Despite immense potential that nanotechnology holds for Africa’s development, the continent is slow in embracing it, a workshop reports says.
The report compiled from a national workshop by Nanotechnology Research Group at Nigeria’s Ladoke Akintola University of Technology and published last month (11 September) cites inadequate funding as a major challenge to embracing nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology focuses on the design, synthesis and manipulation of particles or structures within the range of one to 100 nanometers.
“By adopting nanotechnology, Africa can enter knowledge-based economy.”
Agbaje Lateef, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology
According to the report, nanotechnology research in Nigerian universities and institutes should be prioritised and adequately funded by the federal and state governments, individuals, industries and public organisations.
While nanostructures have been in existence for long, the report notes that scientists have only recently started using this knowledge to create arrays of functional materials for applications in diverse areas of agriculture, medicine, science and engineering.
The benefits include provision of clean water, solar energy, antimicrobial products, diseases detection, diseases vector control, foods and stored products preservation, and food security through improved agriculture.
The workshop gathered participants from several Nigerian universities, institutes and governmental agencies to draw researchers’ attention to new trends in nanotechnology, with lectures and practicals.
Agbaje Lateef, a convener of the workshop and a professor of microbiology at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, tells SciDev.Net that although Nigeria’s nanotechnology initiative started in 2006, activities in this area of research has been low.
He says that Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa are making progress in nanotechnology research and applications, but a lot needs to be done for Africa to become a global player in it.
According to Lateef, efforts to boost nanotechnology should include more functional centres of excellence in nanotechnology with the state-of-the-art equipment, public-private partnerships and creation of curriculums that integrate nanoscience and nanotechnology.
“There is need to create a critical mass of specialists in this area through collaboration, advanced training, retraining, conferences, short courses and workshops,” Lateef adds.
“By adopting nanotechnology, Africa can enter knowledge-based economy,” explains Lateef. “At the moment, several African countries do not have national policies on nanotechnology and its applications. A policy framework on nanotechnology should deal with the issue of risks associated with nanomaterials.
A national policy on nanotechnology, he emphasises, is key to addressing human resource development, coordination of research activities, research outputs translation to real products, intellectual property rights and ethical issues.
But Tebello Nyokong, a professor in medicinal chemistry and nanotechnology at South Africa’s Rhodes University, says that there is no point having policy without proper funding, adding that “Africa cannot afford to ignore nanotechnology”.
According to Nyokong removing barriers in research and applications of nanotechnology, and training young, innovative scientists in nanotechnology are crucial.
Nyokong tells SciDev.Net that showcasing Africa’s role models in nanotechnology could motivate more students to study it and help build capacity on the continent.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk