Scientific Research in Africa is Gathering Momentum

Published: Friday 8th August 2014

AFRICA has a poor reputation for scientific innovation. But when South Africa jointly won a bid in 2012 to host the world’s largest science project, for a radio telescope called the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), it hoped to foster a new image. “It’s changing the way the world sees us, as somewhere for cutting-edge science and technology,” says SKA’s Bernie Fanaroff. “And also the way we see ourselves.”

SKA’s satellite dishes will eventually span Australia, New Zealand and eight sub-Saharan countries. When complete, hopefully in around a decade, they could be the world’s single largest source of data. That may in turn help host countries develop data-processing skills that will benefit them in other areas of “big data”.

The project is at the forefront of a blossoming of scientific research in Africa. Health care and agriculture are the priorities. Across the continent, programmes are under way to develop seed varieties to withstand Africa’s changing weather. In Uganda, where bananas are a staple, scientists are using genetic modification to boost disease resistance. New strains of cotton and rice are being developed, too.

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