Dr Nighisty Ghezae, Director
What do the twelve alphabetized words in this list have in common: biodiversity, birds, disease, feed, fish, food, forest, insects, nanoparticles, plants, soil, weeds? They were all topics of projects being talked about at the Collaborative Research Conference held at the African Academy of Sciences, Nairobi, in February*.
Why Collaborative research? Well, providing support to individual young researchers is of course an absolute necessity - all aspiring scientists must learn how to become good researchers. That is one thing. However, it is widely accepted that “collaborations become necessary for innovations and advances that are not possible within one laboratory working in isolation" (Bennett et al., 2010). Furthermore, evidence from publications and patents shows that multidisciplinary team research efforts result in greater productivity, innovation and scientific impact.
Across Africa, there are complex scientific and social challenges which require scientists to work together between disciplines and countries.
To respond to this need, IFS has successfully piloted a system to support collaborative research across Africa through a social networking platform and a web-based application review system. This involved 112 scientists. Such facilitation is badly needed in Africa where research is undertaken in "disciplinary silos" with little knowledge flow or production among African countries (Urama et al., 2011). Researcher networks should be encouraged and funding for collaborative research should be prioritised (Onyancha and Maluleka, 2001).
The objectives of the collaborative research conference were to showcase the pilot approach and engage with organisations that wish to fund or support research collaboration using a similar approach. Early-career scientists representing the 19 IFS-supported collaborative research teams came from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda to present the progress of their research and to interact with participants from national, regional and international organisations**. Women and men from across disciplines, languages and regions explored African solutions to development issues on the continent.
IFS and AAS (African Academy of Sciences) are committed to working together towards policy changes across the continent and within institutions. Collaborative research is needed in Africa but there is little political will or commitment to support it. Examples of relatively small steps that could lead to significant change include the facilitation of visas for scientific exchanges within the continent, the transport of experiment samples and equipment, and the transfer of funds to research and educational institutions. In my closing remarks at the end of the conference, I encouraged the representatives to look inside themselves for all the energy and potential they have to be unleashed, and to define the role of young researchers in Africa. For his part, Prof Berhanu Abegaz, Director of AAS, described the early-career scientists present as "confident, articulate, serious, content-rich and forward-looking".
I am of the view that greater collaboration between and among African institutions of higher education and advanced science is the path forward. We must work together in solidarity, and show that beyond our differences and geographical boundaries lies a common interest and a responsibility to address the problems that our people are facing.
Bennett L, Gadlin H and Levine-Finley S. 2010. Collaboration and Team Science: A Field Guide. Bethesda, Maryland, USA: National Institutes of Health.
Onyancha O B and Maluleka J R. 2001. Knowledge Production through Collaborative Research in Sub-Saharan Africa: How much do countries contribute to each other’s knowledge output and citation impact? Scientometrics, vol. 87, pp. 315-336.
Urama K C, Ogbu O, Bijker W, Alfonsi A, Gomez N and Ozor N (eds) 2011. The African Manifesto. Science, Ethics and Technological Responsibilities in Developing and Emerging Countries (SET-DEV) and African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS).
* with support from Carnegie Corporation, the Carolina MacGillavryFund, and the Belgian Science Policy Office
** AAS, ACPC, AfDB, AGRA, BecA, Carnegie, CODESRIA, IDRC, IFS, ICIPE, PASGR, RISE, SEARCA and WIOMSA
Great article! Keep up the good work! Research collaboration in Africa is much needed!