Scaling up technology and innovation to lift the economy

06Dec 2021
The Guardian
Scaling up technology and innovation to lift the economy

ONE of the responsibilities of Science Granting Councils (SGC) is to promote social and economic development of small producers through application of science technology and innovation.

The Councils are thus central to funding and catalyzing research and innovation in order to further application of technology and innovation. It’s an increasingly important role of these councils in national science systems in African countries.

However, SGCs face various challenges including limited capacity and inadequate funding, hence the establishment of the Science Granting Councils Initiative in sub-Saharan Africa (SGCI) which aims to strengthen the capacities of science granting councils to support research and evidence-based policies that contribute to economic and social development and establish partnerships among councils and with other science system stakeholders.Implementation of SGCI programme thus creates partnerships and networks between the Councils as well as among the programmes beneficiaries. This relationship is vital in promoting science, technology and innovation among the general public in a bid to accelerate social and economic development.

Tanzania’s Science Granting Council, the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, is participating in the programme which is now in its second phase.

“We have participated in this programme since 2015 and in due course we have acquired new partners. The number of institutions we support has grown from two in 2015 (MUHAS and UDSM) to include University of Dodoma (UDOM), Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and Tanzania Engineering and Manufacturing Design Organisation(TEMDO), among others,” explains Ms. Neema Tindamanyire, Coordinator of the SGCI programme in Tanzania. She says that the new partnerships and networks provide a forum for sharing new knowledge and experiences. “The ongoing gender at work programmenamely Research Excellence and Gender Equality and Inclusivityhas also brought up a new taste to our staff who are participating in this two year coaching program. We are also conducting researchwith support from International Development Research Centre (IDRC) which has also helped to bring in private sector partners to work with our researchers,” she adds.

One of the partners of the second phase SGCI programme is TEMDO who is conducting research in the use of simple technology to refine sunflower oil. The research which is conducted in Singida, Dodoma, Manyara and Arusha regions aims to enable small-scale producers of sunflower oil earn more money from sale of the edible oil by value addition through use of simple and affordable technology. “Currently a small-scale producer of sunflower oil sells one litre of unrefined oil for 5,000/- or less. Our partnership with COSTECH has enabled us to come up with simple technology that would enable farmers to sell a litre of oil at between 6,000/- and 10,000/-,” explains Eng. Honest Lyaruu who is the Principal Investigator of the project. He adds that currently available machines in the market for refining sunflower oil are too expensive for small producers to afford. “Machines that are available in the market sell at about 500m/-, these are meant for large producers and small producers cannot afford them. Our research has designed two types of machines: one that has capacity to refine 800 litres of oil and another has capacity to refine 1,000litres of oil,” says the Engineer, adding that machines sell at 17m/- and 36m/- respectively.

Tanzania is the second biggest produce r of sunflower seeds in Africa and stands sixth in the world. “But we have not been able to fully exploit our potential because most of our product is crude oil. This research therefore seeks to enable small farmers exploit the sunflower market through value addition and thereby raise their incomes in a bid to lift themselves out of poverty,” explains Eng. Lyaruu.

According to UNIDO, Dodoma region is a major producer of sunflower oil, accounting for over 20 per cent of national production. “About half of the region’s farmers are engaged in sunflower oil production, but few small-scale producers have realized the full potential of this sector, either in terms of improved quality or higher volumes. Among the factors contributing to low productivity and quality are inadequate machinery and limited or no access to value-added services and markets,” reads part of a publication by the UN Agency.

Besides COSTECH, implementation of the sunflower oil projectthrough SGCI has created new partners. UNIDO is one of the partners that have contributed to the sunflower refining project. “They have provided us with some equipment and also trained us in designing the refining process. We cooperate with them in many other aspects,” says Engineer Lyaruu.

The project also works closely with sunflower farmers, sunflower oil producers as well as large-scale producers of sunflower oil and buyers of sunflower seeds. Since the aim is to add value to edible oil produced by small farmers, other stakeholders in the sunflower oil value chain have also a contribution to make. “Basically it is about simple technology to enable small-scale oil producers add value to their product, yet this is not an isolated issue. Quality seeds, abundant harvest of sunflower seeds, transportation and proper storage of seeds before they are processed, all these finally add up to what has to be refined and the quality of the product,” explains Engineer Lyaruu.

Improved oil production means there should be an abundant and reliable supply of seeds to enable the machines to operate as required. “That is why we also work with farmers to encourage them to increase production of quality seeds so that they too can raise their income. Some small producers of oil are not farmers or don’t produce enough to meet their requirements so their operations depend on sustainable supply from farmers,” says Eng. Lyaruu.

This project therefore rhymes well with the objectives of SGCI programme; that of improving research management in order to catalyze social and economic development in countries where the programme is implemented.