Research projects

Zimbabwe: Covid – 19 disrupts regional research projects from afar

Agriculture, Environment & Innovations Editor

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on science has been significant, disrupting the conduct of large-scale research and forcing scientists to scale back or completely halt work to find solutions to some of the pressing problems facing our society. confronted.

Some of the major research activities that have been affected by the pandemic include R&D activities undertaken by the Research Council of Zimbabwe (RCZ) in partnership with regional and international research institutes and bodies such as the International Research Center and of development in Canada. , the National Science and Technology Commission in Malawi and the Botswana Innovation Hub.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected many researchers, students and academics. Higher education research institutions have restricted in-person activities, research and training have been disrupted, and access to essential research materials has also been worsened.

Access to laboratory equipment and programs has been a challenge for researchers in RCZ’s regional and international research partnership programs.

Access to some of the statistical software used in key labs has been restricted as institutions enforced strict Covid-19 policies that blocked most researchers from accessing the labs.

Among the hardest hit initiatives is one in which the RCZ and the National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST) of Malawi are participating in phase two of the Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI).

A total of 16 African countries, including Zimbabwe, participate in the SGCI programme.

This initiative was meant to build on the first phase of the SGCI’s objective to seek to build the capacity of Science Granting Councils (SGCs) in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to support evidence-based research and policy that will contribute to the socio-economic development.

This initiative is jointly funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), now known as the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the International Development Research Center (IDRC) of Canada, the National Research Foundation ( NRF) of South Africa and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

Zimbabwe, Botswana and Malawi have agreed to undertake collaborative research to strengthen their strategic cooperation in agricultural biotechnology and mineral technology.

Under the terms of the agreement, the RCZ will manage the program which will be implemented in universities and research institutes in the three countries.

Zimbabwe, Malawi and Botswana are parties to the SGCI.

Researchers from the three countries were to collaborate in agricultural biotechnology research, examining the areas of plant biotechnology or animal biotechnology.

The main areas of interest that have been affected include fish farming research, development of medicinal proteins and industrial enzymes, production of bio-fertilizers with improved plant nutrition, development of nano-engineered reagents for mineral froth flotation and coal beneficiation.

Researchers hosted a virtual regional Scinnovent Center meeting last year to review research programs.

“Just as there is a slow return to normal, the challenges of Covid-19 remain a major impediment to project implementation.

“Participating countries are under different levels of lockdown. This has put monitoring programs on hold. Even project implementation has been affected in one way or another by Covid-19,” noted the researchers in a report of the meeting.

In addition to the challenges posed by the Covid-19-induced lockdown, the late disbursement of funds has also compounded problems for researchers.

Scientists and other stakeholders believe in the need to pave the way for innovation and ingenuity and unlock the enormous promise of biotechnology to help solve many of the greatest challenges facing the world. Zimbabwe and other countries in Africa are facing today.

They say that biotechnology, despite resistance and fears, had the potential to lead to the development of new drugs and diagnostics to improve human health, higher-yielding food crops, biofuels to reduce dependence on petroleum and intermediates. biobased chemicals.

Africa bears a disproportionately high burden of disease and has lagged behind in generating knowledge to address its health and other socio-economic development challenges.

This SGCI initiative, led by RCZ, is expected to strengthen the research capacity of scientists in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Botswana.

“Given the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to strengthen the synchronization of research activities,” the scientists said in a report.

“It is important that researchers synchronize their research activities. This would allow research to be conducted simultaneously in both countries.

This initiative is also expected to boost African-led research on the continent and push for a paradigm shift and an innovative approach to finding solutions by scientists in Africa.

Despite the pandemic-related challenges, stakeholders and scientists are convinced that such initiatives must continue to be supported as they are essential to directly empower Africa-based researchers.

Apart from this, the initiative also provides quality training and career development opportunities to a large number of young African scientists and support staff.

This has the advantage of reducing the impact of brain drain.

In addition, long-term investments from international donors and increasing funding commitments from African governments and other financial partners will be needed to achieve a critical mass of local capacities and to create and maintain world-class research that will spur the generation of solutions for Africa’s intractable challenges.

Africa comprises 15 percent of the world’s population and bears 25 percent of the global burden of disease and produces only 2 percent of global research output, according to various global reports.

Experts say challenges contributing to this weak research output include – a shortage of well-trained and qualified researchers resulting in poor academic oversight, a lack of critical mass of researchers even where pockets of excellence exist, weak or very limited progression pathways for those engaging in scientific careers and poor research infrastructure, including a lack of access to scholarly tools such as scientific literature.

Despite the problems, it is encouraging to see that over the past decade, Zimbabwe and most other countries in the region have significantly increased their investment in research and capacity building.

Zimbabwe and other countries in the region are investing in science, technology and innovation (STI) capacities to meet the socio-economic challenges they face and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

As the Covid-19 pandemic is still here with us, it is important that our scientists devise strategies that will advance research initiatives to help Zimbabwe and other countries in the region benefit from solutions to promote economic growth and eradicate poverty.