Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Innovations targeting biological resources get funding

    Sam Otieno


Speed read

  • Eleven projects in East Africa have received funding to aid their scale-up

  • The projects are expected to enable scientists create viable enterprises

  • Governments and scientists should collaborate to help adopt the innovations

Eleven innovative biological sciences initiatives from East African countries have been awarded US$6 million to scale up their technologies into viable businesses.

Out of the 11, four are from Kenya, three from Uganda, three from Tanzania and one from Rwanda. The funding is from Bio-resources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development (BioInnovate Africa) Programme, a regional initiative supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

The winning innovations were announced during a forum on developing a bioeconomy in eastern Africa in Rwanda this month (3-4 November). The forum was organised jointly by Rwanda’s National Council for Science and Technology, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology and the Kenya-headquartered BioInnovate Africa programme.

Julius Ecuru, manager, BioInnovate Africa programme, tells SciDev.Net that initial proofs of concept were tested in the laboratories of local universities and research institutes across the region and the scientists now want to try them in market conditions and create new business opportunities, especially for the youth.

“Africa has a competitive edge over other continents to add economic value to these biological resources and end hunger and malnutrition.”

Julius Ecuru, BioInnovate Africa Programme

“Our bioeconomy initiative is timely because more than 75 per cent of our population live in rural areas and depends directly on local plant and animal resources,” says Ecuru. “If we do not do anything now, population pressure and expansion of more land for farming will threaten the very existence of these resources.”

Ecuru says that the region is rich in biological resources including insects and microorganisms.  Bioeconomy addresses economic issues that focus on biotechnology research and development.

BioInnovate Africa operates in six East Africa countries: Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

According to Ecuru, innovations and technologies such as genetic profiling and DNA barcoding could help conserve plants and animals and track illicit trade of endangered species.  

“Africa has a competitive edge over other continents to add economic value to these biological resources and end hunger and malnutrition, and also create jobs from biological- based industries,” notes Ecuru.

Ecuru says that the funding will help the scientists and innovators to refine their products and processes, test the technical and economic feasibility of their technologies as well as understand the market for the products or services being developed.

“The innovative technologies intend to introduce new and better products into the market. There are initiatives that are introducing better processes of reducing post-harvest losses of fruits,” he explains, citing other innovations for managing insect pests that destroy crops, producing nutritious food from insects, and for producing drink products made from sorghum and millet.

Musinguzi Muhsin, chairman of Uganda Nutrition Biotechnology Council, says that the continent needs to foster technologies that will add value to biological resources, to improve the nutritional quality of foods, improve production processes in industries, use bio-wastes as valuable raw materials and enhance the competitiveness of the continent’s local industries.

 “This will definitely assist the region to achieve some of the sustainable development goals such as ending hunger and malnutrition and promoting industrialisation and innovation,” noted Muhsin.

He urges African governments and scientists to work together towards adopting technologies that use renewable biological resources from land and sea – such as crops, fish, animals, and microorganisms – to produce food, materials and energy that will address the challenges that affect the people. Karoli Njau, acting vice-chancellor, Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, Tanzania and one of the award winners, tells SciDev.Net that the region has suffered from lack of locally developed solutions to adequately deal with the problem of agricultural and industrial wastes, citing lack of incentives to make industries adopt technological solutions for managing their wastes as another problem.
“Our resource recovery option that deals with the environmental management of agro- and bio-wastes treatment in the region provides that incentive,” Njau says.
He notes that the technology could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which contributes to climate change, and they hope to help in the achievement of environment free of industrial pollution.
Njau says his team will develop a robust business model and register a regional enterprise to market their innovation in East Africa.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.