On 26 June 2012, the Bio-Innovate Program Management Team (PMT) met with high-level officials from the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) during its monitoring and review mission of the Program supported projects in Ethiopia to discuss the Program progress in general and ongoing implementation of projects in Ethiopia.The PMT Led by Seyoum Leta, Program Manager met with His Excellency (HE) Mahamouda Ahmed Gaas, State Minister for Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST). Present during the meeting was Mr Alemu Abebe a partner in the innovation policy project on ‘Biosciences innovation policy consortium for eastern Africa (BIPCEA)’. HE Mahamouda appreciated the Program’s strategic focus areas and projects in the country. “We recognize the importance of Bio-Innovate’s initiatives to complement and strengthen biosciences research and product-oriented innovation activities in the partner universities and research organizations in the region and in Ethiopia in particular” he noted. The State minister appreciated the Program’s support and noted that Ethiopia as a Bio-Innovate partner country is participating in eight of the innovation and policy consortia projects. In two of those, Ethiopian institutions are lead implementers, while the other six have a co-lead role in their respective consortia. He assured the PMT full support from the Ministry in the Program’s implementation work in the country. He was cognizant of the central role that bio-resources and bioscience innovation can play in the socioeconomic transformation of eastern African countries if supported with a conducive policy environment and engaging relevant partners. He stressed the need to create this policy environment to harness the benefits of bioscience innovations and biotechnology in the country. He noted that Ethiopia stood to lose if such a policy environment is not created.
Seyoum pointed out that one of the main constraints hindering the uptake of modern biosciences in Ethiopia has been the absence of clear and comprehensive policies on biotechnology, strategies, and plans to access and utilize biotechnology innovations according to the needs and priorities of the country. He noted that policies that facilitate the link between local actors and the public sector in the research for development (R4D) process needs to be improved in the country as well as in the region. The meeting explored how Bio-Innovate Program can work with MoST in creating sound biotechnology policy and a conducive biosafety framework in Ethiopia. Seyoum noted, “There are impressive developments in biotechnology and biosafety policies in some of the Bio-Innovate participating countries in the region from which Ethiopia could draw lessons from.” He indicated, “Bio-Innovate Program with its mix of disciplines and broad network is well suited to facilitate such a forum.” He also pointed out that the policy project is expected to produce a high quality bioscience policy findings and policy briefs which can serve as working documents for discussion in forums involving academia, government, private sector, and market actors. “Bio-Innovate is working closely with national science and technology councils/ministries and other relevant regional entities to create a forum for communications and dialogue on biosciences and biosafety issues in the Eastern Africa region,” He noted.
While collaboration in scientific research in eastern Africa is not a new occurrence, there has been limited cooperation between the countries, in the field of biosciences innovation and policy particularly on climate change issues. Although there are a number of important ongoing biosciences research and capacity-building activities being supported by national and/or bilateral programs, there is need for a regional approach in mainstreaming sustainable utilization of bio-resources in the economic development agenda of eastern Africa with particular attention to climate change. Building on previous achievements and experiences of Bio-EARN (Eastern Africa Regional Programme and Research Network for Biotechnology, Biosafety and Biotechnology Policy Development) and other regional initiatives, Bio-Innovate Program is a newly established multidisciplinary competitive funding mechanism for biosciences and product-oriented innovation activities in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The Bio-Innovate niche is characterized by a focus on the application of bio-resource innovations to support sustainable growth and transformation of the agricultural and environmental sub-sectors from primary production to value addition, while enhancing adaptability to climate change and strengthening innovation policy.