Tuesday, 8 June 2010

BIO CIRCLE trains African researchers in FAFB (3)

During the Bio Circle FP7 training workshop held at FARA, Accra on first and second of June 2010, the participants have been watching and commenting following video interviews where African researchers express their views on the FP7 or working with European Researchers more in general. 

Dr. Habiba Hassan-Wassef (Egypt) sees a misunderstanding in the fact that many researchers in Africa perceive the Frame Work Programme 7 of the European Commission first of all as a source of money forgetting it is about science and knowledge based economy. But few realise what this means. It is about generating new knowledge to serve the bio-economy and not research for research or research for development.

There is a need to look at research with a different perspective which is bringing innovation to European research. Therefore it is important to follow developments at the European and World research front. FP7 is not a lottery. It is important to understand how the evaluators of proposals think. Dr. Hassan-Wassef answers the question of which the biggest difficulties are for African researchers to participate in FP7 research projects.

Dr. Habiba Hassan-Wassef has been wondering why Europe has a renewed interest for joint research in the field of agriculture and nutrition in Africa (Framework Programme 7 Theme 2: Food, Agriculture, Fisheries and Bio-technologies).

She takes as example a recent call by the European Commission for proposals from the South-Mediterranean Area about research on African traditional technology about the use of food resources, the management of natural resources, the use of African traditional food processing technologies in order to benefit the European food industry.

She questions the principle of mutual benefit and wants to secure Africa's interest and intellectual property rights. She believes though that FP7 is a genuine change compared to the past. But she fears African scientists do not know all their rights while FP7 provides for it. Collaboration between North African researchers and Sub-Saharan researchers could be improved and accelerated. FARA, NEPAD and the different Sub-regional organisations have a role to play in this.

Sanaa ZEBAKH (Point d'Information National sur les programmes de recherche europeens - Maroc) says: "The role of NIPs is not to create illusions but about contributing to European research knowledge and about excellence". In Marocco light information products have been developped with a focus on themes which Moroccan researchers may find interesting.

Morocco has been relatively successful in participating in FP6 & FP7 calls because of the long history of scientific collaboration between Europe and Marocco. The contribution of the National Information Point to this is more difficult to evaluate. Some 30 information sessions have been organised for FP7 call all over the country and Marocco has now focal points in every university. But despite the information dissemination the success rate for the first FP7 call has been low: on the 45 submitted proposals only 2 were selected.

A new strategy is to work with a restricted group of scientists whose potential is real instead of wanting to reach as much as possible researhers. But it is difficult to judge who is part of the top of Maroccan research. The biggest bonus for Marocco from FP1 to FP6 participation is to have seen 130 research institutes collaborate in 98 EU funded projects with an average of 3 to 4 researchers per research project.

Dominique PALLET, the French coordinator of the AFTER project (African Traditional Food Revisted by research) explains the objectives of the project and the challenges of managing a FP7-project consortium (FP = Frame work programme 7 of the Eurepean Commission.

Interview with Dr. Kevin Urama African Technology Policy Studies (ATPS Kenya) at the NEPAD Tertiary Institutions Dialogue FARA Secretariat 28 - 30 July 2009, Accra, Ghana. He thinks that the modus operandus of the European Framework Programme is very useful because it is trying to forge partnerships and collaborations both between disciplines and across cultures and countries. Currently ATPS is working on a Manifesto for Science and Technology involving Indian, European and African partners. Work packages allow African institutes to take the lead and in this they can set their own research priorities. The multilateral research platform is a guarantee for quality control. Such types of collaboration should happen more in Africa. He gives as an example the banana tissue culture which was developed in Kenya but now involves researchers from Cameroon, Nigeria and other places. The requirement of involving policy makers, researchers, the producers and the civil society allows for innovation to develop and forces researchers to think critically about their research. He answers following questions:

  • Will newcomers like Japan, China and Brazil foster Africa-Africa collaboration ? (ATPS is currently developing a Donor Watch initiative)
  • Will we have one day an African Union FP7 type of programme?

Prof. Umezuruike Linus Opara is a Professor at Stellenbosch University where he holds the South African Chair in Postharvest Technology. In this interview, Prof. Opara explains the various fields of research implied in Postharvest Technology. Furthermore, Prof. Opara makes the case for a multi-stakeholder and multi-disciplinary approach, where researchers from different backgrounds would interact with professionals of the food supply chain. Finally, Prof. Opara explains the importance of networking among researchers from Europe and Africa.

ANOTHER INTERVIEW VIEWED AND COMMENTED BY THE PARTICIPANTS WAS THE INTERVIEW WITH Dr. Angelo Visconti, Institute of Sciences of Food Production (ISPA), National Research Council (CNR) Bari, Italy