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Kenya must invest in research, experts say

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 26 – The government has been urged to invest more resources in research and development if it hopes to transform Kenya into a middle income and industrialised State by the year 2030.

The bedrock of the development blue print Vision 2030 is science, technology and innovations but National Council for Science and Technology Chief Executive Officer Prof Shaukat Abdurazak regrets that this component has taken a back seat which is one of the reasons the country is lagging behind in technological development and applied research.

Prof Abdurazak however reinforced the point that this trend needs to be reversed.

"This country is putting just about 0.3 percent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in the entire research sector but our target has always been one percent. We need to walk the talk. We need more resources so that we can build infrastructure for research and innovation," he said.

According to findings of the 2010 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Science Report, Kenya was awarded 24 patents by the United States Patents and Trademark Office between 2005 and 2009, which is very low compared with South Africa which recorded 462 patents within the same period.

Limited funding coupled with the lack of support for research and innovation were cited as some of the major factors that encourage brain drain in Kenya and other Africa countries.

Prof Abdurazak also took a swipe at local universities and other learning and research institutions for failing to embrace patenting of their inventions, which has contributed to the poor ranking of Kenya\’s R&D in the global arena.

These organisations, he asserted, need to prioritise research and innovations so that they can stimulate industrial development and consequently economic growth.

"It is unfortunate that if you combine all the local universities, middle level colleges and research institutions, we are recording 24 patents.  I think we need to embrace patenting, if not we perish," he told participants at the World Intellectual Property Day celebrations.

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However, it is not all gloom and doom as the national council which is charged with carrying out advisory, promotion and coordination of science, technology and innovation activities is supporting 150 research projects and12 innovations from the Sh300million allocated to it in the current financial year.

About 90 percent of the innovations are being carried out by young people and the CEO pledged their support towards such initiatives.

The Kenya Industrial Property Institute has for instance received 1,270 applications for patents in the last 20 years with majority being received in the last decade pointing to the growing talent among the youth.

Many have drawn their determination from such heroes as Evans Wadongo who has been recognised for his creation of the solar-powered lantern which is being used for lighting in many poor households across the country.

With such resolve, majority of young people are approaching the government for funding, a move that Industrialisation Assistant Minister Nderitu Muriithi reckoned would  enable the country to increase the average per capita income to Sh290,500 ($3,500) in the next 19 years.

"There can be no jobs unless there are actual enterprises that produce things. And for you to you to produce something, you must have thought of an idea, designed and set up a production process to enable you to produce whatever idea you have," Mr Muriithi said adding that such a venture would contribute to industrial development as well as job creation.

Such kind of designs and innovations would then call for a system to protect those intellectual property rights which are already entrenched in the new constitution.

This calls for the creation of awareness and enforcement of copyrights and related rights which Kenya Copyright Board Executive Director Dr Marisella Ouma said they are carrying out.

This, Dr Ouma said, stems from the realisation that value of copyright-based industries in the country in 2007 accounted for 6.5 percent to the GDP but it could contribute more if more focus is given to them.

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