Investing in tech and innovation for a sustainable future

Africa Science News

By Checky Abuje

The African continent has been challenged to invest heavily in science, technology and innovation to build a more prosperous, just, and sustainable future. These are sentiments echoed by African leaders, representatives and experts at the opening of the two-day Sixth African Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The leaders observed that science, innovation and technology, are critical to the transformation of the continent in agriculture, industry and poverty eradication.

Held ahead of the African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development, the STI Forum is a pre-event organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in collaboration with the African Union Commission and other partners under the theme, “Effective delivery of innovative science and technology solutions to reinforce the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Agenda 2063 and eradicate poverty in Africa.”

Ethiopian Minister for Technology and Innovation Belete Molla said fostering innovation in key sectors like agriculture, clean energy, and healthcare, can create jobs, improve livelihoods, and lift millions out of poverty across Africa.

He said Ethiopia’s commitment to improving its agricultural sector and ensuring food security is a good example and urged other African countries to emulate the trend for sustainable purposes.

“Ethiopia has developed a food system transformation roadmap and launched several initiatives focused on boosting agricultural productivity, achieving self-sufficiency, and combating climate change. These initiatives include improving access to fertilizers, seeds, and technologies for farmers,” he said.

Molla added that Ethiopia has not only created a roadmap for food system transformation, but also actively implemented numerous initiatives, which prioritize boosting agricultural resilience, achieving food self-sufficiency, and combating climate change.

The African countries have a responsibility to mend their Science and Technology policies that place a strong emphasis on fostering innovation and harnessing the potential of emerging technologies.

Molla challenged participants saying Ethiopia has made strides in technology and innovation by enacting a national Digital Transformation strategy dubbed “Digital Ethiopia 2025” that focuses on tapping into youths innovative and technological skills to create employment.

Deputy Executive Secretary for Programme Support at the ECA Antonio Prdro said Africa must invest in human capital development, research and development (R&D), and in learning how to produce, sell and use emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and genomics that are transforming every aspect of life.

“Technology should advance the well-being of the millions of households, farmers, fishermen, and many others that still use basic tools to lift themselves out of extreme poverty,” said Pedro.

“Science and technology can play an important role in increasing the efficiency of service delivery to the poor, monitoring living conditions, predicting impending crises in crowded or remote areas and informing decision-making during crises,” remarked Pedro.

The STI Forum he said is specifically designed to foster collaboration, the diffusion of technology and innovation, and the scaling up of policy and operational efforts to accelerate the contribution of science, technology and innovation to the implementation of the Vision 2030 Agenda.

He noted that the STI forum has over the years, grown to become a premier platform for addressing the opportunities and challenges that science, technology and innovation offer for fostering strategic partnerships and implementation of scalable and innovative solutions.

In 2022, the Forum launched the Alliance of Entrepreneurial Universities in Africa which has since stimulated Universities and their 19 million students in Africa to nurture start-ups aimed at creating one 100 million jobs and generate $200 billion in revenue in ten years by 2033.

Similarly, in 2023, the continental problem-solving and innovation platform called “Origin“  was launched in Niamey, Niger, as the first Origin Research and Innovation Hub for East Africa at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology (DeKUT) in Kenya. It has registered hundreds of problem solvers, has its own physical space, staff and partners from the private and public sectors.

“The ECA’s coding camps for girls and women are an example of how we can empower young women to become the next tech entrepreneurs and innovators. We have trained two thousand young girls and women so far. However, to trigger transformational change, we must replicate these examples again and again across the continent,” said Pedro.

Lidia Arthur Brito, Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, UNESCO said international collaboration in science is an ideal way to foster peace and sustainable development.

“By investing in science and promoting innovation, African societies can empower youth to become the drivers not only of economic growth and job creation but also drivers of solutions to pressing environmental challenges,” said Ms. Brito adding that when research is linked to society, to local communities, it deploys its full potential for socio-economic development.

She underscored a critical challenge which is financial sustainability saying it impacts on many African tech hubs. “They are reliant on grants from development partners and international donors to survive, in the near absence of local business angels and seed capital.”

Javier Pérez, Ambassador, Delegation of the European Union to the African Union and ECA, said science and technology advances development in societies. If young people and women are empowered to become the next technology entrepreneurs and innovators, they are likely to trigger transformational change.

“The European Union is investing 279 million Euros in Africa for research and innovation to support both the SDGs and Agenda 2063 for Africa,” said Perez.

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