By Gift Briton   

The low level of investment in research in Africa, despite science, technology and innovation (ST&I) being the central factors in driving agricultural productivity and socio-economic development, raised deep concern among stakeholders at the first African Conference on Agricultural Technologies (ACAT).

The ACAT event brought together over 500 delegates drawn from the African continent and beyond with most speakers having a rallying call towards increased investment in ST&I.

Dr. Canasius Kanangire, Executive Director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in his remarks noted that Africa’s investment in ST&I as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) stands at a low of 0.5% against the global average of 1.8%.

The low level of investment, according to Dr. Kanangire, consequently translates into a slow pace of research in critical sectors such as agriculture.

“This low level of investment by countries highlights the need for a renewed commitment to the Malabo declaration and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) call for investment in science technology and innovation at the level of 1% of GDP,” he noted.

Recognizing the potential of innovative technologies in reducing the current production gap towards the attainment of self-sufficiency in food production in Africa, Dr. Jonathan Goodluck, former Nigerian President and AATF’s Goodwill Ambassador, urged countries to increase investment in research and development, integrate cutting-edge science in the development of advanced innovative technologies to enhance precision agriculture and biotechnology, as well as digital platforms that connect farmers with knowledge and skills from planning through production to markets.

Another area of concern was the low private sector investment in agricultural innovations and technologies.

It is documented that one of the issues that affects the adoption of biotechnology, particularly transgenic biotechnology, is the fact that scientists produce technologies and are able to prove the concept but cannot be able to progress it through product development and commercialization.

Dr. James Onsando, Seed and Seed Systems Consultant, and former Managing Director-Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), in an exclusive interview with Science Africa, shared some strategies which scientists can pick up to interest the commercial private sector to invest in their innovations and research.

“Commercial private sector are individuals who invest where prospects of making money are clear. They do not invest because they are good people to anybody. If there is a business case, these people would invest,” he noted.

Dr. Onsando noted that public research can create a business case for their technologies if scientists team up with people who have business backgrounds. These people will go through the prototype of their product and be able to advise them accordingly on how to make profit from it.

He added that “once you have profiled a product and included cost and profit margins, then the private sector can justify coming in. So, private sector involvement particularly for public research would only happen if these products clearly have value proposition or when these products are clearly showing that that they are profitable. Once the product is profiled appropriately, it would attract private sector investment.”