In 2010, government established the National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST) to promote science and technology research for social economic development. This follows the enactment of the Science and Technology Act of 2013 that establishes the science and technology fund. However, the fund has never received funding. How does the commission work to promote science and technology without funds? SUZGO CHITETE speaks to the commission’s new director general Professor ELIJAH WANDA to shed more light on this and other issues.
Firstly give us a brief about NSCT?
NCST was established in 2010 following an Act of Parliament—the Science and Technology act of 2003. It is a statutory corporation with a mission to promote, coordinate and regulate research that is directly linked to issues of science and technology.
We are responsible for advising government on all science related matters, including innovation that come from science and technology. We are also part of the international community of councils which include the Science Granting Councils Initiative in Sub-Saharan Africa [SGCI].
Q.I have just learnt that the science and technology fund, as provided for by the law, has not received any funding. How, then, do you promote science and technology linked research and innovation without money?
A. That’s a big drawback. We need to engage policy holders to appreciate the role of science and technology in development. Science and technology has transformed nations. With limited funding, researchers in Malawi, especially those in public universities, have remained idle and the country loses out from tapping intellectual wisdom from these scientists necessary for socio-economic development.
But are glad that we are now part Science Granting Councils Initiative, which is giving some grants to researchers and our scientists who have come up with life changing innovations in areas such as agriculture and energy.
You have mentioned about the Science Granting Councils Initiative – how does it compliment your work?
SGCI works to strengthen the capacity of science councils at national level like the NCST. The idea is that national councils should be able to support evidence-based policies through research and contribute towards national development. The hallmark of the initiative is promote science and technology for improved livelihoods and this is exactly what we stand for.
Having been part of the initiative for years now, are there quick benefits that you can share?
We have benefited quite a lot as an institution and consequently the nation as a whole. One of the benefits is that through the initiative we have been able to boost our capacity in our understanding of science and technology. Researchers at Luanar have been able to produce a solar-powered milking machine—which if replicated can improve dairy farming. Malawi University of Science and Technology [Must] has also done some innovations such as producing electricity using biomass—there is a whole range of issues to boast about under the initiative.
After these life-changing innovations have been developed like the solar-powered milking machine, as an example, what happens next?
We need to protect the innovation in terms of intellectual property. Then we need to assist with commercialisation of the innovation and then there is also an aspect of technology transfer—so that more and more people benefit from the same.
It is within our mandate to promote the technology so that it benefits the communities otherwise without such all these efforts will be in vain. Remember we are promoting science for socio-economic development. So what’s the use of having an innovation that people cannot access? And all this cannot happen without funding. We will be engaging government to make them understand why this is an important area for investment.
Looking at all the innovations developed so far under SGCI. Is there one you consider the best?
There are all best in their field. If you look at every project it has an area of focus; hence, we cannot really say this is more important than the other. They are solving different challenges.
If you look at the principal investigator at Must their focus is on solving energy challenges using biomass. Luanar is focusing on dairy farming. So each project is unique. What I can say is that we need more and more of those. We are glad we have this partnership.
Lastly, you said when you call for proposals, you have overwhelming response which is an indication that more people are willing to do research. Apart from SGCI grants, do you have other means to support researchers?
We have no means. Even our operation budget is not enough. We surely need funds to start making positive contributions. The SGCI has an area of interest – meaning researchers with different interests may not benefit. We need our own fund so that all deserving scientists and innovators stand to benefit and that’s our prayer.