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Mozambique 2013 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Venâncio Massingue, former Minister of Science, Technology, & Innovation of the Republic of Mozambique, on the importance of investment in science, building human capital, and encouraging R&D.

With $34 billion being invested in Mozambique's infrastructure over the coming decade, how much will be allocated toward technological infrastructure?

Regardless of the level of resources we have, we cannot exploit the potential, grow, or develop as a nation without knowledge. It was with this recognition that Mozambique established the Ministry of Science and Technology in 2005. Our main job is to make sure that scientific knowledge and technology are being strengthened to support national development programs. We say that science and technology are the first productive forces, meaning that whatever production you want to undertake, you always need support from science. In this regard, we have four major areas of operation: scientific research, innovation and intellectual property, ICT, and technology development and transfer. Technology transfer does not only mean a transfer between countries or continents; it also means within the country between districts and provinces. Our fifth area of interest is what we call the management of science. The country is vast, so we had to establish a countrywide system of science, technology, and innovation. That started here in the capital and has spread into three regional zones. The first zone covers the northern part of the country, which includes Nampula, Cabo Delgado, and Niassa, and is home to the Regional Center for Science and Technology, which is based in Nampula. Its purpose is to make sure that all of our policies and strategies are well handled at the regional level. In each province we have what we call a Delegation of Science and Technology. In each district we have education, youth, and technology services. We combine the job of three ministries in one entity to make sure that we harmonize the process at the operational level and avoid duplication. The central zone of our reach covers Tete, Zambezia, Manica, and Sofala, and is based in Tete. The southern zone is based in Xai-Xai City of Gaza Province, and it covers Maputo, Gaza, and Inhambane.

What are the main challenges with regard to implementing this policy?

We are presently confronted with four challenges. The first challenge is that we need to consolidate our science, technology, and innovation systems. We consider institutions of higher learning and research, as well as communities with special indigenous knowledge that we want to bring together, as pillars to consolidate and improve our work. This is a huge challenge because we need to ensure that we have the platforms and facilities that will allow our researchers to be able to do their jobs. The Science and Technology Park is an example of a platform where activities are happening related to the implementation of our national Science, Technology, and Innovation Strategy. New research centers and laboratories are also platforms that will allow us to develop more knowledge about the resources we have.

“Mozambique is one of the few countries in the world where the top management spends time on science and technology."

How is the Ministry working to build human capital?

This is the second big challenge we face—the establishment of human capital resources. We have started a program that aims to increase the number of scientists in Mozambique at the level of Master's and PhD to 6,500 by 2025. Since 2006-2007, it has been very important to develop a plan that helps us develop knowledge in different areas. By 2025, we will increase the number of scientists that can contribute to our larger goal. At the moment, we have around 1,500 researchers present in our research and higher education institutions, excluding the administrative staff. We want our scientists to be working constantly to improve seeds, soil, and irrigation systems, for example. This is a very important program for us, and so we decided to undertake it in three dimensions. We are collaborating with partner countries to offer more scholarships and send people abroad. Secondly, we are mobilizing our resources to help our academic institutions in the country as they work toward obtaining Master's degree and PhD graduates. Thirdly, we invite institutions from abroad to establish branches here and make a contribution. Sending people overseas is useful, but the number of people we are able to send is small. Hence, it is very important to ensure that we can cover more people than the few who have the chance to go abroad, for which the expenses are very high. This program has gone very well. Another challenge is that the country has to generate R&D-originated funds. To this end, the cabinet established the National Research Fund and called for proposals based on strategic areas. We then defined “Strategic Areas" and “Strategic Objectives" in the Mozambique Science Technology and Innovation Strategy, which we designed in 2006. There are 10 Strategic Objectives, and 14+2 Strategic Areas. We do not call them priority areas on purpose; we use the term strategic because we are looking for ways to add value. Agriculture, marine sciences, mineral resources, energy, water, human resource development, and education are strategic areas. There are also five areas that we call “cross-cutting strategic areas" such as environmental protection and the struggle against HIV. These are areas of research that we believe will cut across other segments and create a spillover effect. ICT and biotechnology/biosciences (including nanotechnology) are “enabling areas." These two major fields of operation will provide support to other areas of development. The National Research Fund helps the strategic areas gain support from the work scientists will carry out.

Is the strategy open to international research organizations, or is it designed specifically for local institutions?

To begin with, we are very interested in promoting the National Research Institutions, but that does not mean that the Eduardo Mondlane University, for example, cannot submit a joint proposal with Cambridge University. What we want to know is how much your work will contribute to a specific goal that we have set.

What is the size of the fund?

In 2006, expenditure for R&D (GERD) was around 0.2% of GDP, and now we are close to 1%. We are currently analyzing the possibility that very successful programs could pay back the original investment. Instead of giving funds away, we may be able to get some back and consequently increase the number of people with access to the resources. We have offered more than 100 grants so far.

What is the Ministry's role in promoting innovation?

We finance innovators and ideas through what we call the National Program for Innovations. If someone comes to us and says there is a problem in the health sector in remote rural areas, it could be very difficult to take someone to hospital, but innovative equipment could help. There are some inventions in this field that we have sponsored, and a program of work has followed. In all parts of our system, we have people seeking innovators. As soon as we identify an innovation, we offer a small grant that can help convert the idea into a product. Companies are helping innovators transform their prototypes into commercial products. We are generating wealth based on this concept, which is great.

How will the Science and Technology Park encourage industrial and economic crossover?

The project is focused on three very important areas. The first area is the R&D process, which is mainly practical-oriented research that brings about useful results. Master's degree and PhD students are encouraged to undertake research projects and design models with practical implications, which can be adjusted to their own companies. Some will be very successful, but others will need to be incubated. Therefore, we have an incubation program that supports students as they convert their knowledge into products, services, and start-up companies. Entrepreneurship is very important. The third step is to create an environment that is conducive for those companies to flourish in. We do this by reserving part of the space for young people, but also by bringing some already established companies in to create a Silicon Valley-type model. Big names such as Oracle and Microsoft have already expressed their eagerness to join. At the national level, we have a number of organizations and even banks that are interested in establishing operations inside the Science Park. We have established a partnership with the government of India, investing over $25 million to establish the Technology and Innovation Development Center. This will be the anchor of the whole process, and before the end of 2012 the inauguration will take place, making the center fully operational. The government created a company that will oversee the center's operations, but the implementation of activities, such as the R&D incubators, will be done under a public and private partnership framework. The company will invite partners who are interested in working with us on those different areas.

Internet penetration is still low at 6%-7%, but it has shown substantial growth over the past few years. What would you say were the key factors behind this?

Mozambique is one of the few countries in the world where the top management spends time on science and technology issues. The President, Armando Guebuza, is a patron of science, which means he is very aware of the field. He contributes his experience and knowledge, and this is very important. Technology-related issues are embedded in our development programs. For example, in 2000 we approved the ICT Policy and in 2002 we approved the ICT Policy Strategy. This means that 10 to 12 years ago we were already defining our priorities in terms of penetration and accessibility. Accessibility means reach, but we also focus on getting access to the technology itself by installing computers. Human resources development is not a new issue, and that is why we were one of the very first countries in Africa to gain access to the internet. We have a strategic view—you cannot drive a car if you do not have roads. It is very important that before you dream of having internet in a district that you develop connectivity there. All of our provinces and nearly 50 districts are wired with fiber optics now. Almost 80%-90% are connected to wireless infrastructure with the capacity to provide an internet connection. The so-called “last mile" connection is our challenge. The government has established Community Multi-Media Centers (CMCs) because we want to make sure that in every district, even if someone does not have a computer, they can still enjoy the technology. The Ministry is also ensuring that at the provincial level we have platforms. We have established what we call Provincial Centers for Digital Resources (CPRDs). People can use these centers to send an e-mail or research training resources, for instance. In the CMCs we have installed computers, and people enjoy being able to communicate and send messages through this technology.

© The Business Year - September 2012