By Mary Hearty

With the East African Community (EAC) Regional Research Agenda acknowledging Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) as the key driver of sustainable socio-economic development, the East African Science and Technology Commission (EASTECO) has been doing a lot to entrench this in the region.

So far, EASTECO has developed evidence-based policies for science, technology and innovation including a draft Regional Policy for STI to create an enabling environment for increased investment in STI, as well as their application to support sustainable regional development and socioeconomic transformation.

The draft policy was validated on 24th September 2018 in Nairobi, Kenya, by a regional meeting which gathered 60 participants including delegates from EAC Partner States’ Government, academia, research institutions, private sector, civil society, and development partners.

The policy envisions making use of engineering, science, technology and innovation for global competitiveness and sustainable regional development and socio-economic transformation.

This is by fostering cooperation and promoting the development, transfer, adoption and mastery of engineering, science, technology and innovation in the EAC for sustainable regional development and socio-economic transformation.

According to the EASTECO, the draft Policy has already been adopted by EASTECO Governing board and will be presented to the Sector council for Education, Science and Technology, Culture and Sports (SCESTCS) for approval and thereafter to be implemented.

The regional commission have also developed the East Africa regional policy for intellectual property which addresses gaps in Partner States’ national IP related policies in order to protect the Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) in all fields of technology.

The draft report was validated by a regional meeting which gathered 60 participants in Nairobi, Kenya, on 25th September 2018, including delegates from EAC Partner States’ Government, academia, research institutions, private sector, civil society, and development partners.

Through the IP policy, EASTECO intends to become a socio- economically transformed community that harnesses creativity for knowledge development and technological advancement, by creating an enabling environment that enhances utilization of the IP system.

The EASTECO have as well come up with a modern regional bio-economy strategy that focuses on the creation of new bio-based products that add value at local level and use resources in novel, innovative and sustainable ways.

The strategy mainly focuses on four thematic areas. These include; food security and sustainable agriculture, health and wellbeing, bio-based industrial development, and sustainable energy.

The Final draft of the EAC Regional Policy for Innovation-Led Bio-economy Strategy has been validated by stakeholders from the EAC Region and approved by the EASTECO Governing Board.

During the first Eastern African Bio-economy Ministerial conference online, supported by the BioInnovate Africa Program from 21-22 October 2020, frameworks for implementing regional and national bio-economy strategies were discussed; a platform for collaboration was provided and the EAC Regional Bio-economy Observatory Knowledge sharing portal was launched.

In 2021, the EASTECO conducted the 2nd Eastern Bio-economy conference at icipe campus in Nairobi, Kenya and online, to build momentum for implementing the Eastern Africa Bio-economy Strategy, and explore opportunities for inter-African cooperation and cross continental collaboration in bio-economy development.

In the same year, the EASTECO organized the EAC regional 2nd science, technology and innovation conference to enhance networking relations among researchers, technology developers and innovators; establish a platform for stakeholders for setting agenda as well as priorities areas in STI in the region.

The conference also aimed at enhancing linkages and partnerships between academia, industry and the public sector; enhancing exposure to stakeholders on 5 priority issues for research, extension services, teaching and learning; and increasing capacity for benchmarking research outputs in the region.

The regional strategy for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has also been drafted, and is in the process of the approval by the Governing Board and the Council.

“The shared vision for the strategy is to position EAC as a thriving and innovative economic bloc with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) driving the region’s growth, productivity and future sustainability,” the EASTECO states.

Through the strategy, the EASTECO is keen on attracting the best talent into the STEM field and increase public awareness of the impact that STEM has on community, building capability in STEM based on the needs of the society and bring real life solution, and sustaining supply and availability of competent STEM professionals and reliable workforce.

In addition, the EASTECO have developed regional strategy for indigenous knowledge and technology systems (IKTS) as they are considered crucial for economic and cultural empowerment of indigenous people in particular, and the world in general.

IKT refers to detailed knowledge and technology systems passed down from generations to generations by communities as they interact with the environment.

Since there is no regional strategy to harmonize the initiatives and to harness IKT, the East African Regional IKTS strategy presents a unique opportunity to support various knowledge and technology initiatives in the region and enrich the regional research and innovation system.

In regards to promoting STI knowledge and innovation, the EASTECO notes that regional networks of research and technology organizations have already been established.

For instance, “the EAC partner States have established National Industrial Research and Development Institutions who are scoring a number of achievements in R&D for priority domains such as small and medium enterprises (SMEs) development, agro-processing, energy, water and sanitation,” the EASTECO reports.

In Uganda, the EASTECO further explains, the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) has initiated a number of R&D activities including development and commercialization of Electronically Controlled Gravity Feed (ECGF), Infusion Set and Smart Drip Irrigation System (proto-type), thermo-stable vaccine against Newcastle Disease (commercialized), among others.

The EASTECO further notes that UIRI is also actively involved in prototyping, incubating and piloting research output for possible commercialization.

In Tanzania, the Tanzania Industrial Development Organization (TIRDO) is supporting a number of R&D activities such as Greener Cassava Processing System leading to zero waste for enhanced market access by small and medium entrepreneurs, performance of technical industrial audits, analytical services (Food, Environment, energy-coal quality testing), non-destructive testing and training industries on HACCP.

In Kenya, the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI) is undertaking multidisciplinary Research and Development in industrial and allied technologies. The main R&D activities are in the areas of Engineering, Energy and Environment, ICT, Leather & Textiles, and Food Technology.

In Rwanda, the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) spearheads the implementation of the national industrial development policy, patent inventions and traditional knowledge for industrial development; mentoring of entrepreneurs and SMEs in adopting new or improved industrial research products; and develop partnerships with other research institutions.

In Burundi, Centre National des Technologies Alimentaires (CNTA) developed a number of prototypes in processing agricultural products and affordable farming machineries.

To build synergies that benefit to all EAC partner states, an initiative was created where EASTECO, EAC secretariat (Department of Industrial Development), and these industrial research and development institutions entered in a regional network (through an MOU) to establish linkages and conduct joint regional programs targeting technology transfer and commercialization for private firms and enterprises.

The commission have also developed research technological organizations database for enhancing access, adaptation, transfer and diffusion of manufacturing and industrial technologies in EAC region.

In addition, the EASTECO publishes a regional journal to support and enhance dissemination of findings of scientific research, technology and innovation in the region.

“The publication contains six scientific articles derived from original research on topics of interest to the furtherance of the East Africa community socioeconomic development and integration agenda,” the EASTECO notes.

From 2019-2021, the EASTECO have produced nine volumes of the publication, with 112 articles.

The EASTECO have also developed the EAC regional collaborative research grant program to stimulate generation of knowledge, technologies and innovation through research focusing on key regional priorities for increased regional integration and socio-economic development.

The program piloted the first competitive research grant call through the Regional Cooperative Research Grant Initiative (CGI) in collaboration with the National Commissions/Councils of Science and Technology (Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda) and the Science Granting Councils Initiative for Sub-Saharan Africa (SGCI).

“The call yielded 40 grant proposal submissions; 7 were recommended for funding and only 2 projects were funded due to limitations of resources,” the EASTECO notes.

Consequently, this provided an opportunity for EASTECO to test and fine-tune regional research management framework tools including guidelines, procedures, and processes in support to regional collaborative research.

The EASTECO is also committed to support innovative ICT applications mainly from areas like e-Health, e-Education, e-Agriculture, e-Climate Change, Big data and predictive analytics, Industrial development and manufacturing, use of emerging disruptive technologies including fourth industrial revolution and exponential organizations, and Innovative Mobile applications.

Through e-Health and integrated health information, the EASTECO aims to enhance national and cross border healthcare delivery and services. Nine health sector investment priorities for the period 2018 to 2028 were already been approved during the 19th Ordinary Meeting of the Summit of the EAC Heads of States held in Kampala, Uganda on February 2018.

Notably, EASTECO in collaboration with EAC Secretariat is planning to carry out the EAC regional e-Health readiness assessment and report back to the Sectoral Council of Ministers.

The consultant team have already met one-on-one with key stakeholders and e-Health system owners in the EAC region to identify key digital health priorities.

As the main regional agency through which the EAC Partner States develop and implement common Science and Technology policies, programs and projects, the EASTECO organized the 3rd EAC Regional E-Health and Telemedicine workshop, ministerial conference and virtual exhibition.

The conference was organized with the aim of providing a dialogue platform for academia, researchers, technologists, developers and government decision makers, in order to present and discuss existing and new digital technologies for enhancing healthcare in East Africa.

Attended by 370 participants and 10 virtual exhibitors, the conference highlighted the progress of the implementation of the resolutions from the 2nd EAC Regional e-Health and Telemedicine Workshop and Ministerial Conference.

In an effort to harmonize and implement STI objectives with a component on entrepreneurship and innovation, the Commission held a Regional Workshop to train higher education students and graduates on Entrepreneurship and Job Creation, in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, in February 2019.

The regional training targeted faculty and graduate students of Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) which supports applied and innovative business ideas and implementation.

According to the EASTECO, 100 students were trained in developing entrepreneurial competences and practical business management.

Furthermore, EASTECO is planning to develop an online platform, with course material and mentorship in entrepreneurship skills training accessible to Science and Technology graduates and young technology innovators.

In 2019, the EASTECO in partnership with the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to build capacity in scientific writing of manuscripts and grant proposals through the massive open online course platform.

According to the EASTECO, the course aims to develop capacity among scientists in universities and research institutions in writing manuscripts for publication in quality peer reviewed journals, presentation at conferences, and effective communication.

“Two courses were offered during this period where a total of 212 participants enrolled in the course and 182 made a start, out of which 105 completed the essential modules,” the EASTECO notes.

In 2021, the commission conducted another training on digital identity system for EAC partner states institutions in collaboration with the Government of the Republic of Estonia, which was attended by 51 participants.

The training gave an outline of the main principles of implementing a Digital Identity system in a country, the kind of legislation and institutional setup needed, and protection measures required.

The status of the Digital ID system processes in the EASTECO Partner States were also reviewed to find potential follow-up cooperation opportunities with Estonia.