Thursday, June 20, 2024

Adequate research funding can drive knowledge-based economy

While a website places Botswana at position 83 out of its listed 90 countries all over the world, at 0.3 percent, in research and development spending the Chairperson of the University of Botswana’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) hub estimates it to be 0.25 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 

With such a low budget, initiatives that would otherwise alleviate poverty and create employment are choked. With climate change hitting hard on every economy, “We do not have readily available data to show which is causing more damage between droughts and floods. We do not know, for instance; which had more disasters than the other between last year and this year,” decried Professor Julius Atlhopheng of the University of Botswana’s Department of Environmental Sciences. 

Atlhopheng further expressed worry over the issue of indigenous knowledge which he said little is being done about it in as far as research is concerned. This is despite the fact that Indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) across Africa are rich and diverse. In recent years, IKS have gained more attention as potential contributors to economic diversification, natural resource management, innovation, health, sustainable agriculture, climate change mitigation, as well as to national identity-building through arts, music, design, architecture and culture.

Giving an example of local excessive climate occurrences where floods haunted some low ground geographic areas like Letlhakane in the Boteti, Prof Atlhopheng highlighted that traditional huts are an example of how indigenous knowledge can withstand disasters.

“A traditional hut has got a serepudi right round. This is a small wall-one or two courses of mud brick-but attached to the hut’s mail wall. When rains fall the flood waters hit the serepudi before actually reaching the main wall. If such floods take two to three days to end, then the wall has got strength to stand. The owner can have time to re-boost it. Elongated disasters are the only ones which can be challenges. This calls for combination of indigenous knowledge and science. Research is needed,” said Prof Atlhopheng.

He also indicated that with research that has limited budget, there is problem of continuity once a research has been completed. A project would be implemented at the time when researchers have found sponsors. Once the sponsorship ends, that marks the death of such a project no matter how crucial it might be to the masses. 

His sentiments are indirectly articulated by what is happening with things like medicines. A lot of researches have been done between traditional healers and scientists, the results of which are deficient; almost none existent.  

Highlights information from the Centre of Scientific Research, Indigenous Knowledge and Innovation (Cesriki) “There is specific National IKS Policy and the intent to develop National IKS databases. IKS have also gained entrance into strategies for academic institutions as a potential niche, whose research can define a unique competitive edge in the tertiary education sector. This in turn has increased the awareness of indigenous knowledge holders and their communities on how to position themselves in a globalized world, how to protect their knowledge, but also how to document and develop IKS and make it relevant for the future and under which conditions. 

The Cesriki has since 2010 been at the forefront of IKS research in Botswana and has been a contact point for many IK holders looking for advice on how to document and to develop their knowledge into products. Based on this experience, Cesriki noted two important issues: Firstly, the need to develop more dynamic forms of documentation than static databases, as knowledge never stands still. Secondly, there is a general lack of coordination on how knowledge and data about IKS are generated, handled, protected, and used for innovation. There are insecurities about what happens to data and there are many bottlenecks that tend to stifle innovation initiatives brought forward by IK holders themselves.

Another Researcher, Professor Patrick Malope from the Botswana University of Agriculture and natural resources said there is no how a country can talk of transiting to knowledge based from resources based while there is deficiency of data. 

To prove it beyond any reasonable doubt, the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Philda Nani Kereng stated during the World Meteorology Day: “Todaythe growing impacts of climate change are making ocean observations, research and services more critical than ever before. In Botswana for example, frequent droughts are exacerbating water scarcity and thereby negatively impacting people’s health and productivity. Entire ecosystems are dependent on the availability of water. Recognising the water cycle as a biophysical process is essential to achieving sustainable water management. Likewise ensuring that everyone has access to sustainable water and sanitation services is a critical climate change mitigation strategy for the years ahead.”

To further cement  the importance of research, Minister Kereng’s climate change policy which sailed through parliament the past sitting indicates that; “The policy intends to achieve sustainable development and climate resilient infrastructure through: integration of climate change considerations into infrastructure planning, designing and development processes; Providing incentives for the use of clean climate technologies for water supply and electricity in domestic, industrial and commercial buildings; Supporting climate related research on infrastructure that could guide development plans and priority actions; Promoting private public partnerships on the development and transfer of clean climate technologies required for supporting climate resilient infrastructure and energy saving innovations; and strengthening education and awareness on efficient, cost effective, easily accessible and implementable infrastructure development and management methods.”

A lot of criticism comes from various sectors; including political parties that the current regime serves mostly lip service in project implementation. It remains to be seen as countries embrace green technology how Botswana will fare in implementing its climate change policy. 

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