The Department of Science and Technology (DST) Director General, Phil Mjwara announced the Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (NEPAD SANBio) as one of the new models of international cooperation to address SA’s key biosciences priority issues in health and nutrition.
Mjwara was speaking at the first BIO Africa Convention in Durban, an initiative hosted in partnership with The Innovative Pharmaceutical association South Africa (IPASA) and Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) in collaboration with the South African Department of Science and Technology.
The conference was held under the theme: Africa – Open for business; together building the bio-economy. The conference provides a platform for South Africa to showcase how bio-based innovations have played a role in transforming its economy through the acceleration of agricultural renewal, biomedical research and industrial development.
NEPAD SANBio funds collaborative research between Southern African partners aligned with NEPAD and SADC strategic plans – with co-funding support from Finland through the BioFISA II Programme.
Health and nutrition challenges are priorities at the African Union and New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and are key in their agendas for the continent’s socio-economic development.
NEPAD SANBio works within the STISA-2024 priority areas to eradicate hunger, ensure food and nutrition security, and prevent and control diseases and ensure well-being.
Mjwara referenced the economic impact of biotechnology in agriculture and in health where it could help reduce the burden of diseases.
“Growing populations need more food and feed - between 2015 and 2050, 1.3 billion will be added in Africa, 0.9 billion in Asia, and 0.2 billion in the rest of the world. Therefore, there are three key features of the future in the bio-economy,” he stated.
According to him, these are:
• Precision: To address the enormous variability in life (even within the same species). Key areas here are health, in terms of genomic or precision medicine, i.e. tailoring medicines not just to the disease but to the human genotype. Precision can also be applied to agriculture in terms of gene-editing to harness the genomic potential of crops and animals
• Convergence: Competitive market solutions do not respect disciplinary boundaries. Landfills will converge with biotech for purposes of biomass recycling, or material science will converge with biotech for creation of novel biomaterials, etc.
• Biomass value addition: Biorefining to extract new value from raw resources
“The economic benefits of biotech are vast; we need to take advantage of emerging socio- economic trends such as youth bulge and modernise existing sectors through new and emerging technologies; exploit new sources of growth such as circular and green economy, and convergence in bio technology,” he added.
The Convention was attended by DST Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane and brought together major biotech stakeholders including researchers, innovators, inventors, entrepreneurs and policy makers from around the world.