Ministerial meeting agrees priorities for innovation

African ministers, senior United Nations officials and representatives of the private sector and civil society met in Tanzania this month and identified key priorities in promoting the role of science, technology and innovation, or STI, in supporting development in Africa.

The measures were announced at the meeting, which was one of a series held in preparation for the Annual Ministerial Review of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which will be held in Geneva in July.

The gathering called on the UN and the World Intellectual Property Organisation to support greater emphasis on science, technology and innovation as key to sustainable development in Africa.

Robust data on innovation are not abundantly available, and what evidence there is suggests that levels of innovation in Africa are relatively low, according to the conference's background note.

It indicated that research and development (R&D) intensity in Sub-Saharan Africa – excluding South Africa and Tunisia – was less than 0.4% of gross domestic product, which is far short of the level recommended by UNESCO.

In 2000, Africa accounted for less than 1% of world expenditure on research and development, and more than half of R&D was done in the public sector. The document also noted that, in most cases, R&D funding was from government sources and foreign donors.

Sub-Saharan Africa produced only 11,142 scientific journal articles in 2008 and of these, South Africa produced almost half (46%) followed by Nigeria (11%) and Kenya (7%). In other words, the three countries accounted for two-thirds of Africa’s article output.

In terms of innovation more broadly, Africa also performed poorly and the background note argued that mobilising, encouraging and leveraging innovation required action across several areas, “most of which need government involvement”.

These include education, infrastructure, communication and knowledge sharing mechanisms, regulatory and intellectual property frameworks, access to finance, credit and insurance, and good governance.

"The gap between the potential for innovation and what is realised is in fact an opportunity – one that requires realignment and strengthening of innovation systems, a supportive environment and strong national and regional strategies,” the document stated.

The ministerial meeting agreed on the following key priorities:

  • • Innovation can bring benefits across all three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental, and is key to accelerating achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
  • • Discussions at ECOSOC must lead to a ministerial declaration that calls for much greater emphasis on the contribution that STI can make to achieving sustainable development in relation to the post-2015 development framework and implementation of Rio+20 outcomes.
  • • The global policy approach to technology and innovation must change to keep pace with changing models of innovation and the new geography of innovation. Innovation is increasingly open, global, networked and collaborative. The emergence of new innovation players in countries of the South creates new opportunities for Africa.
  • • Technology and innovation partnerships for development must be multi-stakeholder, recognise the critical role of the private sector and harness the resources it offers.
  • • Policy-makers in Africa should redouble efforts to develop legal and policy frameworks, including intellectual property legislation and policy, to release the region’s untapped potential. Investments in education, research and development should be increased. Support in moving ideas to development and to market should be accelerated.
  • • African countries need support to build their innovation infrastructure and the capacity to create domestic technology solutions to local development challenges, as well as to support the transfer, adaptation and dissemination of technology. Commitments of support should emerge from the ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review.
  • • ECOSOC should maximise its potential as a platform for multiple international efforts to support African countries on STI capacity-building. It should identify mechanisms for greater coordination among providers of STI assistance.