India and the African Union today kicked off a two-day high-level interaction to identify areas of cooperation in the field of science and technology.
The first India-Africa science and technology ministers' conference and technology exposition got off to a business-like start with Vilasrao Deshmukh, minister for science and technology and earth sciences, reiterating India's commitments to cooperation in science, technology and innovation with African countries as outlined in the declarations of India-Africa Summits.
The conference and technology exposition is organised jointly by the department of science and technology of the ministry of science and technology, the ministry of external affairs and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
Addressing the delegates, the minister said that facilitation of India-Africa interaction at a higher level could be built around the following five areas:
- Visits of expert delegations from India to African countries for identification of an initial set of potential sectors for collaboration and technology transfer;
- Organisation of joint workshops, technology expos and road shows for requirement assessment and feasibility studies;
- Identification of agencies that can provide technologies for transfer to African countries;
- Development of appropriate linkages between industry associations and SMEs; and
- Facilitating technology transfer and establishment of pilot scale demonstration plants in Africa.
The minister said most of India's R&D and academic institutions are now actively engaged with international collaborations, which allow mobility of students and researchers.
''I see here an opportunity for science and engineering students at the masters and PhD levels from Africa to undertake student internships in Indian research institutions. Through this exposure we can connect young scientists and build bridges between next generations,'' Deshmukh said, adding that sending students to India will rid them of the worry of brain drain, which developing countries face with some of the developed countries.
He said technology transfer and adoption is central to India-Africa S&T partnership.
''Some for the Indian home grown technologies and innovations, which are frugal and affordable, could easily touch the lives of the untouched people in both Indian and Africa. Affordable innovations and traditional knowledge sectors could form the wings of Indo-Africa partnership,'' he said.
Speaking on the occasion, minister of state for external affairs, Preneet Kaur, pointed to the successful implementation of the pan-African e-Network Project, including tele-education, tele-medicine and connectivity between leaders in 47 African countries. An agreement has also been signed for its implementation in the 48th country, South Sudan, recently.
Dr Nadia Eskander Zakhary, minister of scientific research of the Arab Republic of Egypt and chair of the African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology, informed the delegates that 2010-20 has been declared as the 'Decade of Africa'.
''The challenge for the African nations was to plan, unite and engage in strategic efforts for the betterment of the people,'' she said and urged her Indian colleagues to support Africa's S&T initiatives for the sake of future generations.
To this, minister of state for science and technology and planning, Dr Ashwani Kumar, said India remained committed to capacity building in the HRD sector in Africa. He also said India proposed to establish several new institutions at the pan-African level. These include:
- An India-Africa Food Processing Cluster;
- India-Africa Integrated Textiles Cluster; and
- India-Africa Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting.
The minister said the latter would harness satellite technology for the agriculture and fisheries sectors as well as contribute towards disaster preparedness and management of natural resources.
''We have received a request to support the establishment of an India-pan-Africa University for Life and Earth Sciences in Nigeria and would be happy to support this important venture,'' he added.
Prof Jean Pierre O Ezin, commissioner, human resources, science and technology, African Union Commission, expressed confidence that the conference would help create a long-term strategic partnership in ways that would touch the lives of the people in the two regions.
Dr T Ramasami, secretary, department of science and technology, said that science, technology and innovation are important bridges connecting India and Africa through living relationships. The focus would be on capacity building, S&T for development, knowledge and adoption and research areas of mutual interest.
R V Kanoria, president of FICCI, informed the delegates that discussions were at an advanced stage with some African nations to launch the DRD-FICCI technology commercialisation programmes in Africa. The proposed programmes, notably in Senegal and Rwanda, aim at taking relevant Indian technologies to Africa with the mutually beneficial goal of strengthening industry while providing new international markets for Indian innovations.