Africa's bio-innovation capability is on display at the Durban International Convention Centre, where the inaugural BIO Africa Convention is taking place.

 

Attracting investors, scientists, innovators and other stakeholders in the bio space, the convention is an Afro-centric event aimed at supporting and boosting the growing bioeconomy on the continent, while providing a platform for dialogue and discussion with stakeholders in the global biotechnology environment. 

 

An energetic exhibition is also showcasing bio-innovations from the broader biotech community of South Africa and the African region, creating an enabling environment for the commercialisation of local innovations.  The event is being organised by AfricaBio, the Department of Science and Technology, its entity the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), and the Innovative Phamaceutical Association of South Africa (IPASA).

 

Taking place under the theme, "Africa: Open for Business, together building the bioeconomy", the convention hopes to enrich the implementation of past and existing Africa-based initiatives for growth and sustainable development, especially in the bioeconomy sector.

 

The Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, opened the event on Monday.  In her address, the Minister said the evolution of Africa's science and technology landscape, particularly in the bio-based sectors, demands a flagship convention at which scientists and innovators can meet businesses, policy makers, investors, regulators and civil society to discuss the global opportunities offered by Africa's emerging bio-based economies.

 

The Minister noted that South Africa is one of only six countries in the world that has a bioeconomy strategy in place. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) developed its Bio-economy Strategy in 2013 to replace the National Biotechnology Strategy (2001).

 

The Bio-economy Strategy identifies three economic sectors – health care, agriculture and manufacturing – to be exploited, with Indigenous Knowledge Systems supporting each sector. 

 

The Minister told the more than 600 delegates attending the event that since the launch of the Bio-economy Strategy, the DST has invested well over R1.5 billion in various bio-innovation support initiatives. This investment has had an impact in various sectors:

 

  • In the health care space, we are establishing vaccine and active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) manufacturing capabilities, and, among others, we already have some very promising results for a locally sourced and developed broadly neutralising antibody for HIV/Aids, and for a malaria candidate drug that is cost‑effective and more efficacious than current frontline drugs.  We have also developed a software system that enables the identification of drug-resistant HIV.

 

  • In agriculture we have established a platform, in partnership with industry, that is supporting the development of higher-yield wheat varieties to address climate change and biotic pressures, and we are also looking at maize and soya cultivar improvements, as well as aquaculture, all with a focus on small‑scale farming beneficiaries.

 

  • In the manufacturing space – recognising that humanity is not living sustainability on the planet – we have partnered with industry to establish a biorefinery and biomaterials programme which derives greater value from renewable resources.  We have also created a bioprocessing facility at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) where entrepreneurs can pilot manufacture their products in a supportive environment.

 

The Minister added that South Africa and Africa as a whole have a rich biodiversity heritage and massive untapped natural resources. 

 

"The continent also boasts a global competitive advantage in indigenous knowledge, which is form of knowledge gained and transmitted by people ever since the birth of humanity.  Africa needs to find better ways of harnessing this knowledge base for creating products and livelihoods for its people."

 

South Africa, the Minister said, has created the Indigenous Knowledge-Based Technology Innovation Programme, which cuts across the health care, agriculture and manufacturing sectors and is based on an inclusive model.  The core objectives of the programme are to –

  •  mainstream indigenous knowledge-based concepts within the national system of innovation;
  • interface holistic and applied R&D activities;
  • support inclusive innovation;
  • facilitate community-based technology transfer (incubation) and local manufacturing;
  • promote humane marketing or business development models; and
  • implement conscious commercialisation models for improved quality of life and thriving societies.

 

While the continent is richly endowed with natural resources, the Minister said, African countries have to "catch up" with other emerging countries whose economies have flourished due to advances in bioscience research, innovation and development.

 

"We believe that bio-based innovations will offer technological solutions to many of the economic, social and environmental challenges facing the continent.  The BIO Africa Convention will position South Africa and Africa as a pipeline of potential for new products and processes in the research and development fields," the Minister said.  

 

 

The convention is expected to be an annual event.

 

Issued by the Department of Science and Technology

 

For more information, contact Thabang Setlhare at 072 659 9690 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or Zama Mthethwa at 082 808 3956 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..