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East and West Africa dominate AU grants

Nine projects picked from 234 applications in first call

Institutions in East and West Africa dominate the list of recipients in the first round of a Europe-backed, pan-African research grant competition. The long-awaited results were unveiled at a ceremony in Ethiopia on 28 March.

The two regions are home to nearly three-quarters of the institutions participating in the nine consortia selected to receive a total of €6.5 million (US$8.5m).

The first call of the Africa Research Grant Programme was issued in December 2010. It has taken the African Union and its collaboration partner, the European Union (EU), almost a year since the deadline of the first call of 30 April 2011 to decide which projects to fund.

The grants break new ground in Africa. They are the first to be disbursed by an African selection-process set up by the AU based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Previous EU-funded research grants have been administered by mechanisms based in Brussels.

Monica Ebele Idinoba, a principal scientific officer at the AU’s department of human resources, science and technology, said the nine were selected out of 234 applications.

More applications were received from East and West Africa than from any other region. (See Q&A with Idinoba in this issue.)

“The response to the call from African scientists was overwhelming, with high quality proposals, many of which could not be selected for granting due to limited funds,” Idinoba told Research Africa.

Projects are funded under three themes: post harvest and agriculture, renewable and sustainable energy, and water and sanitation. Awards range between €550,000 and €750,000 for each consortium. Partners will also bring their own funding to the projects.

Kenya overall winner

Kenya leads the pack in terms of participation in the grants, with seven institutions on the winners’ list.

Two Kenyan institutions—the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology and Egerton University—lead their own consortia.

ICIPE will lead a project to study ways of managing thrips, insects that attack cowpeas. The partners are Makerere University in Uganda, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and institutions from the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Egerton University based in the Rift Valley leads a six-member consortium to improve poultry farming in Kenya and Malawi. The poultry project also includes KARI, Kenya’s International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the country’s ministry of livestock development.

The other two Kenyan recipients on the winners’ list are the Coffee Research Foundation and the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry. They will participate in a research project on enhancing food security led by the Centre for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD), based in France.

As for the rest of East Africa, Tanzanian and Ethiopian institutions are part of an Egypt-led research project on sustainable and renewable energy. The Cleaner Production Centre of Tanzania and the Ethiopia Standards Agency join forces with the Andalusian Institute of Technology in Spain, also on renewable energy R&D.

West African stars

In West Africa, Senegalese institutions lead two projects and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) leads another.

The Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA) will lead a project on post-conflict agriculture that will also cover The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.

Senegal’s École Nationale Supérieure d’Agriculture and its Université de Thiès will jointly lead a project on bioenergy production. The grant will be shared with researchers in Benin and Burkina Faso.

KNUST leads a project on solar photovoltaic systems. The university is involved in another solar power project, led by the institute of water and environmental engineering in Burkina Faso (2iE).

Only four of the institutions involved in the nine consortia are from southern Africa. The four include the University of Malawi and Malawi’s Department of Agricultural Research and Technical Services, which are involved in the poultry project. Researchers in Madagascar and Botswana will also participate in consortia.

The France-based Institute of Development Research (IRD) will lead a project on groundwater in Africa.

More funding needed

The AU issued the second call for the African Research Grant in February. The deadline is 20 April, and the thematic areas are the same as in the first call.

Idinoba said the AU hopes to expand the research grant scheme. The ambition is to develop an African programme akin to the EU’s Framework programmes for research. But funding may be a constraint, she conceded.

“The sustenance of the tempo of this initiative calls for innovative and alternative funding mechanisms, to build upon the initial success of the programme beyond the second phase,” she said.

“The challenge is how to continue the project beyond this initial phase and to keep it going in order to promote scientific research in Africa. This demands the full engagement and active participation of all stakeholders with African Union member states at research and funding levels,” she added.