Department of Science and Technology

Tuesday, 12 September 2017                 


Philippi, Western Cape


Over the past twenty years we have built an innovation system that connects local government, big business, start-up entrepreneurs, venture capital, research organisations, higher education institutions, Further Education and Training colleges, and Services Sector Education & Training Authorities (SETAs).


The growth of this system is central not only to protecting current employment but also to creating new, sustainable jobs through the creation of new companies. International trends indicate that national growth increasingly depends on the creation of small and medium sized companies, particularly at a regional and local level and must be seen as a priority if we want to accelerate job creation.


And yet we know that our innovation and entrepreneurship is low in comparison with other similar countries.


Since its establishment as an independent Department in 2004, the DST has invested in creating institutional structures to support innovation. The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and National Intellectual Property Management Offices (NIPMO) are two of the important entities that were created to fulfil the mandate of funding and protecting intellectual property respectively.


It was TIA that invested in Agriprotein, which is an excellent example of a university spin-out company in the agricultural sector.


With the unprecedented growth in many tech sectors – in particular mobile and information and communication technology – there has been a boom in startup incubators. Stellenbosch has one and has a reputation as leading South Africa in university start-ups.


There are more than 300 incubators in South Africa, more than in any other African country. But we don't have a start-up valued at $1 billion dollars. A unicorn. That's what they're called. We don't have one. We want one. If Nigeria and Poland can produce unicorns, South Africa can as well.


It could be Agriprotein, the company first in the world to put fly-farming on the animal-feed map (8.5 billion flies recycle 250 tonnes of waste per day, boosting larvae production to 50 tonnes per day). Agriprotein could become a unicorn. It's certainly setting an example to other start-ups, winning prizes, reaching out globally. It's run by the Drew brothers who are technology gurus in their own right with a string of books on the subject of startups and insect farming.


Agriprotein is not only remarkable as an innovative start-up. It's also as a clean-tech pioneer - earlier this year it was listed as one of the Global Cleantech Top 100, a singular achievement for a South African startup.


(To qualify for the Global Cleantech 100, companies must be independent, for-profit, cleantech companies that are not listed on any major stock exchange. This year, a record number of nominations were received: 9,900 distinct companies from 77 countries.)


Powerful forces are driving a green economic revolution worldwide, providing in the process a strong lever for broad-based economic development in many parts of the globe, and often re-orienting national development trajectories. South Africa, having one of the most carbon-intensive economies in the world, is no exception. Our government is strongly committed to unleashing the potential of the green economy and we are extremely proud of what the Agriprotein team has achieved in such a short space of time.


Sustainable development is a core organising idea in the National Development Plan (NDP). The NDP is an integrated approach to policy making, combining theory, evidence and practice with an aim of ensuring pragmatism and continuous learning in implementation and governance. It advocates a radical transformation in the economy within the context of a mixed economy. It calls for a strong and effective state that is able to intervene on behalf of the poor and marginalised in order to correct the historic imbalances of power and the accumulation of wealth. It proposes a dialogue between business, labour and government as a means towards ensuring investment, employment and growth.


In line with the NDP the DST focuses on specific sustainable areas for R&D - astronomy, energy, bio economy - in which we intend to become world leaders. We aim to catalyse vibrant, learning-based activities in South Africa that will be driven by the quality of the scientists we train, the quality of our research and development infrastructure, and the enablers we have put in place to turn scientific research into technology. I'm told that you only employ scientists with PhDs. The DST has, over the years, made significant investments in centres of excellence, research chairs and national research facilities.


The NDP endorses the need to move to a low-carbon economy, while acknowledging that this transition will require innovative solutions.


Our cities need to become leaders in climate-change mitigation and adaptation. They are affected by urban sprawl, which reduces biodiversity and increases transportation emissions.


Our cities are also affected by apartheid planning where the poorest communities live far away from services or on flood plains, increasing their vulnerability and also exacerbating the transportation emissions, which is why a fly-farming facility here in Philippi is such an important contribution to the local community.


I should add, in closing, that we all need to understand the causes and impact of climate change, so that we can be empowered to become responsible citizens and to make changes in our lives that will improve not only our environment but also our quality of life. This behavioural change in society is crucial to a sustainable future. I thank you.