As the SANBio/BioFISA II programme is coming to a close at the end of June 2019, it is time to look back at what has been achieved and what the future might bring. Some of the projects funded through BioFISA II grants are turning into commercial enterprises and it is time to celebrate their achievements.
Towards this end, the Government of Zimbabwe through the National Biotechnology Authority (NBA) hosted a 1-day project closure stakeholders’ workshop for the SANBio/BioFISA II programme on the 5th of March 2019 at the Holiday Inn hotel in Harare.
With a turnout of over 130 delegates, the stakeholders’ workshop was envisaged to showcase the results and impact of projects which were funded in Zimbabwe and discuss ways to sustain them. Participants from various tiers of society including academia, research institutions, industry, banks, civil society, government ministries and regulators attended this workshop.
Three products from eight projects funded in Zimbabwe through seed and flagship grants are now commercially available and one product was officially launched during the stakeholder workshop – the ash-based mineral block lick product developed by the Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT). Prof Irvin Mpofu, the project lead and CUT Pro-Vice Chancellor remarked: “The most important person or thing in business is the customer. Money is not important, you can have money and lose it. But if you have a happy customer today, he can give you money today, tomorrow and forever.” In support of this, several testimonials from farmers in different ecological zones in Zimbabwe were heard, attesting to the value the product brings for their livestock.
Other products developed through the projects and showcased at the event included, a moringa-based broiler chicken feed developed by Bindura University of Science Education with its partners, and the Resurrection Bush Tea, which has also pilot tested Zimbabwe’s framework on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS).
The guest of honour at the workshop, Prof Fanuel Tagwira who is the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, applauded SANBio and BioFISA II for the grants that enabled heritage-based research to be commercialised which is in line with his Ministry’s vision: “The achievements of these projects are a sign for greater things to come for Zimbabwe as we strive for national development through science and technology. What makes me happy today is that the SANBio network provided our institutions with grants which enabled them to demonstrate their innovative capacities in finding solutions to the major challenges facing our African continent. […] It is therefore hoped that the achievements of these institutions will inspire others to focus on more productive research.”
He also said that institutions should not focus only on the number of graduates but on harnessing the students’ intellectual capacity within their respective institutions to deliver new technologies and innovations for Zimbabwe. The Permanent Secretary also stated that the Government was committed to ensuring the continuity of the projects through various funding schemes available.
“Simply put, biotech research results should lead to commercialisation. Today, we witness how a little support can stretch to deliver unimaginable outputs if there is focus and dedication,” remarked the NBA Board Chairperson, Prof. Florence Mtambanegwe.
University of Zimbabwe Acting Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Mapfumo also remarked that while researchers should by no means hate publications, they are only the start, and universities should declare their relevance through strategic partnerships with industry to provide relevant solutions to the wider population.
For Bindura University of Science Education (BUSE), Vice Chancellor Professor Eddie Mwenje stated that the university has put in place several support mechanisms to support commercialisation of research products.
While Zimbabwe has started to see products from research, there is still a funding gap to support commercialisation of research outputs. For the agriculture sector, the Zimbabwe Agricultural Development Trust is placed to bridge this gap between innovation and the time they become attractive to banks. Mr Godfrey Chinoera from ZADT emphasised the need for partnerships to bridge this gap.
In closure, the SANBio Network Manager, Dr Ereck Chakauya emphasized the continued and increased importance of collaboration between research and industry to address socio-economic challenges in the country. Click here to read more on the projects funded in Zimbabwe.
On the 9th of April 2019, SANBio in collaboration with the Botswana Innovation Hub will be engaging with stakeholders in Botswana.