NORTH-SOUTH AXIS

A developing cooperation

A geological research project on Mali’s mining sector under the EU-financed Sysmin programme. This study resulted in the production of a geographical information system (GIS) that includes geological, geochemical and geophysical maps of formations dating from the Birimian age – 2 400 to 1 300 million years ago – in the south of the country. © BRGM
A geological research project on Mali’s mining sector under the EU-financed Sysmin programme. This study resulted in the production of a geographical information system (GIS) that includes geological, geochemical and geophysical maps of formations dating from the Birimian age – 2 400 to 1 300 million years ago – in the south of the country.
© BRGM
© BRGM
© BRGM
© BRGM
© BRGM
Hassai is one of the gold deposits discovered by the Office for Geological and Mining Research (BRGM) in 1984 in Ariab Province (Sudan). An innovative project for processing the mineral by means of bulk lixiviation was set up at this time and the first ingot was cast in 1987.© BRGM
Hassai is one of the gold deposits discovered by the Office for Geological and Mining Research (BRGM) in 1984 in Ariab Province (Sudan). An innovative project for processing the mineral by means of bulk lixiviation was set up at this time and the first ingot was cast in 1987.
© BRGM

Europe regards technology as crucial to socio-economic growth. It is an approach that the EU would like to see transposed to development policy

Eradicating hunger in poor countries, reducing child mortality, ensuring environmental sustainability: five of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) imply a direct contribution by science. Since the MDGs were signed in 2000, technology has increasingly come to be regarded as key to socio-economic development. This is true both within northern countries, where the ‘Knowledge Society’ is promoted as the economic model to follow, and in the south, where strengthening research capacities would help populations develop their own solutions designed to meet their own needs.

A new research model

What is more, it is often in terms of the relation ship between development level and research capacities that the difference in growth between China and India on one hand and sub- Saharan Africa on the other is explained. “There is no doubt that the econo mic success of China and India is based largely on investments in higher education and strengthening research capacities,” declares Kees Stigter, President of the International Society for Agricultural Meteorology (INSAM), who has spent the past 30 years visiting research institutes and universities in the develo ping countries as a guest professor.

The belief in the crucial role of research in improving socio-economic conditions in Africa is one that is gaining ground both within African organisations and among European donors. The African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) possess a department dedicated specifically to science and technology. Similarly, the new Africa-EU Strategic Partnership includes a component devoted to science, the information society and space, while the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7) includes a section devoted to international cooperation that has been reformed to promote scientific cooperation with the southern countries.

A partnership logic

But to exploit science’s potential for development to the fullest, there is a need for improved coordination between scientific cooperation policy, foreign policy and develop ment aid programmes. “Previously, development was seen as simply building roads, hospitals and schools. But it is clearly more complicated than that. The transfer of techno logy cannot be achieved at a stroke. It is first necessary to create a different relationship between research and development, placing science in the service of populations,” states Jean-François Girard, President of the Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD) (FR). “Establishing closer contacts between European officials responsible for scientific research and those charged with development cooperation is proving particularly difficult. It involves a certain hybridisation of two very different cultures that must adjust for their mutual benefit.”

The European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) (1) reflects this new approach to scientific cooperation between North and South. Launched in 2003, this project aims to organise, in Africa, clinical trials for treatment to combat Africa’s three most fatal diseases: AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The EDCTP is guided by a partnership logic, as promoted by the MDGs. The principle consists of concerted action by the donor and beneficiary countries when implementing aid actions. Although it is the EDCTP General Assembly – made up solely of European representatives – that alone determines the project’s general strategy, all members of the other decision-making bodies are drawn from both sides of the Mediterranean.

AEGOS and GÉANT2

The African-European Georesources Observation System (AEGOS), (2) launched in February 2009, is another reflection of the EU-Africa research partnership. “AEGOS aims to develop a pan-African infrastructure and interoperable services concerning Africa’s mineral, hydrogeological and geothermal resources,” explains Marc Urvois, project coordinator for the Office of Geological and Mining Research (BRGM) (FR). “The aim is to support the sustainable management of geological resources. AEGOS will make it possible, for example, to determine whether or not operating a mine places excessive pressure on local water resources, thereby harming the environment or populations. The system will also be very useful for the joint management of cross-border water tables.” As in the case of the EDCTP, African researchers are actively involved in the AEGOS project. “Each working group is headed by an African and a European researcher. The African partners take ownership of the work programme and contribute actively to the joint activities. We are also involved in strengthening training capacities in association with the universities and schools of geology to ensure the system continues to function at the local level,” explains Marc Urvois.

The low Internet coverage is a handi cap for researchers in Africa. This is a digital divide that limits data exchanges and thereby acts as a brake on research. In January 2009 the European Commission announced the connection of the UbuntuNet Alliance, an association of several National Research and Education Networks – NRENs – to GÉANT2, its European equivalent. GÉANT2, which already has an Asian (TEIN3 – Trans-Eurasia Information Network), Latin American (ALICE – America Latina Interconectada Con Europa) and Mediterranean (i) extension, is a vast virtual network enabling around 20 million researchers to exchange information in Europe alone. “We are currently carrying out a feasibility study to determine how to finance the project,” explains Cathrin Stöver of DANTE (Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe), the GÉANT2 management body. “For the moment, the African partners lie mainly in East and Southern Africa, but it is probable that the NRENs in West Africa will join the project.”

Rooted in the field

All these developments should not make us lose sight, however, of the essential frailty of North-South scientific cooperation. “The new technologies possess a vast potential for the development of research, but the most fundamental is to respond to the immediate needs of populations,” stresses Kees Stigler. ‘Too often, scientists have imposed technologies deve loped in a way that is totally impenetrable to local reali ties. It is often wiser to improve traditional techniques rather than to propose radically innovative solutions, as not only do these risk being badly received by those concerned but they could also prove inapplicable in the field.”

There is therefore a need to free African scientists from the isolation of their laboratories and to open up the debate between science and society. It is a challenge that European research is also seeking to meet. “The future of the planet is being decided on two flanks: the sustainable management of resources and the co-existence of peoples,” concludes Jean-François Girard. “This second flank requires the establishment of active relations between North and South, without which the future looks very bleak.”

Julie Van Rossom

  1. See “Helping Africa or using Africa?”, research*eu n°59, March 2009
  2. See “Improving our distance vision”, research*eu geosciences special issue, September 2008


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