Analysis & Opinions - Business Daily

Africa Should Bank on Innovation

| November 13, 2007

Biotechnology offers a wide range of economic growth opportunities for Africa. But as “Freedom to Innovate”, a biotechnology report on Africa’s Development  shows, the continent needs to locate biotechnology policy in the context of wider economic strategies. Technological development goes hand in hand with overall economic growth and not as an isolated activity.

The report addresses critical issues related to Africa’s place in a globalising economy. It demonstrates what is needed to build the capacity needed to apply biotechnology in agriculture, health, industry, trade, and environmental conservation (including biodiversity conservation).

“Freedom to Innovate” shows that the measures needed to address biotechnology will strengthen Africa’s capacity to adapt other technologies to economic development. This report has placed these wider considerations in the context of the role of innovation in economic transformation.

The main message of “Freedom to Innovate” is that regional economic integration in Africa should embody the building and accumulation of capacities to harness and govern modern biotechnology.

Regional economic integration bodies are key institutional vehicles for mobilising, sharing and using existing scientific and technological capacities, including human and financial resources as well as physical infrastructure for biotechnology R&D and innovation.

International partnerships in biotechnology are critical to the realisation of Africa’s biotechnology strategies and should be pursued aggressively.

The panel draws it recommendations from analysis of the current research and development on the continent and outside Africa and some of the emerging social, economic, legal and political issues that surround the development, dissemination and commercialisation of products from biotechnology.

A key outcome of the work of the panel is the creation of what we call “Regional Innovation Communities” involving groups of countries in eastern, western, northern and southern Africa. The innovation communities may be anchored by geographically-defined “Local Innovation Areas” with the clustering of universities, professional associations, enterprise and other actors with critical capabilities in agricultural, health, industrial and environmental biotechnologies.

"Freedom to Innovate" identifies five critical areas for action. First,  is the need to put science and innovation at the centre of Africa’s development, regional integration and trade efforts.

Second, attention should be placed on priority areas in fields such as biopharmaceuticals, health biotechnology, crop biotechnology and forest biotechnology.

Third, Africa needs to build critical capabilities for the development and safe use of biotechnology.

These capabilities include: infrastructure development, reinventing the African university, developing human capacities and engaging the public.

Fourth, Africa should establish continent-wide regulatory measures that are effective, transparent and efficient and are based on the co-evolutionary approach of promoting innovation, while protecting the public.

Fifth, the continent should build regional biotechnology innovation communities, as well as suggesting options for financing biotechnology, engaging the African diaspora, and designing effective collaborations with international partners.

The starting point in implementing the recommendations in "Freedom to Innovate" is the urgency that African heads of state and government place on the strategic role that technological innovation plays in economic transformation.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Juma, Calestous and Ismail Serageldin.“Africa Should Bank on Innovation.” Business Daily, November 13, 2007.