It is known that the eastern Africa region is plagued by perpetual food insecurity challenges influenced by outdated agricultural practices, overreliance on rain-fed agriculture, lack of an effective mechanism to disseminate new technologies to the farmers, and more recently unpredictable weather patterns due to the effects of climate change among other impediments. On the other hand the industrial sector has been accused of exacerbating the climate change problem by contributing to environmental degradation by not managing their waste effectively therefore contributing to greenhouse gases. This waste if well managed could be a useful source of bio-energy. These challenges are compounded by weak policies in the region.
The lack of an enabling policy environment to support the diffusion and integration of bioscience innovations developed by scientists into the productive sectors in the region is a major obstacle to development. The goal of Bio-Innovate’s consortium on policy, ‘Bioscience Innovation Policy Consortium for Eastern Africa (BIPCEA)’, is to examine and recommend effective policy support mechanisms at national and regional level, which will enable Bio-Innovate Program’s consortia projects to successfully deliver innovations to the marketplace to solve specific problems in the agricultural and environmental sectors. In the long term, the consortium envisages a vibrant bio-economy in eastern Africa, a dynamic regional bioscience innovation platform for dialogue, advocacy and information exchange increased commercialization of biosciences innovations developed by scientists in the region.
To assess the progress made by BIPCEA, the Bio-Innovate’s Program Management Team (PMT) conducted a monitoring and review meeting in Bagamoyo, Tanzania on 15-16 January 2013. Project partners present were Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST), Kenya National Council for Science and Technology (KNCST); Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH); Ministry of Science and Technology, Ethiopia (MoST); Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia (AAU), African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS), International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter); Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden (SEI) and University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (UDSM).
The principal investigator, Julius Ecuru, made an overall presentation on the achievements of the consortium thus far highlighting progress made viz-a-viz the log frame. This was followed by individual presentations from each of the partners. In their first objective on ‘identifying and analyzing policy issues essential for moving bio-innovations to market’ the team is reviewing national science, technology and innovation policies in the eastern Africa region taking all Bio-innovate projects as case studies. In an approach to ‘creating a platform for interaction and exchange of ideas on bioscience innovations & bio-policies in East Africa’, the team is the process of mapping out Bio-Innovate stakeholders, and is planning to hold a number of policy round-table and partnership meetings in Bio-Innovate participating countries. The consortium is also facilitating media coverage on key Bio-Innovate projects’ events. With a view of providing policy support tools for biosciences innovations & related activities in EA’, the consortium has developed a training manual on entrepreneurship for Bio-Innovate, trained 150 scientists in entrepreneurship skills, 80 Bio-Innovate scientists on Intellectual Property (IP) management, and 100 scientists on science communication skills. To facilitate IP management in the respective Bio-innovate implementing partner institutions, Bio-Innovate lab notebooks have been printed and distributed to all the project teams.
The general impression by the PMO is that there has been good progress. However there was a noticeable lag in timelines, which according to the team was occasioned by delays in the commencement of the project as partners fulfill institutional requirements. In giving feedback, Allan Liavoga from the PMT advised the consortium to accelerate the implementation to make up for lost time. In addition, the team was informed to identify what could practically be achieved in the remaining implementation period and focus on it. This will require the revision of their work plans and budgets to channel resources to these activities.
Allan also indicated that the quality of the presentations and reports received from the consortium thus far were lacking in concrete data and therefore needed to improve. The PMT indicated that what is expected from the group is clearly articulated data rich publications from their current work. The consortium plans on producing a flagship publication titled ‘Towards a Bio-economy in Eastern Africa’ the first publication of its kind that will offer a comprehensive view of the current status and environment of science, technology and innovations (STI) in eastern Africa and a pathway to the region achieving a bio-economy.
The PMT advised BIPCEA to return to the drawing board and evaluate critically their outreach activities and develop an effective method of track the outcomes of these outputs to ensure the envisaged impact from the project is achieved. In addition, the BIPCEA team was advised to bring on board Rwanda and Burundi, as the only two countries missing to complete the picture on STI in the eastern Africa region.