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African grant scheme needs local cash injection

Current round could be the last unless member states pay up

A pan-African research grant programme, currently in its second year, may come to and end unless African countries contribute to it, a continental science summit heard last week.

The call for help to save the African Union Research Grants came during the fifth African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology (AMCOST V), held in Congo-Brazzaville from 12 to 15 November.

Over 60 officials and ministers of science from countries including South Africa, Egypt, Namibia, Chad, Burkina Faso and Senegal attended the conference.

The African Union Research Grants are currently funded by the European Union and managed by the AU Commission, based in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.

But unless AU member states commit funding to the scheme there may not be a third call in 2013, said Monica Ebele Idinoba, a science officer in the AU Commission. “The second call is likely to be the final call unless we get funding,” she told the summit.

The EU has allocated a total of €15 million (US$19m) for the first and second calls of the grants programme. The winners from the first round were published in March this year. The AU is busy considering the applications for the second round.

The contribution from member states would reassure the EU, which may still make funding available for future rounds of the African Union Research Grants, that African countries value their research capacity.

“We don’t want to impose an African research grant system on an unwilling Africa,” says Francesco Affinito, from the European Commission’s directorate general of international development cooperation.

The African grants programme is not the only EU-backed project in Africa that Europe wants local buy-in for in order to keep funding it.

Earlier this month, the EU’s research commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn told a meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, that the EU wants developing countries to contribute to the second phase of the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), a medical research support mechanism focusing on Africa. (See link below)

In their decisions from the summit, ministers urge AU member states, regional bodies and international donors to band together to “ensure the sustainability of the research grant programme”.

More from AMCOST V

• The meeting elected a new AMCOST bureau for the next two years. Congo-Brazzaville will chair the bureau. Namibia, Nigeria and Sudan are vice-chairs. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Niger, Ethiopia, Egypt and Algeria are also on the bureau.

• A high-level panel established to review the African science and technology Consolidated Plan of Action (CPA) from 2005 presented draft ideas—but will only prepare its final report for the next AMCOST bureau meeting due some time in 2013.

• Excitement and sometimes tension pervaded the meeting as parties discussed the establishment of an African Research and Innovation Council, meant to mobilise funding for research and improve the visibility of science. The proposal is moving forward, but it is not clear when the ARIC might be set up.

• Plans for a Pan-African Intellectual Property Organisation, an African patenting body, will be taken forward in consultation with national authorities responsible for intellectual property.

• Ministers endorsed a framework for the detection, identification and monitoring of infectious diseases of humans, animals and plants in Africa.

• Ministers agreed to set up a working group for space science composed of member states of the five African regions and those who run space programmes, such as South Africa and Nigeria.

• The next ordinary session of AMCOST will be held in Namibia in 2014.