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Science Has the Power to Boost Agriculture in Africa

The agricultural sector is the world’s largest single employer. It provides jobs for more than 40% of the global population. It’s also the largest source of income and jobs for poor, rural households.

It is, by and large, a successful sector. There have been huge improvements in yields and food production over the past five decades. 

More cereals have been produced annually during the past 40 years than in any earlier period. It is also predicted that more grain will be harvested in 2017 than in any year in history. This is as a consequence of scientific advances, increased fertiliser use and favourable rainfall patterns.

Many of these gains have been felt in Africa. Improved seed varieties, new fertilisers and pesticides, improved credit and market access have all played a role. So have scientific innovations such as improved and more reliable weather prediction, improved drought tolerance and increased resistance to extreme climatic conditions, and cross-breeding for improved efficiency.

And yet hundreds of millions of people in Africa are going hungry every day. Globally, 800 million people are categorised as chronically hungry. Around 30% of them – 227 million people – live in Africa.

So where is the disconnect between food production and food security in Africa? Why does the continent spend about US $40 billion a year importing food when so many of its own residents are farmers? And how can this situation be changed?

At least part of the answer lies with science. There are already several excellent examples of ways in which science has led to dramatic increases in food production and moved farmers in some countries closer to self-sufficiency.

Science at work

A project in Uganda provides an excellent example. Ugandan scientist Robert Mwanga won the 2016 World Food Prize for his work in addressing Vitamin A deficiencies. Without Vitamin A, children are more likely to develop entirely preventable blindness. Working with people in Uganda’s poor, rural areas, Mwanga set about substituting, at scale, white sweet potato – which is low in Vitamin A – with a Vitamin A-rich alternative.

In Ethiopia, Gebisa Ejeta was awarded the 2009 World Food Prize for his work on improving the food supply of hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa by increasing the production of sorghum hybrids resistant to drought and the parasitic Striga weed.

None of these projects would have been possible without governments supporting the research that lay behind them. But much more needs to be done. Research shows that investing an extra US $88 billion in agricultural research and development globally over the next 15 years could increase crop yields by 0.4% each year.

This could save 80 million people from hunger and protect five million children from malnourishment.

Africa is behind the curve on investing in research to improve agriculture outputs. Even though all 54 countries of the African Union have signed up to successive commitments – starting with the Maputo Declaration in 2003 – to increase their agricultural research budgets to at least 10% of their national budgets, few have actually done so.

At the last count only 13 had met or exceeded the 10% target in one or more years since 2003.

There’s an added problem. Africa relies on external capacity for most of its scientific research in agriculture. This has undermined its capacity to use science to deliver solutions for problems unique to Africa. This needs to change. Scientific research should be Africa-based, owned and led. Investment will be key – and so will solidarity among African scientists and governments.

Using science to benefit people

In 2014 African heads of state renewed their commitment to the agriculture sector when the signed the Malibu Declaration. The core of its agenda is to connect science to benefit society by:

  • Identifying broad areas of science that can be developed in partnership
  • Strengthening national science and technology institutions
  • Building human capacity
  • Diversifying funding sources to support science
  • Facilitating partnerships between African institutions at a national and continental level
  • Sharing information, technologies, information, facilities and staff for common challenges and opportunities, and
  • Creating a favourable policy environment for science

In addition to this, governments need to step up to the plate and increase their research budgets. Combined with the commitment to work together, the hope is that science will increasingly be used to create a more productive, efficient and competitive agriculture sector across the continent. This is critical to improve rural economies, where most people in Africa live.

Source: The Conversation

​How Africa Led the World in Science and Technology

Credit: 123RF

“When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture very disorganized and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they hadn’t even discovered yet.”

Africa has the world’s oldest record of human technological achievement: the oldest stone tools in the world and evidence for tool production by our hominin ancestors have been found in eastern Africa and across Sub-Saharan Africa respectively.

Despite notable African developments in medicine, mathematics, metallurgy and technology in the past, today Africa lags far behind other regions of the world and gives too little or no attention to science and technology.

Let’s take a look at some historic technological achievements in Africa:

Mathematics

Ancient Egyptian mathematicians had a grasp of the principles underlying the Pythagorean theorem. They were able to estimate the area of a circle by subtracting one-ninth from its diameter and squaring the result.

Timbuktu in Mali was a major centre of the sciences. All of the mathematical learning of the Islamic world during the medieval period was available and advanced by Timbuktu scholars: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.

The binary numeral system which lead to the development of the digital computer was widely known through Africa before it was known throughout much of the world.

Astronomy

Egyptians were the first to develop a 365-day, 12-month calendar. It was a stellar calendar, created by observing the stars.

Even today, South Africa has cultivated a burgeoning astronomy community. It hosts the Southern African Large Telescope, the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere.

South Africa is currently building the Karoo Array Telescope as a pathfinder for the $20 billion Square Kilometre Array project.

Metallurgy

Iron use, in smelting and forging for tools, appears in West Africa by 1200 BCE, making it one of the first places for the birth of the Iron Age.

Besides being masters in iron, Africans were masters in brass and bronze. Ife in Nigeria, produced life like statues in brass, an artistic tradition beginning in the 13th century.

Benin also in Nigeria mastered bronze during the 16th century, produced portraiture and reliefs in the metal using the lost wax process. They also were a manufacturer of glass and glass beads.

Medicine

The knowledge of inoculating oneself against smallpox seems to have been known to the Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast. A slave named Onesimus explained the inoculation procedure to Cotton Mather during the 18th century; he reported to have gotten the knowledge from Africa.

In Djenné, Mali, the mosquito was identified to be the cause of malaria, and the removal of cataracts was a common surgical procedure. Based on Timbuktu manuscripts, the dangers of tobacco smoking were known already to African scholars.

Ancient Egyptian physicians were renowned for their healing skills, Herodotus remarked that there was a high degree of specialization among Egyptian physicians, with some treating only the head or the stomach, while others were eye-doctors and dentists.

Ancient Egyptian surgeons stitched wounds, set broken bones, and amputated diseased limbs. Around 800, the first psychiatric hospital in Egypt was built by physicians in Cairo.

Around 1100, the ventilator was invented in Egypt.In 1285, the largest hospital of the Middle Ages and pre-modern era was built in Cairo, Egypt, by Sultan Qalaun al-Mansur.

Tetracycline was being used by Nubians, based on bone remains between 350 AD and 550 AD. The antibiotic was in wide commercial use only in the mid-20th century.

The theory is earthen jars containing grain used for making Nubian beer contained the bacterium streptomycedes, which produced tetracycline. Although Nubians were not aware of tetracycline, they could have noticed people fared better by drinking beer.

Successful Caesarean section was performed by indigenous healers in Kahura, Uganda, as observed by R. W. Felkin in 1879. European travellers in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Uganda and Rwanda) during the 19th century observed Caesarean sections being performed on a regular basis.

The expectant mother was normally anesthetized with banana wine, and herbal mixtures were used to encourage healing. From the well-developed nature of the procedures employed, European observers concluded that they had been employed for some time.

A South African, Max Theiler, developed a vaccine against yellow fever in 1937. The first human-to-human heart transplant was performed by South African cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard at Groote Schuur Hospital in December 1967.

During the 1960s, South African Aaron Klug developed crystallographic electron microscopy techniques, in which a sequence of two-dimensional images of crystals taken from different angles are combined to produce three-dimensional images of the target.

Today

The coming of the Europeans to Africa hindered further scientific and technological advancement in Africa.

The continent still has great scientific minds: Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian won the 1999 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in femtochemistry, methods that allow the description of change states in femtoseconds or very short seconds; but 40% of African-born scientists live outside Africa because African countries invest too little or nothing in science and technology Research and Development.

Sub-Saharan African countries spent on average a meagre 0.3% of their GDP on Science and Technology in 2007. North African countries spend a comparative 0.4% of GDP on research.

Notably outstripping other African countries, South Africa spends 0.87% of GDP on science and technology research. Although there are many technology parks in the world there is none in Africa.

There are over 500 Science and Technology centres in the world but only two in the whole of Africa. This is how far Africa has fallen in Science and Technology.

Today, Africa is shadow of herself. The continent can hardly even show the remains of her glorious era of scientific and technological advancement, net even science or technology museums to showcase whatever remained.

What Africa Loses By Underfunding Science

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GRAPHIC | DENNIS MAKORI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Hard Facts
Given that all African countries spend less than one per cent of their GDP on research and development it is no wonder that the continent’s contribution to global research output is just one per cent, even though it has 12 per cent of the world’s population.

Worse, only 29 per cent of the one per cent goes to the four fields of science, technology engineering and math (STEM). In contrast, the average share of health sciences research was 45 per cent.

Through the Dakar declaration that emerged from the Next Einstein Forum, parties committed to increase Africa’s investment in science and technology to 0.7 per cent of GDP by 2020 and one per cent of GDP by 2025. But as World Bank data analysed by Nation Newsplex shows, that’s just a start.

In 2010, the year data is available for most African countries, Israel, which allocates the highest share of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to research worldwide, spent four per cent of its GDP on research, five times the 0.8 per cent allocated by Kenya, South Africa and Morocco.

The three countries allocate the largest proportions of their budget to research in Africa. While Kenya spends a slightly larger share of its GDP on research than South Africa, that translates to less in actual spending, because South Africa’s economy is much bigger than Kenya’s.

After Israel, the next two top spenders on research and development as a share of GDP around the world were Finland, which spent 3.7 per cent, and South Korea, with 3.5 per cent. In terms of actual funds, however, the United States led the world, spending $410 billion in 2010, compared to Israel, which spent $8.7 billion the same year, according to the OECD.

According to Statistics from the World Bank, Africa as a whole accounts for less than one per of the world’s entire expenditure on research and development. In contrast, North America accounts for 37 per cent of total spending, Asia 31 per cent, Europe 27 per cent, and Latin America and the Caribbean three per cent.

Further, the Newsplex review reveals that the continent was ranked last in research publications output per year, accounting for just 2.0 per cent of the world’s total published research in 2010.

“Not much innovation will come from Africa if the continent continues investing less than 0.6 per cent of its GDP in research and development,” said South Africa’s Minister for Science and Technology Naledi Pandor. Her concern was echoed by others throughout the conference.

But there is good news. Sub-Saharan Africa has significantly increased both the quantity and quality of its research output. Between 2003 and 2012, African researchers more than doubled their production of research in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields (STEM), according to the World Bank.

Excluding South Africa, Sub Saharan Africa’s share of global research has increased from 0.44 per cent to 0.72 per cent during the decade examined, a 61 per cent jump.

All regions (East Africa, Southern Africa minus South Africa, and West and Central Africa) improved the relative citation impact of their research, with East Africa and Southern Africa raising their impact above the world average between 2003 and 2012.

Advanced economies are heavily reliant on science, technology engineering and math. Investment in the four fields have seen different countries around the world, especially Asian countries like South Korea, leap forward in terms of development.

Mr Youngah Park, President of Korea Institute of S&T Evaluation and Planning, told Newsplex on the final day of the Next Einstein Forum that heavy investment in STEM is one of the main factors driving South Korea’s economic development.

The country whose GDP was comparable to poorer African countries in the 1960s had the 13th largest economy in the world by nominal GDP by 2014. Africa in contrast loses hugely from neglecting these fields, both in revenue and manpower. 

Brain Drain
On one hand, Africa loses Sh404 billion a year to hiring expatriates to provide STEM services, according to data from the International Organisation for Migration. On the other hand, since 1990, Africa has been losing 20,000 professionals annually, with 300,000 African professionals residing outside Africa.
It costs about Sh4 million to train a doctor in Kenya and about Sh1.5 million to train a university graduate. The cost of a PhD degree is around Sh5 million.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Africa needed to produce 2.5 million new engineers and technicians to be able to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

Basic Discovery
As one way of stemming brain drain and increasing innovation, scientists at the Forum suggested that Africa should balance between investing in applied research, which is geared at solving existing problems and fundamental research, which is driven by curiosity.

Peter Strohschneider the President of the German Research Foundation said that Germany’s national science strategy looks at research from the perspectives of basic research, applied research and science education.

Given that the promise to increase investment to research and development to one per cent has been made and broken several times by African leaders since the 1980, it was suggested that African scientists and research institutions reach-out to policymakers to convince them of the importance of science.

Dr Rush D. Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, suggested the adaption of a strategy his organisation has used for years. Each year, the association places about 300 fellows (scientists and engineers) in all branches of the US federal government for one year. “The fellows get to contribute their knowledge and analytical skills in the policy realm,” he said.

Culled from Daily Nation

Watson’s Sister Lucy is Growing Up With the Help of IBM’s Research Team

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IBM Research Africa is entering its third year in Kenya. The blue chip company opened its Nairobi lab in 2013, launching a $100 million initiative to create a Watson-inspired tech platform that finds commercially viable solutions to the continent’s grand challenges.”

Three years out, Watson’s African equivalent—Lucy—is shaping up and IBM’s Africa research facility is more defined in structure, team, and projects.

Lucy, named after the fossil ancestor Australopithecus afrarensis, is more of a system than a sci-fi super machine. “Lucy is many things, but it’s not just one talking computer in a room,” said Dr. Kamal Bhattacharya, Director of IBM Research –Africa. “We are using Watson related technology and big data analytics to develop solutions to African problems.”

Jeopardy fans remember Watson as IBM’s talking computer that wowed viewers by beating the show’s two best human contestants. Behind Watson becoming America’s first non-human game show celebrity is what IBM calls cognitive computing: combining machine learning and artificial intelligence with human interaction.

Speaking with TechCrunch, Bhattacharya described a core component of Lucy as “externalizing all these capabilities on the cloud,” referring to IBM’s global cloud computing network of enterprise technologies accessed by devices, PCs, laptops, or wearables.

The aim in Africa (as simply as I can interpret) is to create a problem solving framework connecting Lucy’s computing capabilities to teams of talented IT professionals.

That’s what IBM Research Africa has been doing, assembling the staff, hardware, and partnerships. The company will expand Lucy later this year, opening its South Africa based lab in Johannesburg, according to IBM External Relations Leader Jonathan Batty.

On the computing side, IBM’s Africa labs are equipped with the company’s latest cloud enabled IT infrastructure, including power servers, mainframes and hundreds of terabytes of data storage. “Via the cloud, IBM’s researchers are able to share and access data from across Africa and around the world,” said Batty.

On the team level, IBM Research Africa has about 35 specialists from all over the world in Kenya: “PhDs from technical fields, computer sciences, engineering, environmental science etc.,” according to Bhattacharya. The Nairobi lab also has a staff of “about 35 software developers and trainees from local universities” and 20 interns from African and around the world.

On the execution side, IBM Research Africa has launched problem solving groups around issues such as education, infrastructure, health care, and economic inclusion. Partners include African universities, telcos, hospitals, tech startups, and the Kenyan ICT Authority.

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In Nairobi, IBM Research scientists are working with Kenyan authorities to improve waste collection by creating digital route maps and smart sensor enabled garbage trucks.

An IBM team has also set up pilot “telephone farms” in Kenya equipped with sensors that stream data on crop variables (e.g., soil moisture levels), analyze it, and send it back to farmers on tablets and mobile phones. In 2015, IBM’s Africa lab shaped a program with the Kenyan government and a local university to improve the country’s metrics on the World Bank’s Doing Business index.

We came in with some clear expectations of what needed to be done,” said IBM’s Bhattacharya of initial projects. “But there’s also been an understanding that we have to experiment to find the key drivers to make a difference in the African context.

Underlying much of Lucy and IBM Research’s problem solving mission in Africa is improving data as a basis for more accurate solutions. The availability of accurate data on the continent remains a key issue.

Many times the reliable figures that inform corporate and government decisions in advanced economies are simply not there. For example, 2014 and ’15 statistical exercises in countries such as Nigeria and Kenya revealed tens of billions of dollars in off-the-grid economic activity that has gone uncaptured in GDP calculations for years.

In the larger context, IBM Research Africa’s “solving grand challenges” approach could be a harbinger for bigger changes on the continent. As suggested in this 2015 TechCrunch piece, it signals tech’s potential role in disrupting development in Africa.

Many of IBM’s African problem designations are evocative of the development field— the decades-long aid-agency and NGO driven campaign to solve Africa’s long-standing socio-economic issues.

More of IBM Research’s Lucy related work is connecting to IBM’s business consulting lines, which have presence in 24 African countries. “The lab is opening up a lot of opportunities. We are engaging both the public and private sector. Some of our partnerships and solutions require different skillsets that our business units have, so many times we are working jointly,” said Bhattacharya.

In Africa, yesterday’s development problems could be today’s commercial tech opportunities. The 21st century equivalent of Peace Corps volunteer could be working as an intern in one of IBM’s Africa research labs.

Source: Tech Crunch

Nigerian Government Setup N3bn National Research Fund

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President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday said the Federal Government has set up a N3 billion National Research Fund.

Mr. Buhari made the disclosure in Sokoto on Saturday in a message to the Joint 32nd, 33rd and 34th Convocation and 40th Anniversary of the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto.

The President, who was represented by the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Julius Okojie, said the fund was set up to assist the various universities to undertake meaningful researches.

Mr. Buhari explained that such researches were aimed at solving the myriad of problems facing Nigeria currently.

The President specifically charged the nation’s universities to undertake researches in solar and other renewable energy sources.

“The universities should embrace education to solve the challenges facing the nation now.

“Universities should also be vanguards in the diversification of the nation’s revenue sources in view of the falling prices of crude oil in the world market.

“Universities should also rack their brains and come up with alternative sources of sustaining the nation’s economy,’’ Mr. Buhari said.

He further expressed the commitment of the Federal Government to continue to be alive to its responsibilities to the education sector.

The president explained that commitment led to the increase in the budgetary allocation to the sector in 2016.

He also promised that universities would continue to be assisted to function effectively.

The president urged the Organised Private Sector and other stakeholders to complement the efforts of the government in funding education at all levels.

Source: National Newspaper

The Nigerian Government Plans to Establish a Science and Technology Development Bank

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The Nigerian government plans to establish a Science and Technology Development Bank, a government official said on Tuesday.

According to the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, the bank would assist the informal sector to close the technological gap and give financial assistance for research and innovation activities.

The Minister made the announcement at a meeting with the National Association of Motor Mechanics and Technicians in Abuja.

He told the gathering that the ministry had commenced the process of establishing the bank, with a view to implementing a venture capital component to improve the process of technological development.

Credit: ChannelsTv