Minister highlights progress in flagship science and technology programmes
Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor highlighted some of the achievements of the flagship projects of the Department of Science and Technology at her budget vote media conference. She cited four flagship programmes.
These are the Technology Localisation Programme, the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) the MeerKAT radio telescope array (which is also a precursor to the international Square Kilometre Array, or SKA, radio telescope) and the Indigenous Knowledge-Based Innovation programme.
Pandor described the Technology Localisation Programme as “a very exciting programme that is achieving excellent results”. This started in 2011 and will receive R524-million during the current financial year (2015/16). It strengthens the technological capabilities of South African companies so that they can take part in public procurement programmes. “We’ve assisted over 140 local manufacturing companies so far,” she pointed out. “New jobs have been created and 20 companies have secured new contracts with State-owned enterprises. The intention is to build the capabilities of small and medium-sized companies so that they can participate in big programmes.”
The TIA is assigned R385-million for this financial year. “It has implemented a successful turnaround strategy and now has a new CEO,” she noted. “I believe that the agency will demonstrate further improvement. The TIA has now been effectively repositioned to help innovators, entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] to commercialise their technology innovations.” The TIA has provided support to more than 8 130 SMEs since 2010. One of these companies, biotech start-up Kapa Biosystems, has negotiated to buy out TIA’s shareholding in its South African subsidiary for $4.93-million (about R57.9-million).
“We remain on track for timeframes for the MeerKAT and for the timeframes for the SKA,” she reported. “We remain on track. Our MeerKAT will have 64 antennas and will increase from four dishes in 2014/15 to 32 in 2015/16.” In addition, so far more than 700 students and postdoctoral fellows have been funded by means of the SKA SA Bursary and Scholarship Programme and the National Astrophysics and Space Physics Programme. “We’re getting excellent international accolades on the work our team is doing on MeerKAT.”
The Indigenous Knowledge-Based Innovation programme will see the setting up of three community-based businesses this year. This programme has successfully fed into various DST projects. “In the fields of health innovation and bioeconomy, through partnerships with industry in the pharmaceuticals sector and the agricultural sector – for example, through our work in indigenous knowledge – we have registered seven patents, supported 20 PhDs and 39 master’s students, created 133 jobs and trained 198 community members in technology transfer and skills development.
We have established two agribusinesses and signed intellectual property agreements with L’Oréal, Nestlé, Kalahari, Nativa and several other companies. The impact of the support to SMEs has resulted in significant improvement in technical skills, product quality, productivity, cost-savings, energy efficiency, waste management and, most important of all, employment creation.” During the course of this year, the DST will establish three more agri-processing businesses to commercialise value-added products. These will be at Mamelodi and Hammanskraal, in Gauteng, and Tooseng, in Limpopo. Although not highlighted as a flagship pro-gramme in its own right, Pandor also directed attention to the progress made in the hydrogen fuel cell project. “We have R80-million allocated to develop hydrogen fuel cell generator prototypes for uninterrupted power.” These are also to provide off-grid power. A few prototypes are already in use: at the Western Cape Nature Reserve, the Windsor East Clinic, in Randburg (in north-west Johannesburg), and at three schools in the Eastern Cape.
Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor
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