Innovation is required to address societal challenges

Former Executive Director of UN Women, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, urged delegates attending the 5th BIO Africa Convention, taking place in Durban, to continue fighting for all children and to pay special attention to issues affecting girls.


She was speaking on the second day of the convention, which draws to a close on 31 August 2022.


"We are particularly concerned about the increase in gender-based violence, as well as the increase in human trafficking, which affects girls most," she said.


She said that all such social issues required innovation.


"When we think about innovation, we think about producing products and creating systems, but we must also be innovative in how we solve social problems," she added.


Dr Mlambo-Ngcuka, while conceding that innovation led to disruption, stated that positive disruption should be welcomed, as it allowed for products and services to be scaled up, which is important, as well as lowering entry barriers, particularly for entrepreneurs. However, for everyone to solve the anticipated challenges, significant innovation was required.


"When we consider the impact of climate change on our communities, there is a lot that needs to change. Furthermore, when we think about food security and the changes that must be made in the way we manage agriculture, we must revisit innovation," said Dr Mlambo-Ngcuka.


This year's theme is "Africa Resilient: Life sciences innovation for achieving health and food security". Hosted by AfricaBio with support from Department of Science and Innovation and its entity, the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), as well as partners in various sectors, it focuses on agricultural, health, industrial, environmental and marine biotechnologies.


Also addressing convention, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, said that the organisers of this year's convention could not have chosen a better theme to inspire Africa's policy makers, scientists and social actors to steer the continent to become a self-reliant, knowledge-generating and innovating region instead of merely a knowledge-consuming one.


"As a country, the objectives of this convention align perfectly with our 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation and our Science, Technology and Innovation Decadal Plan 2021-2031, the key objectives of which include accelerating the implementation of the pan-African STI agenda and focusing on inclusivity, transformation, support for small, medium and micro-enterprises and job creation," he said.


The Minister said that, across the world, the concept of the bioeconomy was being embraced as a sustainable model that brought together all commercial activity related to the use of renewable biological resources such as crops, forests, animals and micro-organisms, agricultural waste and residual materials.


Echoing the Minister's sentiments, Anathi Canca, TIA Board member, stated that South Africa had long recognised the potential and value of technological innovation in economic and social development.


She noted that it was critical to discuss health and food security to ensure that marginalised people in rural and peri-urban areas benefited from public investment in science and technology.


"As we gather here to discuss how the resilience of this continent can be enhanced to achieve health and food security through life science innovation, it may be useful to consider the role of TIA in supporting and implementing the national Bio-economy Strategy," she said.


For example, TIA has created a strategic plan to increase the commercialisation of innovations from science councils, small and medium enterprises, and higher education institutions. This includes increasing entrepreneurs' and innovators' access to technology infrastructure services that provide them with much-needed assistance, all with the goal of ramping up its efforts to implement the Bio-economy Strategy.


Another speaker, Prof. Zodwa Dlamini, founding Director and Executive Head of the Pan African Cancer Research Institute, talked about transforming the fight against cancer, one of the region's leading non-communicable diseases, to improve health outcomes. This includes capacity building for early detection and precision/personalised oncology, as well as strengthened health systems in the African region.


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