year ahead.
Image by Paul Saad, Pan University of Pretoria HDR