SWAZILAND: Science and technology park planned

Plans to set up a science and technology park are taking shape in Swaziland in a drive to increase the country's scientific competitiveness and create links between researchers and industry. The park, to be built outside the main industrial centre Manzini, will have research and development facilities for biotechnology and information and communication technologies.

University of Swaziland researchers and other professionals will contribute through a Research Commission that is still to be established. Swaziland is the smallest country in the southern hemisphere and has an estimated population of one million and just one university.

Project Manager Moses Zungu said tenders for the science park's construction would be issued before the end of 2010 and construction would be in stages over the next 10 years. "A development master plan in already in place," Zungu told University World News.

He said the ICT component was expected to be funded through a loan from the Export-Import Bank of India, with a condition that required construction to be done by an Indian company. The Economic Times of India reported last month that India had offered a US$10 million line of credit for setting up the science and technology park.

The much larger biotechnology facility would be funded by Taiwan, with the master plan and designs done by Taipei-based China Engineering Consultants Inc.

Zungu said that as the project would take many years to complete, it was impossible at this point to give a figure for its total cost. Swaziland would benefit from the project through skills development knowledge transfer, he added.

Swaziland has qualified researchers to work at the S&T park but the scope for developing a critical mass of researchers was huge, Zungu said. The park would also be accessible to researchers from other countries in Southern Africa.

"Currently there is no formal link or collaboration in Swaziland between the University of Swaziland, industry and government, yet research plays important role in sustainable socio-economic development," Professor Mgidi Dlamini, Dean of the faculty of science at the University of Swaziland, told University World News.

"The science and technology park will act as a bridge between academics, researchers, industrialists and policy makers."

Dlamini said the park would provide an enabling environment to foster collaboration, innovation and product advancement with view to maximising value-add, particularly on agricultural products.

The park was also expected to ensure that research developed locally and elsewhere would be available to industry and the general public, while solving problems and creating commercial opportunities. It would also provide a location for start-up companies aimed at commercialising technology developed in the laboratories.

"If properly nurtured, the S&T park will build national research and development capacity and as a result, reduce the over-dependence of industry on research institutions outside the country," Dlamini said.

"The park will make it possible to transfer the results of research from the laboratory into the market in the form of new products or services and will, in the process, attract new companies and provide employment opportunities."