Demanding innovation in technology for economic development
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CTA. 2004. Demanding innovation in technology for economic development. Knowledge for Development. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/63780
There is a clamour of increasing intensity among today´s young generation in Africa, and probably in all ACP regions, about the lack of discernible industrial and economic development in their countries. Professor Chetsanga argues in this contributi
1. Introduction Some youths in Africa allege that they do not see bright prospects for a prosperous future devoid of poverty. This concern is due to the fact that, other than South Africa, the majority of African states do not have much to show in the way of contemporary industrialization, including agricultural development. The attainment of food security has remained elusive, because the region has not reached adequate levels of agricultural productivity, nor made significant investments in downstream processing or other related agro-based industries. The lack of industrial development in ACP states has resulted in high levels of unemployment which have led to the brain drain of varying magnitudes in different countries. A large number of ACP countries have supported the establishment of universities at great national cost, but are unable to offer to the high level of trained manpower relevant employment opportunities to sustain or retain them. University graduates, if trained in science and technology (S&T) related disciplines and provided with adequate incentives and facilities, could constitute the national force for driving innovation. The attainment of certain thresholds of scientific and technological competence enhances the innovation capability of a country to compete globally and to rank among the leading global knowledge societies. This paper focuses on the challenges that need to be addressed in the African region to develop a culture of innovation and spur on industrialization. It is believed that the case that is being made for African states has general application to other ACP regions. The aspirations of the science, technology and innovation renaissance are to create national environments that will promote economic prosperity, food security, good governance, health and general welfare of the citizenry. Many African countries lack the wherewithal to achieve significant strides towards industrialization. Successful modern day industrialization requires: an environment that promotes and fosters innovation; input resources, including scientific and technological expertise; investment capital; and narrowing the digital divide through acquisition of information and communication technologies (ICTs). These, together with well-conceived and vigorously pursued national priorities, underpinned by appropriate policy instruments and strategies, and a strong legislative framework, could propel up to 50% of African states toward achieving significant industrialization targets in 10 years. Funding for developing and supporting a national innovation framework to support industrialization targets should be prioritized as an investment of great strategic importance and security for the country. Such investment should rank above military expenditure in small ACP states. 2. Dialogue for setting national priorities For a country to pursue an effective strategy toward industrialization, there is need to build consensus in policy formulation process so that all the requirements for policy implementation are identified and agreed upon by all stakeholders. Setting realistic priority targets should accompany the process. The participants in the policy formulation and priority setting dialogue should include representatives of a wide range of stakeholders, the highest-level policy and decision makers (Ministries of Finance, Education, Science & Technology, Agriculture), private sector, research community, industrialists, labour, farmers and other agri-entrepreneurs. There should be significant representation of women and youths participating in the policy dialogue. It is important that all parties to the dialogue commit themselves to upholding the policy guidelines agreed upon. Relevant government departments should be assigned specific roles to play in furthering policy implementation. The policy framework should make appropriate provisions to facilitate buy-in options for private sector stakeholders and should include provisions for promoting and sustaining technological innovations to raise agricultural productivity and support downstream processing and other related agro-industries. 3. Sustained policy enforcement as an imperative The launching of a national industrialization drive needs to be under-girded by a strong innovation policy framework. There may be an initial requirement for a programme that facilitates capacity building in technological competencies that will support the absorption of imported technology to use under license or after paying patents fees. There may also be a need to promote the diffusion of newly acquired/developed or adapted technology among the relevant stakeholder constituencies. The economic dividends accruing from such knowledge-based production systems can bring about economic development in a society. The current aggressive competition in global markets can best be met by developing a strong national innovation culture. Most products now have short life cycles on the market and need to be constantly upgraded so as to maintain their market appeal. The ability to constantly re-engineer product lines by innovation increases the prospects of scoring comparative market advantage. A sustained innovation programme requires that R&D be promoted and adequately funded. Such a measure will sharpen the technical literacy of the country and more specifically R&D professionals. Adequate remuneration packages and other incentives would help to retain national talent so that they can focus on generating innovation products that can contribute to economic development. 4. Meeting the demand for innovation I have just retired from the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC) in Zimbabwe, where I served as the inaugural Director General for over 10 years. The SIRDC was established from a recommendation made after a three-year consultation process during which stakeholders from all sectors of the Zimbabwe economy engaged in several S&T policy dialogues to decide on a system of S&T and innovation best suited to the needs of the country. Since its launch, SIRDC has enjoyed a reasonable level of support and patronage from the national government and industry. They were all part of the stakeholder groups that recommended the establishment of SIRDC. So far, the stakeholders are pleased with the contribution that SIRDC is making to the country´s technological development. The success of SIRDC has been due to the inputs from the pre-launch S&T policy dialogues and prioritization fora, as well as the lessons learned from the network of R&D centres in Southeast Asia. During the second year of my tenure as the Director General of SIRDC, I visited various S&T research centres in the Far East, such as the Industrial Technology Research Institute in Taiwan, the Tsukuba Research Centre in Japan, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in South Korea, the Danish Technological Institute (DTI), the Standards and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia (SIRIM) and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in India. I benefited from the R&D experiences of these institutions and used that wealth of information to design the institutional framework of Zimbabwe´s SIRDC. I subsequently visited the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft in Germany, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and the Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF) in Norway in order to broaden the range of my sources of information. The various institutes of these world-renowned R&D organizations generously shared their experiences with us. As one cannot transplant situations directly from one country to another country without modification, we found that we had to adapt these scenarios to the Zimbabwe environment. The SIRDC has the following units, each with its own research scientists and headed by a director: Biotechnology Research Institute Food & Biomedical Technology Institute Building Technology Institute Energy Technology Institute Environment & Remote Sensing Institute Electronics & Communication Institute Informatics Institute Metallurgical Research Institute National Metrology Institute Production Engineering Institute. Each of these R&D institutes works closely with relevant industrial sectors for which it provides innovation support services. There has been a significant uptake of some of the innovation products developed by some of the R&D institutes at SIRDC. However, the current high inflationary spiral in Zimbabwe is dampening the impact of this arrangement, as industry presently lacks the absorptive capacity to adequately exploit the innovation support services offered by SIRDC. This approach to providing innovation support to industry was effectively exploited by industrial organizations in Taiwan and South Korea. These countries, now joined by Malaysia, have, in my view, aptly used the innovation chain as an instrument to achieve notable economic development that now gives them a competitive edge in selected global markets. The Biotechnology Research Institute has worked with rural farmers in developing and testing a drought-tolerant maize variety, building capacity for mushroom technology and the micro-propagation of disease-free sweet potato planting material. These projects have become very popular with the rural agrarian communities. 5. Sustained funding of the innovation chain The state should provide an enabling environment to allow R&D institutions and industry to interact freely and creatively. A system of incentives, including tax incentives, should be used to encourage the involvement of the private sector in funding R&D work. Universities, research institutions and entrepreneurs should be encouraged and supported to access overseas training to develop the expertise and technological capacity to meet the national requirements for innovation. This goal can be attained if the policy and priority instruments are supported at the highest levels of government. To ensure that the innovation system operates to facilitate sustainable economic and industrial development, the policy framework must ensure that there is a balance between basic, applied and nationally targeted research. National needs are best met if innovation stimulates greater productivity and diversification of product lines. Relevant web resources <a href=http://www.ifpri.org/2020/dp/dp06.pdf>A 2020 Vision for Food, Agriculture and the Environment in Latin America</a>, ed. James L. Garrett, IFPRI 2020 Discussion Paper No. 6, 1995. <br> <a href=http://www.ruaf.org/no6/09_11.htm>Biodiversity, poverty and urban agriculture in Latin America</a>, Alain Santandreu, Urban Agriculture Magazine No. 6, Resource Centre on Urban Agriculture and Forestry (RUAF), 2002. <br> <a href=http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/AFSIC_pubs/srb94-13.htm>Biotechnology and Sustainable Agriculture: Policy Alternatives</a>, NABC Report 1. <br> <a href=http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/x0177e/x0177e00.htm#TopOfPage>Gender Issues in Agricultural and Rural Development Policy in Asia and the Pacific</a>, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAPA).<br> <a href=http://gstgateway.wigsat.org/>Gender, Science and Technology Gateway</a>.<br> <a href=http://www.cptm.org/>Commonwealth Partners for Technology Management (CPTM)</a>.