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China funds Kenyan plant biodiversity centre

Research finance from Asia’s rising star gains popularity in Africa

China will provide US$11.4 million to a Kenyan public university to construct a research centre studying plant forms.

The funding is part of a recent increase in Chinese research funding for Africans—a development the continent’s scientists are welcoming with open arms.

The Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in Nairobi will host the centre, which received the nod of approval from a visiting Chinese team last month.

China’s ministry of commerce will fund the Sino-African Biodiversity Research Centre. Robert Gituru, the director of the proposed centre, says construction will begin later this year.

Loss of biodiversity is a growing concern across the world, and a particular concern for developing countries, says Gituru, who is also a botanist at JKUAT.

“This calls for an urgent efforts to conserve biodiversity both in situ and ex-situ. Hence the need for the establishment of the centre,” he says.

The centre will have eight laboratories, and research projects will be interdisciplinary and draw on plant taxonomy, geology and nanotechnology. Some research projects will be collaborations between Kenyan and Chinese scientists.

Kenya will take over the funding of the day-to-day operations of the centre when construction is complete.

More freedom

China’s involvement in African research has grown in recent years, in line with its growing economic interest in the continent. The country recently surpassed the US and Europe as Africa’s largest trading partner, with massive investments in infrastructure.

Gituru says African scientists are increasingly turning to China for funding, as rules are less stringent than with other development partners.

“The Chinese give you more free hand in deciding what you want to do. Unlike the Western funders who put you in a straightjacket and fund what is of interest to them, China funds what is of interest to you,” he says.