Burundi makes great strides in STI policy reform

© Studio Photo Belle Image, Left to right : Dr Janvière Ndirahisha, Director-General of the Ecole normale supérieure, which hosted the forum ; Dr Tatien Masharabu, Director-General of Science, Technology and Research and ; Ms Joséphine Ntahobari, Representative of UNESCO for a Culture of Peace at the UNESCO Bujumbura Office

UNESCO has been accompanying Burundi in the reform of its science, technology and innovation (STI) policy since 2008. This collaboration will culminate in a national workshop in March or April 2014 to validate three crucial documents for the reinvigoration of research in Burundi, namely: the Strategic Plan for Science, Technology and Research for Sustainable Development, the Action Plan for Implementation of the National Policy on Scientific Research and Technological Development and the draft law on science, technology and research. These documents will provide a framework for implementation of the National Policy on Scientific Research and Technological Innovation.

 

In 2008, the Government of Burundi requested UNESCO to contribute to reinvigorating research in Burundi. Ever since, UNESCO has been collaborating with Burundi within a project for Strengthening capacity in STI policy in Africa (2008−2014), financed by the Government of Spain.

A status report in 2009

The reform began with a Brief Status Report on the National Scientific and Technical Research System of the Republic of Burundi (available in French under the title of Bref état des lieux du système national de recherche scientifique et technique de la République du Burundi. Published in 2009, the report was prepared by UNESCO expert Hocine Khelfaoui, following his mission to Bujumbura and Gitega (Burundi) from 16 to 20 June 2008.

In his report, he observed that

« agriculture and animal husbandry are the country’s main activities by far, occupying more than 90% of the population, estimated at 7.8 million en 2005. Agricultural productivity is low, owing to the fragmentation of property, with an average acreage of less than 0.5 hectares (compared to 0.7 hectares in 1980), and soil erosion. … Burundi is unable to produce enough meat and milk to satisfy its needs …The national and regional insecurity the country has known has destabilized structures responsible for providing technical services (veterinary services, agricultural popularization services, etc) and considerably weakened those responsible for agronomic research, the main focus of research. In addition, export crops (coffee, cotton, tea, etc) are vulnerable to a continual drop in international market prices for raw materials and agricultural products; this suggests that raw materials will need to undergo transformation at the local level in order to give them more added value. »

 

Based on the conclusions of this report, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research drafted a National Policy on Scientific Research and Technological Innovation in 2011 which is currently under revision.

A crucial consultation for reinvigorating research in Burundi

In August 2013, UNESCO and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research signed a partnership agreement for the second stage of the project. This consisted in drawing up an Action Plan for Implementation of the National Policy on Scientific Research and Technological Development and drafting a law on science, technology and research. It also foresaw the translation into English of the National Policy on Scientific Research and Technological Innovation and of the Action Plan for its implementation and Strategic Plan.

UNESCO expert Arturo Menendez worked with ministry officials and the national experts responsible for drafting these three documents. All three were presented to participants in a consultative forum organized by the Directorate for Science, Technology and Research in Bujumbura on 29 November 2013, with financial support from UNESCO.

Attending the consultative forum were senior officials from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and sectorial ministries, professors from the University of Burundi, representatives of the Higher Institute for Senior Military Personnel, the heads of public and private institutions of higher education, as well as national experts from various backgrounds. Also invited were representatives of civil society and public and private enterprises.

First to take the floor was Dr Tatien Masharabu, Director-General of Science, Technology and Research at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. He presented the findings of a study of the country’s policy instruments, governing bodies, legal framework and science, engineering, technology and innovation (SITI) policies. Among other topics, he spoke of the draft law on STI and the gathering of statistics on research and development (R&D) and innovation, in collaboration with the African STI Indicators Initiative (ASTII) of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

The three STI policy documents were then presented to the audience by UNESCO expert Arturo Menendez and two national experts, Francois Xavier Sezikeye and Jean-Bosco Manirambona.

Arturo Menendez Arturo Menendez outlined the Strategic Plan, which targets eight priority areas for science, technology, research and innovation (STRI):

  1. Agro-food technologies;
  2. Medical sciences;
  3. Energy, mining and transportation;
  4. Water, desertification and the environment;
  5. Biotechnology and indigenous knowledge;
  6. Material sciences, engineering and industry;
  7. Information and communication technologies (ICTs), space sciences and mathematics and, lastly,
  8. Social and human sciences.

For each priority area, it is planned to: develop research capacity, including a critical mass of human resources; strengthen the institutional framework and infrastructure; transfer knowledge via research by the private sector and civil society; strengthen regional and international cooperation and, lastly; foster science in society.

Strategic measures include: strengthening researcher capacity; creating research units; fostering coordination with sectorial policies; creating a central campus for STRI; incentives for innovation and the creation of innovative enterprises; membership of international organizations; the opening of new research bodies and; promoting scientific creativity among the young.

Annual reports will be published on the status of follow-up, on the basis of indicators and relevant information. The efficiency of the Plan of Action will also be evaluated, using available information from databases and other sources.

François Xavier Sezikeye’s presentation focused on the Plan of Action and implementation strategies for the National Policy on Scientific Research and Technological Innovation. After describing the paltry financial, material and human means at the disposal of research, technology and innovation in Burundi, he went on to elaborate future scenarii for each of the eight priority research areas. These scenarii are based on a hierarchized method which fosters coordination among activities. He also pinpointed the main obstacle to research, in his view, namely the inertia of the population, public authorities and international bodies.

It fell to Jean Bosco Manirambona to outline the draft law on STI. This consists in a series of articles organized around the orientation of scientific research, technological development and innovation, on the one hand, and the means of encouraging research and innovation, on the other.

The audience then participated in a debate which produced a series of recommendations. The Strategic Plan, Action Plan and draft law will be revised in light of these recommendations then presented to a national workshop in early February.

Once the three documents have been finalized, they will be submitted to the government and to Parliament for approval.

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