New EU partnership, and initiatives to boost research

The European Union and Africa have agreed to set up a long-term, jointly funded research and innovation partnership to promote food and nutrition security. Meanwhile, a new innovation centre in Ethiopia and a plant breeding academy in Kenya have been announced.

The new partnership was approved at a meeting in Brussels of the EU-Africa High Level Policy Dialogue on science, technology and innovation held on 29 November, according to a European Commission alert.

The meeting was called to review cooperation and set new priorities ahead of the EU-Africa Summit in 2014, the release said.

An expert working group would be set up next year to develop a detailed plan, outlining steps to be taken towards the new partnership. Its work would support the African Union Year of Agriculture and Food Security 2014 and the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization International Year of Family Farming 2014.

European Commission Director-General Robert-Jan Smits said after the meeting: “Enhancing food and nutrition security as well as sustainable agriculture is a challenge common to the EU and Africa, albeit with different dimensions.

“An increase in EU-Africa cooperation will lead to evidence-based solutions and policy-making and an improved availability, accessibility and utilisation of agricultural products and services.”

New centres

On 3 December, the opening of the African Plant Breeding Academy in Kenya was celebrated, aimed at helping to improve livelihoods among smallholder farmers and their families, to reduce hunger and boost Africa’s food supply.

Located at the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi, the academy will train 250 plant breeders and technicians in genomics and marker-assisted selection for crop improvement over a five-year period.

A new Climate Innovation Center, or CIC, in Ethiopia was announced on 2 December, supported by a US$5 million grant agreement between the World Bank and Addis Ababa University.

The Ethiopian CIC, spearheaded by infoDev – a global innovation programme of the World Bank – will be inaugurated in the first quarter of 2014. The centre will focus on helping local climate innovators and entrepreneurs to develop and deploy climate-friendly technologies that will, it is hoped, create thousands of new green jobs.

The EU-Africa partnership

Inmaculada Martinez Garcia, media officer for research, innovation and science at the European Commission in Brussels, told University World News that the EU-Africa High Level Policy Dialogue on science, technology and innovation was “a key milestone in the implementation of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy”.

Garcia said organisation of the second meeting of the policy dialogue happened at an important time, when there were a number of policy developments on both sides.

The African Union was reforming its Consolidated Plan of Action on Science and Technology, and the European Union’s growth strategy Europe 2020 had a clear focus on the role of science, technology and innovation in solving the economic crisis by stimulating inclusive growth and job creation – the Innovation Union initiative.

Garcia said food and nutrition was a first priority for implementation within the High Level Policy Dialogue, and science, technology and innovation was “one of the drivers in achieving it”. An integrated approach would be taken, “recognising the important cross-cutting nature of innovation-entrepreneurship, research infrastructure and technical competence building”.

Besides developing new research infrastructure, enhancing technical competence should focus on the development of new skills, including through science education, lifelong learning, and science awareness and public understanding of science among the youth.

“The strengthening of innovation and specifically entrepreneurial capacities, especially of small and medium enterprises, as well as framework conditions is important for Africa and Europe,” Garcia concluded.