Uganda needs to invest more in research and development to harness its biological wealth in order to become a middle income country.
According to scientists and researchers at the three day conference on science and technology at the Uganda Industrial Research Institute, there is lack of consistent funding towards promotion of innovation into commercial products.
The innovation would turn around the agricultural sector, medicine or drugs, energy, ICT and help communities to cope with climate change and clean up pollution in the environment, according to researchers.
They also pointed out that the relevant policies and laws such as intellectual property rights are lacking in the country meaning that the originators of the knowledge are not protected or rewarded by the people using the knowledge. The private sector, which is would complement government funding, according to scientists is weak and needs empowerment from Government and donors.
An intellectual property right is a legal concept and helps to protect innovators and industry, according to Tom Gidudu, Technical Advisor, and National Planning Authority.
He said universities, research institutes as well as private sector were working in isolation something that has stifled the development of innovations and failure to incubate and commercialize them.
“We need to create a link or bridge between the researchers and industry (private sector),” said Gidudu, adding that this could be achieved through intellectual property rights.
Researchers cited research in many products such as bananas where they have generated 12 innovations products including wine and charcoal along the banana value chain.
They also pointed out that some innovators have locally made solar panels but are not yet protected.
Citing M-pesa, which was made by a Kenyan and is widely used across the world countries including US but it was not patented. In Uganda, M-pesa is known as mobile money.
David Obongo, the PS in the Ministry of Science and Technology advised universities to change the curriculum so that can produce what he called employable people.
“We need a relevant curriculum that in order to develop products and employable people,” he said, adding that research and development is very expensive where valuable lessons need to be generated where success is not achieved.
Richard Tushemereirwe, executive director of National Agriculture Research Laboratories said there was need for consistent funding pointing out that research and development takes a long period of time and that this is sometimes derailed by Government short term funding and changes of policy. He cited the bio-fortification of bananas with vitamin A which started in 2004 and is expected to be concluded in 2021 would not have been possible without funding from Merinda Bill Gates Foundation.
Vitamin A deficiency, which can cause blindness, stunting and even death, is a devastating problem in the county. About 40 percent of children in Uganda are stunted.