Humanity across the globe is facing extra-ordinary challenges ranging from health pandemics, climate change, energy, food insecurity and widening social and economic inequalities. And these crises cannot be resolved by one country alone but require global partnership and collaborations among nations to deploy the best science innovations and technologies to build resilience and adaptability and prosperity of our societies, said Dr Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education, innovation and science.
The minister was addressing the 2022 Eureka ministerial roundtable discussion recently held under the chairmanship of Portugal. The theme of the roundtable was: “Eureka as a driver for sustainability and innovation”.
Research and development
Eureka is the world’s biggest public network for international co-operation in research and development and innovation (R&D). Since it was formed more than three decades ago it funded thousands of high impact R&D innovation and commercialised products and services across the world. It is present in more than 45 countries including South Africa.
Dr Nzimande said he held the event in high esteem because of the partnerships it creates with the European science, technology and innovation system. “South Africa deeply values the partnership within the Eureka network as it provides many important platforms for pushing the boundaries of scaled-up and high-impact innovations to occur between the world of science and industry.
As South Africa we continue to grow our participation in Eureka, having renewed our associate membership recently. We are also looking forward to working with new partners joining Eureka from outside the European Union,” said the minister.
Training next generation
He said South Africa itself is committed to strong bilateral science, technology and innovation collaboration within the Eureka network around key areas of digital transition, green technologies, and the space-ocean-earth observation nexus. Dr Nzimande said there is already close working relationship with European partners including Portugal which is currently part of the pioneering Square Kilometre Array (SKA) astronomy project. We hope to collaborate in new initiatives to train next generation of astronomy scientists and engineers, he added.
Forging global science interfaces
He said he hopes to open up a frontier of co-operation with Eureka partners as part of his department’s Decadal Science Technology and Innovation plan. At the heart of the plan, said Dr Nzimande, is the need to rapidly improve scientific understanding of the complex interfaces of space-ocean-earth systems in the context of climate change and resource constraints. Dr Nzimande added that South Africa is also committed to building strong international partnerships in the field of health, particularly in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. He cited the recent launch of a new mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub as one example of the envisaged collaborations. According to Dr Nzimande, the partnerships will focus on:
- building domestic vaccine manufacturing and innovation capabilities
- improving epidemiological surveillance and diagnostic tools and
- modernising our public healthcare system and strengthening social resilience for the future.
He also welcomed the fact that South Africa is the participant in the Wastewater4Covid project which is part of the Eureka portfolio. The aim of the project is to develop new technologies for detecting viral particles in wastewaterto South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Driving economic growth
The minister said the role of the small and medium enterprises (SME) is vital in driving economic growth and creating employment opportunities. “Our Technology Stations Programme continues to be one of the main instruments for providing technological support to SMEs, with some 18 Technology Stations focus on a range of services, including agro-processing, chemicals, clothing & textile, automotive industry and tooling sector,” said Dr Nzimande.
The AU Agenda 2063
In addition, he said, there is also a Grassroots Innovation Programme aimed at commercialising local innovations from citizens who use local resources and capabilities that are currently not part of formal innovation institutions. He said South Africa is also planning to expand STI co-operation on the African continent to build on opportunities presented within the Eureka network for South-South and South-North partnerships. “The AU Agenda 2063 as well as the outcomes of the recent AU-EU Summit earlier this year has provided some of the key support for such engagements,” concluded Dr Nzimande.