Cooperation with Africa in the field of science, technology and innovation has strengthened in recent years. Yet this research is still often funded out of development cooperation budgets, in which case the final word rests with external donors. Hence the growing interest in Africa for research activities that are financed in line with Africa’s own strategies and priorities. The European Union’s ERAfrica (European Research Area Network for Africa - Developing African-European joint collaboration for Science and Technology) project is a response to this concern. It facilitates the networking of European and African research donors and encourages joint calls for proposals to promote long-term cooperation between EU Member States and /or associated countries and African countries.
ERAfrica operates within the framework of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (8th partnership) with the European Commission acting as catalyst in providing funding of 2 million euros under the 7th Framework Programme for Research (2010-2013). It has thus extended to the African continent the family of geographical ERA-Nets (European Research Area Networks) that already operate between the EU and Russia (ERA.Net RUS), India (New INDIGO) and Korea (KorA-Net), among others.
A unique approach
The ERAfrica consortium initially brought together 13 institutions (agencies specialised in research funding, universities, ministries etc.) from 12 European and African countries: Austria, Belgium, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Kenya, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Switzerland and Turkey. Burkina Faso, the Côte d’Ivoire, Norway, and the Netherlands joined later.
ERAfrica provides the opportunity, for the first time, for countries from the two continents to define jointly the priorities and fields in which they decide to collectively invest. All parties participate in the decision-making on an equal basis, irrespective of the amount of their financial contribution.
In November 2012, following wide-ranging consultations, during which all parties had the opportunity to express their expectations, an agreement was reached between the 16 participants. The first joint call for proposals was made in January 2013. This finances three types of cooperative activities: research, innovation and capacity building. Three thematic fields were defined: renewable energies, interfacing challenges (challenges of common interest) and “new ideas”. Each project had to involve at least four countries, two European and two African.
The budget was 10 million euros, financed out of a common fund. The five African countries alone contributed almost half of the total funds. It was a success.
A success that exceeds all expectations
“We did not expect to find such research funding capacities, especially in Africa. The involvement of an LDC such as Burkina Faso was particularly encouraging,” comments Dr Jean Albergel, IRD representative in Southern Africa and ERAfrica coordinator.
The response to this first call for proposals was also a success, with 124 proposals submitted for an amount in excess of 70 million euros. “The number of proposals received exceeded our expectations and proves that there is a genuine demand for a programme of this kind on the two continents,” concludes Dr Johan Viljoen (IRD), manager of the ERAfrica project.
“Common challenges” is the theme that seems to have attracted the most interest. This relates to social challenges such as health, climate change and food security, for which cooperation between Africa and Europe can have an added value and impact for the two continents.
Today, after an evaluation by scientific experts of projects deemed eligible, nine have been approved, nine are the subject of negotiations and two are in reserve.
The projects selected are due to start up in June 2014. Although European financing of the programme ends at the end of next year, the partners have demonstrated a shared desire to further pursue project implementation. “We hope that, within the framework of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, pressing issues such as peace and security will not cause us to forget the fundamental importance of financing research for development.”
The project will be presented 28 November in Brussels at the seminar on food and nutrition security
ERAfrica - Project details:
Duration: from 01-12-2010 to 30-11-2014
Type of project: FP7
Total cost: EUR 2 283 370
EU contribution: EUR 1 991 707
IRD - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement - FRANCE (Coordinator)
Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung - GERMANY
Department of Science and Technology - SOUTH AFRICA
Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt E.V. - GERMANY
Fundaçao para a ciencia e a Tecnologia - PORTUGAL
Työ - ja Elinkeinoministeria - SUOMI/FINLAND
Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research - EGYPT
Ministry of Science and Technology - KENYA
OEAD (Osterreichische Austauschdienst)- Gesellschaft mit Beschrankter Haftung / Austrian Agency for International Cooperation in Education and Research - AUSTRIA
Conseil Interuniversitaire de la Communauté française - BELGIUM
Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad - SPAIN
Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovacion - SPAIN
Fondation Suisse pour la Science - SWITZERLAND
Turkiye Bilimsel ve Teknoljik Arastirma Kurumu - TURKEY