London — The "remarkable recent economic growth" in many African countries may be able to sustain science through domestic funding (rather than through external sources) - but a lack of scientists and research capacity is threatening to reel back that economic growth, a meeting has heard.

The gross domestic product (GDP) of many African countries has been growing at a rate of 6-8 per cent each year, amounting to almost doubling of GDPs every decade, according to Chris Whitty, chief scientific adviser and director of research at the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

 

Whitty was speaking at the launch of the Royal Society-DFID Africa Capacity Building Initiative yesterday (1 November), at the Royal Society in London, United Kingdom.

 

http://allafrica.com/download/pic/main/main/csiid/00211760:48be37b827a03e965b1ba636c8688a87:arc614x376:w614:us1.jpgBut unlike in China, South Asia and South-East Asia, where there was a surplus of scientists, engineers, doctors and teachers trained at the early stages of countries' development, in most African countries there are up to 1,000 times fewer scientists than in Asian countries in the equivalent state of development.

 

"This is potentially a major block to the development of middle-income countries in Africa," Whitty said. "Developing the capacity of science in African countries, by African scientists, is going to be essential."

 

The new funding initiative, totalling US$24 million, will work towards meeting that goal by funding the establishment of 30 research consortia, with top grants exceeding £1 million (US$1.6 million) over a five-year period.

 

Whitty admitted that capacity building is very difficult as practitioners still do not know what works and what does not. Furthermore, he reiterated, capacity building has to be long-term, as the time it takes for a primary school child to develop into an active adult researcher takes decades. It would also require a multi-disciplinary approach, he said.

 

But he stressed that science was essential to ensuring African development, and that it had already played a key role in development advances on the continent.

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