Programme director
Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Uganda
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General of Science and Technology
Ambassadors present
Diplomatic corps
Representatives of the sponsors
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

I would like to thank the organisers of the BIO Africa Convention for inviting me to participate in this event today.  I would also like to welcome all the participants to South Africa, especially to this beautiful city of Durban, eThekwini.  And I would like to extend a special welcome to the African delegates, as this is an African BIO Convention.

Speaking at the launch of the Biodiversity Economy Operation Phakisa at the Kalahari Waterfront in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, the northern part of our country, the President of South Africa, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, said three days ago that:  "In the area bounded by the Indian and Atlantic oceans, by the Limpopo and Orange rivers, lives a multitude of species that makes South Africa the third most biodiverse country in the world."

He further went on to say that:  "Now, we again seek to harness this biodiversity to enable our people to prosper and to flourish.  We seek to harness our ancient inheritance and indigenous knowledge to open up new opportunities for commerce, trade and entrepreneurship.  We know that this inheritance is precious and fragile, and therefore, as we develop the economic potential of our natural resources, we are bound to ensure that we do so sustainably."

We are gathered at this convention under the theme, "Africa – Open for business: Together building the Bio-Economy". This means, in the words of our President, that "we seek to harness our ancient inheritance and indigenous knowledge to open up new opportunities for commerce, trade and entrepreneurship".
 
As South Africans we recognise the importance of investing in biotechnology and encouraging bio-innovation.  This is evidenced by the fact that South Africa is one of only six countries in the world that has a bioeconomy strategy.  Since the launch of the Bio-economy Strategy in 2014, the Department of Science and Technology 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 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.

In addition to these investments, we have put in place a research and development (R&D) tax incentive scheme. The R&D tax incentive aims to promote private-sector R&D investment in South Africa.  Companies of any size in any industry can qualify for the incentive.  At a corporate tax rate of 28%, the incentive translates into a benefit of 14 cents per rand spent on R&D, thus reducing the marginal cost of R&D.  We have also reviewed our intellectual property policy to be in line with global practice in terms of protecting the intellectual property arising out of R&D.

Ladies and gentlemen, what South Africa has by way of biodiversity is a good example of how richly endowed the African continent is with diverse and untapped natural resources.  As a continent, Africa has a global competitive advantage in indigenous knowledge, which is a form of knowledge gained and transmitted by people since the beginning of humankind.  Africa needs to find better ways of harnessing this knowledge base for creating products and livelihoods for its people.  This conviction brings together policy-makers, investors, business people, academia, regulatory authorities, entrepreneurs and bio-innovators, and this provides a good opportunity for our countries to build and promote networks, partnerships and collaborations.  In other words, we are saying that Africa is open for business and that together we aim to build the bioeconomy.

Here in South Africa, we have created the Indigenous Knowledge-Based Technology Innovation Programme, which cuts across three sectors of the economy – health, agriculture and manufacturing – 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.


The programme will be supported by an indigenous knowledge Bill that is currently before Parliament.  This is a legal framework that will ensure that collaboration between researchers, industry and communities is protected by the law for the benefit of all the stakeholders.

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.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasise our commitment as a country to growing the bioeconomy.  And to quote again from our President: "Drawing on traditional knowledge about the use of indigenous plants, there is great scope for the country's scientists and researchers to develop products that can be manufactured in rural areas and sold across the world.  All this needs to take place alongside programmes to ensure there is no exploitation of communities or the natural resources that are so necessary for their sustenance."

We are inviting all those who are interested to join us in working in the bioeconomy.  We are saying that South Africa and Africa are open for business, and we believe that together we can grow our bioeconomy.

Once again I would like to welcome you all to the BIO Africa Convention, and I wish you well in your deliberations.

I thank you.