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East Africa needs a regional research agenda'

By Christopher Bendana

Added 24th October 2018 05:59 PM

Ngabirano, the executive secretary East African Science and Technology Commission ( EASTEco) an East African Community institute told the researchers that working together as a group would help East Africa share the high costs associated with research.

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Dr Peter Ndmerere, Dr Getrude in the middle and Dr Theresa Ssengooba (Chairperson UNCST) choosing a picture that represents research in Uganda at SKYZ Hotel in Kampala. Photo by Christopher Bendana

Ngabirano, the executive secretary East African Science and Technology Commission ( EASTEco) an East African Community institute told the researchers that working together as a group would help East Africa share the high costs associated with research.

A leading researcher Dr. Gertrude Ngabirano wants the East African bloc to carry out research as one unit.

Ngabirano made the call during her Keynote address to researchers attending the Uganda dialogue event on enabling equitable research system at SKYZ hotel in Kampala on Monday

Ngabirano, the executive secretary East African Science and Technology Commission ( EASTEco) an East African Community institute told the researchers that working together as a group would help East Africa share the high costs associated with research.

“We are small economies. Infrastructure is expensive. It makes sense to work together and share results,” she said.

She argued that it was easy to work together since the region faces the same challenges.

Ngabirano said each country within the region would be given areas where they have comparative advantage so that they put their best talent there, citing Uganda taking coffee.

It is should be noted that though countries have not embraced specialisation in research international organisations are already using the model for some time.

For instance the just ended World Bank programme, the East African Agricultural Productivity Programme (EAAPP) selected countries depending on their comparative advantages. Uganda was selected to host the Cassava Centre for Excellence, Ethiopia was selected to host wheat, Tanzania rice, while Kenya was given dairy.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) also host specific programmes in different countries. Nigeria hosts the international centre for Cassava, Philippines hosts one for rice, Kenya one for livestock and forests, Peru for potato.  

 The conference organised by the Uganda National Council of Science and Technology (UNCST) and the International Network for the availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) brought on researchers from national universities, the National Agricultural Research Organization UIRI, private sector.

Dr. Peter Ndmerere, the executive secretary UNCST said that research and development (R&D) are the bedrock of human development and alluded to government prioritization of S&T.

Dr. Femi Nzegwu, head of monitoring evaluation & learning at INASP said they want research to be impactful by changing livelihoods.

Dr. Robert Wamala, a lecturer from Makerere University said local researchers’ agenda is scattered and it depends on who funds the research. He said many academicians do research mainly to publish and get promoted, end of story.

Ngabirano called for more involvement with the private sectors in research citing successful countries like Singapore where 60% of the research and development is private sector led.

“We have to put in place mechanism to incentivise the private sector to engage in research and development. For instance we would do this by sharing infrastructure and available expertise,” she said.

She said there was a direct correlation between investment in research and development and economic development citing countries like U.S. China and Japan that have a strong research component and high economic development.

She also called for good research environment so that we don’t lose our researchers.

Many local researchers decried funders’ restrictions on areas of research though Dr. Gity Behravan from the Swedish embassy said Sweden one of the largest donors of research at public universities never dictates what kind of research they do.

Sources at the main national research organization including NARO and the Virus Research institute say research is mainly funded by donors and there is little government support which has been dwindling year after year.

The recent UNESCO science (2015) report shows the difference on expenditure on R&D. The advanced countries lead by the United States, Japan and South Korea spend a big chuck of the GDP while countries in Africa spend a minimal.

While South Korea spent 3.2% of its GDP on R&D in 2009, Uganda spent only 0.36% of its GDP. Japan spent 3.3%, and the United States 2.8%.

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