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Kenya set to launch research foundation

Kenyan science officials say they plan to set up a national research foundation to manage and disburse research grants.

The foundation would operate along the lines of the South African National Research Foundation (NRF). It is one of three institutions being introduced as part of a bill approved by parliament in December 2012.

Crispus Kiamba, permanent secretary in the ministry of science, says preliminary work to set up the foundation has begun. It might be established in the next two months, he says.

The foundation will manage the National Research Fund, a proposed grant facility, which would receive an initial input from the Treasury amounting to 2 per cent of GDP. It will also fund research projects selected by the National Innovation Agency (NIA), another of the three planned institutions.

“NIA will support all these people who have ideas that they want to develop into products. NIA will decide what they want to support and the NRF will come in with the funding,” Kiamba says.

The science ministry will be lobbying the new government for additional funding in the 2013/14 budget, he says. “We expect it, we are fighting for it and negotiating for it.”

Kenya’s next president, Uhuru Kenyatta, will be sworn on 9 April, after which he will select his ministers.

Robert Gituru, a botanist at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology northeast of Nairobi, says the foundation will be efficient in playing its role if Kenyan scientists are part of its administrative structure.

“There needs to be a sizeable component of hands-on researchers who have demonstrable international collaborative links and experience. This will infuse the desired progressive trend in decision-making and ultimately enhance the usefulness of the fund in promoting science," he says.

Mammo Muchie, who holds a research chair at South Africa’s Institute for Economic Research on Innovation, says Kenya’s bill can help turn the country into a knowledge-based economy.

“At the moment resources are being value added outside and sold back to Africa at high prices. But if countries organise their R&D, fund appropriate technologies and put money into research they can change that. This is what Kenya is doing,” Muchie says.