Columnists

More investment for scientific research

BENEDICT Tembo.

Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO
AS A researcher, Minister of Higher Education Nkandu Luo should be busy visiting laboratories and trial sites to witness research

being done by our scientists.
However, Professor Luo has found herself resolving conflicts at universities. It is either students are rioting or lecturers are threatening to stop teaching over delayed salaries.
This, unfortunately, seems to be the order of our universities – both public and private.
Everything being equal, Prof Luo’s ministry should be receiving research proposals from lecturers and students who want to help this country resolve some of the outstanding issues such as armyworms, air and water pollution, masterminding energy transition and coming up with technologies that would help farmers maximise their harvest.
However, persistent student wrangles, especially over bursary or unpaid meal allowances, have led to investment in scientific research not receiving enough attention. Even funding has not been adequate enough to facilitate comprehensive research. Yet, scientific research is very expensive; therefore enough funds have to be committed to this important programme in order to have scientific research contribute to socio-economic development in
Zambia.
Given the little attention scientific research is receiving at the Ministry of Higher Education, President Lungu should consider creating a Ministry of Science and Technology that will be focused on scientific and technological research. This is because currently, an outsider looking at the title of the ministry that houses scientific research, Ministry of Higher Education, does not readily see science and technology in this ministry.
So, science and technology is overshadowed by student protests. Yet, in our national development plans, science and technology has come out strongly in the preamble, as a vehicle of development. But on the ground it is not readily visible. We definitely have a problem that needs to be addressed.
Meantime, tiny countries like Malawi have made headway in exploring new and efficient technologies through which the country is trying to mitigate the issues of drought, pests and diseases, as well as increase production per unit per hectare.
Malawi has opened itself to biotechnology. The University of Lilongwe conducted confined trials experiments for genetically modified cotton (BollguardII) from 2012 and this work resulted in the deregulation of the bacillus thuringienisis (bt) gene which the department of agriculture has been testing in various experiments from 2016/2017.
The country has set up specific areas for these trials to assess if the technology can work for the country. This is at a time when countries like Zambia are still asking questions on the efficacy of the biotechnology, but Malawi has taken the courage. Why?
As of 2016, 26 countries worldwide with close to 28 million farmers were already planting crops on an estimated production area of 185.1 million hectares. Since the adoption of biotech crops in 1996, over 2.1 billion hectares have been cultivated.
That is why many countries in Africa, including Malawi, are taking strides to address challenges of low yields and pests by adopting biotechnology techniques.
Zambia must arise and begin to invest more in scientific research to give our farmers more options for increased harvest per hectare besides conservation and organic farming.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.

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