PRETORIA – Despite receiving minimal attention from most governments across the world, the science and innovation sectors had the potential to solve numerous perennial problems like water scarcity, South Africa’s Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said on Tuesday.
“Africa cannot advance without investing in science. At present, there are efforts to enhance the status of science and to increase investment in research development and innovation,” Pandor told delegates in her opening remarks at the inaugural Science Forum South Africa taking place in Pretoria.
“Unfortunately, science is still at the margins of government attention – seen as less significant than water scarcity, food security and disease burdens. Yet, all of these can be addressed through science.”
She said the forum was “not a platform for resolutions or declarations”, but when the two-day summit ends at the CSIR international convention centre in Pretoria, delegates should call on their respective governments and institutions to invest more into science and innovation in Africa.
Some of the more than 1,500 delegates included cabinet ministers from African countries, civil society, think tanks and students.
Pandor said the summit would prove that Africa was seriously engaged in science and technology. It would also show that the continent was growing its capacity for research and innovation.
“Our key motivation is to foster public engagement on science and technology, to showcase science in South Africa and to provide a platform for building strong African and global partnerships. We have many more parallel sessions than originally planned; this is because we were overwhelmed by the very enthusiastic response from speakers, and institutions.
“We are very pleased at the participation and presence of several international organisations and thank them for their support for the forum. Our primary rationale for this conference resides in our conviction that science, technology and innovation can and must play a central role in achieving sustainable development.”
In a keynote address to the summit, AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said improved investment in science and technology was critical for Africa to wean itself from food imports which cost the continent dearly.
“Africa is unique in the sense that it has 60 percent of the world’s unused arable land. That is unique. It is even more unique and scandalous that the same Africa imports $80-billion (R1,17-trillion) worth of food every year,” Dlamini-Zuma said.
“For me that is really a situation that should not attain (sic) in Africa where we have so much arable land but we are importing so much. Those dollars could be invested into science.”
She said science was very critical in introducing better seeds, to improve agriculture and processing and to understand climate patterns.
Dlamini-Zuma, however, warned that young people should be at the centre of the innovation and industrialisation drives.
“We want to industrialise. All these young people we boast about are a big asset if we invest in them. They are a big liability if we don’t,” she said.
“By industrialising in Africa, we mean beneficiating and adding value to our natural and mineral resources. All that needs science. It doesn’t just need science for the sake of it. We need science for our industrialisation. The effect is that young people will get jobs.”
She also said women should be at the centre of the science and innovation drive.
“Women should be involved: not only because it is their right, but it is also an economic imperative. It makes sense that women should be involved. Companies that have women at their top echelons are more competitive than those that do not have,” said Dlamini-Zuma.
The forum will also feature the first South African Science Diplomacy Awards “to celebrate partnerships that have made a significant contribution towards making the world a better place”.
Delegates were drawn from at least 45 countries.