By Zephania Ubwani
The Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) can spearhead agricultural revolution in the continent through intensive research if fully supported by nation states.
Visiting academicians from the United States said in Arusha at the weekend that the objectives of setting up the institute could pay back handsomely if it was enabled to undertake relevant scientific research for Africa.
Prof Gebisa Ejeta from Purdue University said after visiting the institute located at Tengeru that the facility should raise young leaders in scientific research and technology needed for Africa’s development.
He said although NM-AIST was bent on science, technology and engineering, it has the capacity and purpose to accommodate more research and training in agriculture and its related fields.
“The vision, according to the vice chancellor, emphasises on science, technology and innovation, but I see dynamism of the young faculty putting some emphasis on agricultural research and food security,” he said.
Prof Ejeta, the 2009 World Food Prize Laureate and President Barrack Obama’s special scientific ambassador to Africa, and three other top academicians from the Indiana-based university spent the entire Thursday at the NM-AIST.
“We were highly impressed. It’s a beautiful facility and a good investment by the Tanzania government in raising young leaders in science and technology,” he told reporters on Saturday.
The two universities signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for collaborative engagement focusing on specific research projects “and general areas of agriculture seen to match very well on the food security agenda.”
The collaboration would also include exchange of the academic staff, researchers and students, added Prof Burton Mwamila, the NM-AIST vice-chancellor who said they were expecting a team from the US-based University sometime in future.
“We discussed how to cooperate in research, academic programmes, video conferencing, technological innovations and discoveries, agriculture, biotechnology, medicine, materials science, water, energy, environment and entrepreneurship,” he said.
Prof Mwamila said since NM-AIST does not have sufficient world-class researchers in science and technology, Purdue University would be key in supporting the Arusha-based institute in human resources and capacity building.
The Ethiopian-born Prof Ejeta, is a distinguished expert in Plant breeding and Genetics as well as International Agriculture. He also serves as an executive director of the Purdue Centre for Global Food Security.
He was accompanied by the president of the Purdue University, Prof France Cordova, who is a professor of physics and astronomy at the institution; Mr Chris Foster, the university’s director of discovery and Dr Arden Bement, the director of the Global Policy Research Institute.
NM-AIST, established within the framework of the African Union (AU), started operations five months ago when it enrolled its first batch of post-graduate students at its Tengeru campus, the former premises of the Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation and Rural Technology (Camartec).
The institute has been given some 3,285 acres at Karangai, south east of Arusha, to construct a much bigger campus.
Already some 2,502 acres have been acquired while title deeds for the remaining 732 acres are still being processed.
According to Prof Mwamila, three types of post-graduate students have been enrolled at the institute. They include those who would go to teach science, engineering and technology (SET) in universities.
Others are researchers who will work in the local research and development (R&D) institutions and technology experts or industry captains assigned to ensure increased production through innovation.
The Tanzania government has already committed some $60 million (about Sh93.58 billion) for the project. More funds are still needed and discussions are underway between the institute and development partners such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
NM-AIST is currently enjoying support mainly from the United States, South Korea, Canada, India and several other European countries. India recently granted the institute some $1.5 million (about Sh2.34 billion) for the ICT Resource Centre established at the campus.