Malawi’s science commission finally takes shape

[BLANTYRE] The National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST) of Malawi has finally burst into life more than five years after it was first announced.

The commission, which lay dormant due to lack of funding, was officially launched last week (13 January) after the government included it in the 2010–11 budget.

It is a merger of the National Research Council of Malawi and the Ministry of Education’s science and technology (S&T) department and is intended to be the regulating and coordinating agency for all research in Malawi.

Peter Mutharika, Malawi’s S&T minister, said it will help the country improve its international competitiveness by promoting science and innovation, and reducing dependency on agricultural products such as tobacco, which have fluctuating economic value.

“NCST will define national research and development priorities to promote technology development, transfer and application, and provide monitoring and evaluation services in the national S&T and innovation system,” said Henderson Chimoyo, NCST’s director.

About 80 per cent of Malawi’s economy depends on agriculture, with tobacco alone accounting for 60 per cent of foreign exchange, while tea, sugar and other raw produce also top the export list.

According to Sosten Chiotha, NCST chair and an environmental scientist, the commission is not only tasked with transforming Malawi’s economy through science, but must also include rural areas in plans for new technology.

Its remit includes protecting and patenting local inventions, added Chimoyo, who told SciDev.Net that new intellectual property policies will protect both traditional medicine and new inventions from foreign exploitation.

He said the commission already has a project, funded by Malawi’s National AIDS Commission and run by Chancellor College at the University of Malawi, the Forestry Research Institute and the National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens, to research, validate and patent knowledge of traditional medicine.

Stakeholders in the S&T sector have been calling on the government to fulfill promises to boost research by providing a legal framework and more financing.

But the future for the country’s proposed S&T university still looks bleak despite Malawi’s president donating his own land for its construction.

John Bisika, principal secretary in the Ministry of Education, told SciDev.Neton the sidelines of the launch of the commission, that the government is committed to opening the new university by 2014.

Malawi’s parliament authorised the government to borrow US$80 million for construction work from Export-Import Bank of China last year (5 July).

Source – SciDev.Net – Moses Phiri – 20 Jan 2011