29 November 2012

Africa: EU's Research Grants for Africa in Limbo

African governments are facing the termination of funding from a special research grant programme funded by the European Union (EU), and they may need to plug the deficit themselves.

EU has funded the African Union (AU) Research Grant Programme, administered by the AU, for the 2007-2013 EU funding round. Renewed funding under the next European Commission (EC) budget round, from 2014 to 2020, is possible - but not yet certain.

The grants programme is part of the EU's goal to build Africa's capacity to finance science and technology research, and was established in 2010 under an agreement between the EC and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States.

The EC, the EU's executive body, has proposed that the EU spend €1 billion (around US$1.3 billion) from 2014 to 2020 to support the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, a long-term partnership between Europe and the AU Commission to finance a series of development goals, including the AU Research Grant Programme.

The EU Council of Ministers is expected to vote on the overall development funding proposal for 2014-2020 before the end of this year.

The EC's development directorate has expressed support for continued cooperation between the EU and the AU on science, but the programme will compete with other priorities for EU funding.

The EU's role in funding and administrative support will also depend on Africa's own priorities. For example, the AU may decide to take over the responsibility for funding and administering the grant programme itself.

The African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology is considering that option, according to an EU official.

The EC pledged around US$19 million for the current funding cycle (2007-2013) to finance grants for research in priority areas set by the AU Commission. The agreement was based on an understanding that, over this five-year period, African governments would decide whether they wanted to continue the programme and take over responsibility for its funding.

The AUC published calls for proposals in 2011 and 2012, and distributed around US$8.4 million in 2011 to nine projects focused on sustainable agriculture, food security, solar power and renewable energy. The 2012 beneficiaries are still under consideration.

"The EC is working with African partners to demonstrate the programme's value for Africa," says Catherine Ray, spokesperson for Andris Piebalgs, EU Commissioner for Development. "We are committed to support African researchers and scientists. However, the EU is currently in negotiations over its future seven-year budget, so the details remain to be seen."

The AUC, based in Addis Ababa, was not available for comment.

Subramanian Sevgan, a senior scientist at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya, was one of the first scientists to receive a research grants from the programme in 2011.

The grant of almost US$1 million allowed Sevgan to expand his research on fungal biopesticides for reducing damage from the Thrips insect, a black fly that eats vegetables and grain legumes.

The AU "is gaining experience managing such projects", Sevgan told SciDev.Net. "If this can be continued for a short time by the EU then taken over by the governments [of Africa] it would be a good thing."

Link to Africa-EU Partnership strategy agreement [247kB]

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