Why govt, stakeholders should prioritise research and innovation

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Musanze's Jean Paul Ntezimana makes wine from sweet potatoes. Innovators like him need to be supported. / File

Though African countries have all necessary conditions for high economic growth, it still lags behind other continents in terms of development. This, therefore, calls for an appropriate model to help explore the conditions of growth in the most appropriate way.

Endogenous growth theories consider knowledge, ideas and innovation as factors of economic growth. However, funding is essential to implement these ideas and innovations in the different sectors of economy to build a foundation for sustainable and long-term economic growth on the continent. In fact, Africa is lagging behind in terms of research and innovation due to lack of resources and funding. The continent contributes approximately to about one per cent of the global research output.

According to a UNESCO report, Sub-Saharan Africa spends 5 per cent of its GDP on education (which is high), but the level of education among many African countries is still low. There are many initiatives working towards encouraging innovation through grants, funds and prizes on the continent, those by UNICEF, Innovate Africa Fund, and Africa Innovation Challenge, among others. All these initiatives could create conditions for sustainable growth and development.

Though these initiatives are helpful, they are not enough to explore the hidden knowledge, talent and ideas among populations that are inaccessible in terms of information and opportunities. Moreover, there is lot of potential which remains unutilised in developing countries, especially the human resources.

In addition, people living in rural areas, the illiterates and poor people who have ideas but lack the means could be a good source of human capital if properly educated and trained. In addition, funding of innovations by small-scale industries, as well as cottage industries and local entrepreneurs at the grassroots level can help promote sustainable growth and also solve challenges of absolute poverty and unemployment.

Innovation support in Rwanda

Rwanda is doing well in areas of innovation and research. It has been ranked third in terms of science, technology and innovation by Africa Capacity Report 2017. Rwanda has also been ranked the most competitive economy in East Africa.

There are already several innovation support initiatives by the government geared at achieving self-sufficiency and sustainable resource utilisation in the country. Rwanda’s home-grown solution is a part of innovation strengthening strategy. With 40 per cent of young population, supporting and strengthening innovation can provide solution for enhancing employment and productivity. Young entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the numerous business support initiatives create new concepts and knowledge of doing business.

In 2016, the government launched the Kigali Innovation City for providing dynamic ecosystem of technology clusters from which domestic ICT companies will innovate and deliver products and services for the global market.

However, agriculture is one of the leading sectors where many innovative initiatives been launched over past few years. For instance, a three-year project called Capacity Development for Agricultural Innovation Systems (CDAIS) supported by the European Union was launched in 2013.

The project is expected to enhance efficient and sustainable agriculture innovation systems in eight countries including Rwanda.

According to FARA General Assembly held in Rwanda last year, both technological and institutional innovations are required for sustainable agricultural growth.

New technological advancements, such as developing of improved seed varieties, are important but they will not have impact if they are not accompanied by appropriate institutional arrangements, including having properly functioning seed delivery systems and extension staff support.

Areas that need to be strengthened

Investment in infrastructure and innovation is one of 17 global goals that make up the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. That’s why it is important to support and strengthen innovation in different sectors to add value to goods and services produced in the country. It will also make the economy more competitive.

Therefore, there is need to incorporate innovation and research in development plans at different levels across all sectors of the economy. Innovation should also be included in curriculum of secondary and higher education, and innovation events need to be organised regular basis while schools need to promote training in some critical areas of innovation and technology.

Partnerships with international agencies and stakeholders are also necessary to enhance capacity in innovation and research in manufacturing and other sectors to support industrial growth.

The writer is a Kigali-based economist and consultant.