By Henry Owino (Senior Science Correspondent)
Kenya’s National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) has unveiled key National Research Priorities overwhelmingly focusing on the current Government’s Big 4 Agenda followed by Kenya Vision 2030.
The Big 4 Agenda include food and nutrition security, universal health coverage, manufacturing and affordable housing.
The National Research Priorities document which was launched in Nairobi is a five-year planwith Key Research Priorities developed through wide stakeholder consultative process to enhance coordination and cooperation on the country’s research agenda among the actors.
Implementation of the research priorities includes mainstreaming appropriate financing models, environmental sustainability, climate smart initiatives, national values and devolution considerations.
The ceremony which was held at the Nairobi Safari Club included the launching of NACOSTI’s Strategic Plan 2018-2022 and the ISO 9001:2015 Certification.
“We are committed to supporting public research agencies and other partners to achieve the expected research outputs and outcomes in the priority areas. I am grateful to the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation for spearheading the development of the National Priorities,” Prof. Collette Suda, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Education- the guest speaker during the launch said.
The generation of new knowledge through scientific research underpins the realization of the Government’s Big 4 Agenda, resulting in employment creation and improved living standards. The priorities will be reviewed every three years.
“I call upon Government Ministries, departments and Agencies, universities, research and technical and vocational education and training institutions, development partners and the private sector to initiate strategic collaborations around these research priorities,” Prof Suda urged.
Potential impact of research in the specific filed especially those addressing the Big Four Agenda and the Third Medium Term Plan was one of the first criteria used in identifying the National Research Priorities.
Others include: addressing national needs/gaps unlikely to be met by other mechanisms of financing; cost effectiveness and sustainability; and potential for multiplier effects on the national development process.
According to Dr Roy Mugira, the Director Scheduled Science NACOSTI, the summary details of Research Priority Areas are as follows:
Food and Nutrition Security
Government departments, agencies and partners should give priority to research that will lead to: enhanced agricultural productivity, through novel technologies, better management of pests and diseases and sustainable use of soil, water and biodiversity; reduced post-harvest losses through increased efficiency in food processing, storage, distribution and supply chains; increased technology up-take through effective technology transfer system, sustainable provision of extension services, farmer education and public outreach programmes; increased diversity of food sources by addressing the socio-economic, cultural and religious factors that limit the utilization of diverse food sources; and promotion of sustainable products utilization; water management, rehabilitation, conservation and management; indigenous traditional knowledge; biodiversity and environment management; strengthening environmental governance; and mitigation and adaption to climate change.
Kenya has an estimated annual demand of 244,000 housing units in different market segments against an estimated annual supply of less than 20 percent thus approximately 50,000 units. This has outpaced supply and culminated in housing deficit over the years.
Majority of Kenyans are still unable to access housing due to high cost, unfriendly mortgage regime, a rigid land tenure system and weak policy, legal and regulatory framework.
The country needs to develop affordable housing programmes covering all urban centers across the country that will incorporate innovative, cost effective and efficient delivery models. These will entail the use of affordable environmentally friendly building materials, efficient construction technologies and techniques.
So, the Government Departments, Agencies and partners should give priority to research that will lead to: development of affordable building materials and technologies; development of technologies for greening the building and construction sector to make it climate smart; responsive land use and urban planning as well as viable and innovative financing models including Public Private Partnerships.
The manufacturing sector is a key driver for economic growth and development through job creation and value addition. The overall goal is to increase the sector’s contribution to Kenya’s GDP from about 9.2 percent to 15 percent.
This constrained by high cost and unstable energy, inconsistent supply of quality raw materials, reliable on obsolete technologies, limited access to affordable credit and counterfeiting of products.
Therefore, government departments, agencies and partners should give priority to research that will lead to: technologies that enhance efficiency in processing and value addition; appropriate climate smart manufacturing processes, energy efficiency, effectiveness and diversification; effective quality assurance and standardization of processes and products; fabrication of simple power and hand driven tools/equipment used in farming and industries; medical and laboratory equipment; innovative construction machinery and spare parts production as well as manufacturing of plant equipment , components and accessories for energy generation including: photovoltaic cells, solar panels, wind turbines, biogas digesters, burners, batteries, inverters, energy saving bulbs, bio-fuels, distribution lines and cables
Moreover, it should also lead to: increased efficiency in the execution of the textile, apparel and leather value chains to overcome limitations and tap on their potential to contribute to wealth generation and employment creation; and efficient production of steel, plastics and rubber, paints and adhesives, leather, electrical and electronics, sheet and fiber glass and petroleum products, auto financial/insurance services, sales and repairs, auto parts and accessories.
Universal Health Coverage
The high cost of health care, weak public health and sanitation systems, poor disease diagnosis and the emergence of infectious and non-communicable diseases present a serious impediment to the attainment of Kenya’s ambition of attaining 100% Universal Health Coverage.
Although great progress has been achieved in the roll-out of the cover the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), the cover has been out of reach for the majority of citizens due to accessibility and cost limitations. As a hospital and not a health insurance cover, NHIF is technically limited in the extent to which the regime can assure universal health coverage.
For these reasons, Government Departments, Agencies and partners should give priority to research that will lead to: novel health care delivery and public health systems supported by modern technologies including Information Communication Technology (ICT) and Nanotechnology; promotion of healthier lifestyles and address non-communicable diseases including mental health; new technologies to enhance disease surveillance, prevention, diagnosis and treatment; disease prevention-focusing on infectious and non-infectious diseases pharmaceuticals, vaccine development, alternative medicine and emergencies; early diagnosis and treatment of diseases as well as environmental health -focusing on water and sanitation, pollution control, occupational health and safety and effect of climate on health.
Academic Research and Development
Universities play a key role in the development of human resource for all production sectors of the economy through training and conducting research and development for the generation, curation and dissemination of new knowledge.
University research programs are critical in the development of theoretical foundations in the basic sciences that underpin applied research. A great proportion of research funding initiatives focus more on applies research, seen to generate quick gains as opposed to basic research, whose benefits are not always apparent.
The research portfolio at universities has been declining over the years due to low funding and greater focus on training. As results of these, Government Departments, Agencies and partners should give priority to: enhanced research portfolio and capacity at universities and research institutions to address the research agenda; strengthening the existing models of linking academia, industry, community and government for effective technology transfer; enhanced effectiveness of teaching Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)subjects and assure equity in enrolment to STEM programmes at all levels of education as well as generating data and statistics for research and development (R&D).
Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation
NACOSTI in collaboration with the National Research Fund (NRF), will facilitate the establishment of five research consortia to address the five priority areas. Further, NACOSTI will lead the tracking, monitoring and support the implementation of the research priorities.
Monitoring and evaluation of the performance of the identified research priorities will be conducted through collection and analysis of administrative data and periodical R&D reviews. National targets will be set and appropriate indicators aligned to the internationally accepted ones integrated into the framework. The Sectors will also formulate sector-specific monitoring Indicators for each priority research area.
The implementation framework will constitute the National Steering Committee, the Research Priorities Delivery Secretariat and each Working Groups.
A National Steering Committee on research will be established comprising of the Principal Secretary responsible for Science, Technology and Innovation, The National Treasury and Principal Secretaries in state departments in the charge of areas of focus in the National Research Priorities.
The National Steering Committee will be convened by the Principal Secretary in charge of Science, Technology and Innovation. The Steering Committee will provide strategic direction to the Priorities Delivery Secretariat.
To support the National Steering Committee, the Delivery Secretariat will be established with the mandate of spearheading the implementation of the Research priorities in collaboration with relevant line ministries and other agencies in the planning and monitoring of programmes implantation by the sector working groups.
The Secretariat will comprise of the NACOSTI, NRF, Kenya National Innovation Agency, Commission for University Education, State Department in charge of Research Science and Technology and Representatives appointed from the other supporting sectors and the private sector. The Secretariat will be chaired by the Director General NACOSTI.
Each of the sectors aligned to the research priority areas will establish a Sector Working Group to coordinate the respective sector initiatives including, resource mobilization, capacity development and monitoring of progress. Each sector will identify a lead agency to chair their Sector Working Group.
The National Research Fund will take lead role in mobilization of resources for research. The NRF will align the funding of research programs to the national research priorities. In addition, sector aligned public agencies will mobilize resources through the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework Groups.
The sectors will also establish collaborations with private sector investors and other partners to mobilize additional funding.