Programme Director;

Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General of Science and Technology;

CSIR Board members Antonio Llobell, Philip Goyns and Ghandi Badela;

Dr Thulani Dlamini, CEO of the CSIR;

CSIR Group Executives Zanele Ngwepe, Sithembile Bhengu and Dr Molefi Motuku;

Cllr Bhekokwakhe Phewa, Office of the Mayor, Durban;

Dr Jonas Mphepya, Acting Executive Director of Natural Resources and Environment at the CSIR;

Ms Jane Molony, Executive Director, Paper Manufacturers Association of SA;

President of the International Council for Forest and Paper Associations;

Dr Nelson Sefara, Technology Centre Manager, Sappi;

Dr Johan de Graaf, Executive Manager: Strategy and Innovation, Hans Merensky;

Dr Janice Dewar, CEO of the Sugar Milling Research Institute;

Ms Nomvuzo Tembe, CEO of eThala Management Services;

Prof. Deresh Ramjugernath, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research at UKZN;

Mr Rudolph Lungile Mabece, Chairperson, SAFCOL Board;

Mr Mmboneni Muofhe, Deputy Director-General: Technology Innovation;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen:

 

The South African economy has been experiencing pedestrian growth levels in recent years. In fact, our economy has never fully recovered from the 2008 global economic crisis. As a result of the poor economic growth our triple challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality sometimes seems insurmountable. However, the challenges that we are experiencing as a country present us with an opportunity to put more emphasis on our national system of innovation, for that is how we will generate new avenues for growth. This is because we know that, in order to make a dent in the unemployment rate, poverty and subsequently inequality, the economy needs to grow at about 6%.

 

South Africa, like all other countries of the world, faces challenges with energy and food security, climate change and the need to green the economy. To this end, South Africa has been developing a range of policy mechanisms, all of which are intended to enhance the development of sustainable industries, protect environments and food resources, and mitigate against climate change. Some of these initiatives include the Biofuel Industrial Strategy, the Bio-economy Strategy, the Green Economy Accord and the Industrial Policy Action Plan. This is a part of the effort towards the realisation of the National Development Plan.

 

Programme director, the National Development Plan notes that, for South Africa to sharpen its innovative edge, it "requires greater investment in research and development, better use of existing resources, and more nimble institutions that facilitate innovation and enhanced cooperation between public science and technology institutions and the private sector". As a custodian of the national system of innovation, the Department of Science and Technology has been playing a leading role in transforming the South African economy into a knowledge-based economy.  In doing this, we recognise that government alone cannot achieve this transformation without the participation of the private sector. This initiative we are launching today exemplifies what can be achieved when government and the private sector work together.

 

Programme director, we believe that "the extent to which developing economies emerge as economic powerhouses depends on their ability to grasp and apply insights from science and technology and use them creatively", as the NDP also noted. Developing our industrial capacity on the back of our scientific research as a nation depends on a strong partnership between government and the private sector.  A challenge for innovation policy is the need for alignment and strategic partnerships, especially between government and industry, not only in South Africa but across the world. In response to this challenge, there has been an explosion of various kinds of public-private partnerships in research and innovation. Partnerships are necessary in the forestry and paper and pulp sectors, as, both nationally and internationally, these sectors are under financial strain.

 

According to the OECD, the fundamental rationale of most public-private partnerships (PPPs) in research and innovation is to leverage broader economic and social benefits from joint investments. This helps to accelerate innovation and the development of technological solutions that are essential for addressing key challenges in growing the economy and achieving societal well-being.

 

PPPs help build new innovation capabilities, improve connectivity within the national innovation system and, most importantly, help create a collaborative environment to maximise cross-disciplinary expertise among government, academics and industry researchers. Over the last few years, our department has led and supported a vital part of the growth of PPPs in South Africa. We have put in place a portfolio of instruments and initiatives that are demonstrating value.

 

To demonstrate our commitment to PPPs, we have introduced new initiatives such as Industry Innovation Centres, Sector Innovation Funds, a wheat breeding platform, and the soon-to-be-launched Mining Precinct 2 Carlow Road.  This is on top of existing initiatives by the DST and the Department of Trade and Industry, including programmes such as THRIP, and the Technology Stations Programme.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Biorefinery Industrial Development Facility (BIDF) that we are launching today is a good example of strategic support from government to a science council that has the potential to lead to long-term sustainable public-private partnerships. These partnerships can make a fundamental contribution to addressing the triple challenge of poverty, inequality, and unemployment.

 

This facility will enable cutting-edge research development and demonstration biorefinery initiatives for the use of lignocellulosic biomass waste to produce valuable products; as well as the piloting, demonstration and scaling up of biorefinery technologies. It will further promote inter and multidisciplinary research cooperation among key players and facilitate the training of skilled researchers and engineers in the biorefinery field, as well as the integration and activation of rural based biorefinery facilities.  This will enable farmers and grassroots communities to participate and benefit from the implementation of the Bio-economy Strategy through biomass supply, technology localisation and demonstration facilities.

 

There are a number of biorefinery programmes that have been identified for South Africa.  These include biorefinery for forestry and sugar industry waste.

 

The BIDF is a response not only to the Bio-economy Strategy but also to the Waste Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) Roadmap.  One of the priority waste streams of this roadmap is organic waste, which includes waste agricultural biomass, for example, chicken feathers.  Chicken feathers represent a large waste stream in South Africa, with more than a billion broilers slaughtered in South Africa in 2013. The keratin in chicken feathers has numerous applications once extracted.  From shampoos to textiles, the conversion of this waste stream into value-added products will help drive a circular economy in South Africa.  The BIDF has a critical role to play in building a circular economy through the development of innovative industries transforming what is now known as waste into valuable resources. The Waste RDI Roadmap is a government strategy to unlock a potential R17 billion per annum for the South African economy, and the BIDF is an instrument to help us realise that vision.

 

Importantly, jobs will be created by supporting small, medium and microenterprises that are interested in the localisation of technologies to produce goods from waste wood biomass.  For example, South Africa currently imports Xylitol, a low calorie sweetener that is beneficial for diabetics.  The BIDF is developing technologies to extract this compound from sawdust – and these technologies are suitable for uptake by SMMEs.

 

More broadly, the Biorefinery will contribute towards the realisation of the DST's main objective of establishing a critical mass and world-class competency through the technology development value chain, comprising basic and applied research as well as technology translation and commercialisation actions within the industrial bioeconomy sector.

 

I am pleased that the BIDF is only the start of a journey towards strengthening innovation infrastructure in South Africa. Even as we launch the current centre, other teams at the CSIR at hard at work at two other centres that we are confident we will launch in the next year or so, one for photonics and another for the development of macro-nano devices.

 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the researchers, technology developers and the executive of the CSIR for making these centres a reality.  The CSIR has worked closely with our department to look at how the institutional design of the centres can be optimised to make the greatest possible impact while securing support and commitment from the private sector, provincial and local governments, and other national government departments.

 

The CSIR, through a process of rigorous reflection and assessment as part of Project Synapse has identified a range of exciting and value-adding initiatives that it plans to drive over the next few years.

 

I am confident that the plans that they have developed will resonate with key partners in the private sector, provincial and local government, other national government departments and other key stakeholders in the industrial development space, such as the Industrial Development Corporation and the Public Investment Corporation. I look forward to getting feedback on the partnerships that are emerging as a result of these efforts.

 

I would like to end by reiterating my commitment to further strengthen partnerships with the private sector and with other government departments. Let us heed President Ramaphosa's call for all us to work together.

 

Now is the time to lend a hand.

Now is the time for each of us to say "send me".

Thuma mina!

 

I thank you.