After a delay waiting for the minister, the meeting is now in full swing. The keynote address is being delivered by Professor Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka from UN Habitat’s Monitoring and Research Division.
His key message is that policymakers must not confuse science policy with innovation policy. The former is there to promote the development of scientific capacity in a country. The latter has to promote the application of knowledge – whether it comes from a lab or from the brain of an innovative farmer.
That may sound obvious. But I agree with the professor that science and innovation are sometimes bunched together in policy circles. And where science is under-resourced in African countries, innovation is even more so. The danger, of course, is that policymakers decide to take money from science capacity-building to feed innovation policy – that would kill off African science, which at long last is showing signs of improvement.
Indeed, this might be something that is more important for the minister of trade to heed than the minister of science. In Uganda, the professor said, the emergence of 2-3 large agricultural producers that could take advantage of the country’s vast arable tracts of uncultivated land would change the entire country’s fortunes in five years.
Travelling up the road to Gulu yesterday, there were hardly any large farms lining the road. Interestingly, and somewhat depressingly from a biodiversity angle, what does abound along the Kampala-Gulu road is pine tree plantations to produce charcoal and timber.
Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist