Industrialisation, modernisation, upgrading and greater regional integration are needed to transform the Southern African Development Community (SADC). “In an effort to accelerate the implementation of the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and add significant value, the DST has identified numerous interventions to support the region.”
If the SADC is to achieve greater regional integration through industrialisation, it is essential that the region makes a shift from reliance on natural resources and low-cost labour to increased investment and enhanced productivity. While SADC countries have abundant and diverse natural resources, the region’s productive sectors do not practice value addition. The SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap (2015-2063) was developed to guide efforts to achieve greater regional integration. The Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap (IS&R) encourages value addition to increase returns from the export of the region’s natural resources as part of ensuring self-sustaining development in the region.
Collaborating to develop regionalism
SA chaired the SADC (from August 2017 to August 2018), using “Partnering with the private sector in developing industry and regional value chains,” as the theme for its term. The SADC IS&R supports collaboration between governments and the private sector to industrialise the region’s natural resources. The document calls for the region to accelerate the implementation of industrialisation programmes and consider innovative ways to finance industrialisation.
On 18 March 2017, the Extra Ordinary Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the SADC, held in eSwatini, approved an action plan for the IS&R. The summit emphasised the need for member states to own and implement the action plan. The SADC Secretariat, located in Gaborone, Botswana, plays a facilitation and coordination role at a regional level. As chair of the SADC, South Africa, through the Department of Science and Technology (DST), convened a workshop on the Industrialisation Strategy in April 2018. The purpose of the workshop was to deliberate on the many ways in which science, technology and innovation could contribute to implementing the action plan. The conversation among SADC countries continues.
Targeted industrial policies
A key focus of the Industrialisation Strategy is to develop targeted industrial policies that will create conditions enabling greater public and private sector investment in economic infrastructure, which in turn will enable crucial sectors of the economy, particularly value-added manufacturing, to grow.
Says Deputy Director-General for International Cooperation and Resources at the DST, Mr Daan du Toit, “In an effort to accelerate the implementation of the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and add significant value, the DST has identified numerous interventions to support the region.” These include knowledge sharing and models for focused and broad-based science, engineering, technology and innovation (SETI) support to industry. The support could meet an industry’s demand directly or provide tailored SETI-funded solutions to increase the level of technological capability or innovation in the industry.
One of the interventions proposed is in bio-refining, with an integrated value chain linking industries involved in biomass supply (forestry, valorisation of waste, farming), bio-refinery-based processing (storage, separation, isolation) and product innovation (bio-chemicals, bio-polymers, bio-composites, advanced bio-fuels and formulated products such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics).
Demand-driven support instruments are increasingly important, especially in developing countries, as they leverage market demand to increase technological innovation and competitiveness. One of the DST demand-side SETI support instruments is the DST-established lithium-ion battery programme, which focuses on the development of advanced energy storage technologies, specifically through manganese beneficiation. The Lithium-Ion Battery Precursor Pilot Plant facility, launched in Nelspruit in October 2017, will see beneficiated manganese-based cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries developed locally at highly competitive costs, using SA raw materials and intellectual property.
SA and the SADC
SA and the SADC region are home to all the raw materials and minerals used in lithium-ion batteries. The key components of these batteries are lithium, manganese, nickel, cobalt and titanium. Namibia and Zimbabwe have lithium reserves and cobalt is available in the Democratic Republic of Congo. SA has 80 percent of global manganese reserves, and 40 percent of global titanium reserves, as well as high quality nickel (a by-product of platinum group metal mining). With the right investments and strategic engagements with SADC partners to secure raw materials, SA could establish a viable and sustainable energy storage industry for the region. This will boost energy security and access to energy, and reduce the harmful effects of non-renewable energy sources in the SADC.
The DST is currently funding a number of potentially high-impact cross-cutting programmes requiring close integration and support from other departments. Such programmes have the potential to renew existing industries or establish new ones, making a substantial contribution to longer term, sustainable competitiveness, and the penetration of new markets. The DST has research and development-led industrial development programmes in titanium metal powder manufacturing development, renewable energy (hydrogen fuel cell development), additive manufacturing (3D printing) and biotechnology (including indigenous knowledge systems, applications for agriculture, health and industry). Its Technology Localisation Programme helps improve the technological capability of local firms so that they can access public procurement opportunities in the state’s infrastructure build programme for state-owned entities.
Such programmes are not only economically beneficial, but also have social impact. Earlier this year, the Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, launched a R10 million renewable energy system in April 2018. The 2,5kW hydrogen fuel cell system, installed at Poelano Secondary School in Ventersdorp, has given the school’s 486 pupils access to low-cost, off-grid, clean energy for their information technology and lighting needs.
The Wheat Breeding Platform, an initiative supported by the DST, was established as a consortium consisting of both public and private partners. Partners include the DST, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Agriculture Research Council, Stellenbosch University, Grain SA, Sensako, and Pannar. Launched in November last year, the platform is located at Stellenbosch University’s Welgevallen Experimental Farm, Western Cape. The platform is assisting the country’s wheat producers to increase their production through the development of germplasm with greater drought/heat tolerance or other yield-improvement factors. If higher yielding cultivars, benefiting from the germplasm developed in this platform, can be developed by local wheat-breeding companies, this will increase local production and lessen South Africa’s dependence on wheat imports, as well as contribute to food security.
Opportunities for partnerships
While the programmes discussed above are driven by the SA Department of Science and Technology and national system of innovation, there are numerous opportunities for collaboration and partnering on similar or expanded programmes in the region. In August 2018, SA will be hosting the first BIO Africa Convention in Durban under the theme Africa: Open for Business – Building the Bio-economy together. The convention will provide a platform for networking and sharing ideas. It will showcase Africa’s biotechnology innovations in the health, agriculture and industrial sectors, and help unlock the potential of Africa’s unique biodiversity by providing opportunities for investment.
In the past decade there has been a steady increase in the development and adoption of bioeconomy strategies by a number of countries. This shows the growing importance of the bioeconomy for sustainable development and meeting social, environmental and economic challenges. Given the central role that the bio-economy plays in the attainment of a number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, there is an even more compelling argument for those countries that are yet to formulate a bio-economy strategy to do so urgently. The BIO Africa Convention will also help provide a regional perspective on the development and rolling out of bio-economy strategies. The SADC IS&R can use such science, technology and innovation programmes to grow the regional economy. Let us explore their potential.
*Zama Mthethwa is the Account Executive at the Department of Science and Technology
Zama Mthethwa – (STI in the SADC – A roadmap for greater regional integration published in Science Forum 2019)