State of innovation in agriculture

On 28th August, the Department of Science and Technology together with the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) hosted a webinar on South Africa’s state of innovation.

In the discussions, scientists sounded alarm on South Africa’s innovation ecosystem dropping. According to the global competitive index, out of 144 countries, the country’s innovation eco system ranked 55 in 2018 and deteriorated to 62 in 2019.

“It had to do with South Africa’s human capacity dropping as indicated by the human capital index where South Africa was now ranked 114 in the world” said Dhesign Naidoo of NACI.

The World Bank said the human capacity challenge arose from students in South Africa performing poorly in tests, scoring barely above the rank of 300 minimum attainment.

“More than half of the country’s young people are entering the labour market without qualifications and more than 30% of the youth are not in education, employment, or training,” said Paul Noumba Um, World Bank Country Director for South Africa.

The situation had a potential to destabilise the economy. Currently, the number of patents filed by the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) record that 4 920 were non-residents while residents stood at 592.

Dr Glenda Kruss, executive head at HSRC for science, technology and innovation indicators said this was not surprising, as agriculture, a sector expected to boost innovation, also capitulated in the science and innovation arena.  

“Our agricultural business innovation survey 2016 -2018, indicated that the fisheries sector invested over 60% in research and development, and more than 80% in marketing of innovations across all fishing farming categories” she said.

It was a matter of shock to note that agriculture only invested 40% in research and development, with 20% going to marketing of innovations. The type of innovation agriculture chose to invest in was disheartening, as training took the bulk of investments (60%) followed by purchase of precision farming equipment for farming use.

The webinar also took note of the fact that out of the most doctoral degrees produced in South Africa, 1051 produced were in the fields of natural and agricultural sciences.

Chairperson of NACI, Dr Shadrack Moephuli, said due to educational investments made in plant R&D, South Africa was now ranked 16th in the world in terms of plant patents globally.

“Technological innovation in agriculture was also affected by a large number of multinationals setting up bases in the country” he said.

Krauss supported the statement, as the survey revealed that during the 2013/2014, agriculture experienced a high peak in the investment of R&D innovation and by 2016/2017 it nosedived.  

The webinar also heard first hand that the deteriorating state of innovation in agriculture was caused by the lack of agricultural skills (managerial, engineering and technicians), and shortage of resources (access to water, access to finance, access to land and access to community support).

“These barriers require coordination, departments working with each other to realise increased agricultural innovation” said Krauss. 

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