East African network to boost bioscience innovations


Source: SciDev.Net

A hub to connect and fund East African agricultural researchers, and assist them in reaching out to the private sector, may yield products to aid the region's development.

The Bioresources Innovation Network for Eastern Africa Development (Bio-Innovate) was officially launched in Nairobi last month (16 March) with a US$16.5 million, five-year grant from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). It will be managed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and hosted at its Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa centre.

Seyoum Leta, programme manager of Bio-Innovate, said the initiative is expected to fill a long-standing 'missing link' between research and market products, and inspire East African bioscientists to generate research that will accelerate the region's development towards a future that is food-secure and resilient to climate change.

'Bio-Innovate is unique in the sense that it … [involves] a broad mix of disciplines and actors such as scientists, policymakers, market actors and the private sector at all stages of the innovation process,' he told SciDev.Net.

He added that the network is the first innovation and policy platform for the region 'to effectively respond to the common agricultural and environmental problems and priorities' and a rare attempt to link agricultural and environmental research with policymaking on climate change adaptation.

Björn Häggmark, deputy head of mission at the Embassy of Sweden in Nairobi, Kenya, called the launch 'very timely'.

He said that 'investments in the bio-resources sector address critical development challenges such as food security and climate change, against a backdrop of constantly rising prices and an increasingly harsh climate in large parts of Africa'.

He added: 'Increased regional integration within research is a prerequisite for economic growth and sustainable development, to address trans-boundary issues of importance for poverty alleviation through innovation systems. Regional co-operation takes quality assessment to a higher level and reduces costs for individual countries as resources are shared.'

Bio-Innovate will work closely with the New Partnership for Africa's Development's Planning and Coordinating Agency, and East Africa's councils and commissions for science and technology.

So far five projects have been selected from 44 applications for the first round of funding for boosting the productivity and climate-resilience of crops — beans, cassava, millet, potato and sorghum — and managing agro-industrial waste and waste water to reduce pollution.

From mid-2011 the second part of the project (from July 2011 to June 2014) will take off and will focus on building agricultural commodity 'value chains' in the region, as well as supporting policies that support sustainable innovations in bioresources.

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