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Greater mineral R&D needed in African countries

15th April 2010

By: Bradley Dubbelman


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Mintek South Africa manager Neale Baartjes has emphasised the need to expand and improve mineral research and development (R&D) programmes in Africa.



Speaking at the 2010 Licensing Executives Society International conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Baartjes presented the findings of a five-country African case study on R&D practices sanctioned by the Department of Science and Technology.



Mintek examined five African countries - South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia - which were compared with benchmark countries that are considered global leaders in R&D, such as the US, Canada and Australia.


The aim of the study was to identify weaknesses in R&D in African countries and seek ways to improve the process, to develop frameworks in order to assist these countries in improving their R&D practices, as well as to identify constructive links between the State, industrialists and investors.



Baartjes identified three categories in which mining economies can be classified, namely: factor driven, efficiency driven and innovation led.


Factor-driven mining economies were mainly concerned with the process of the rudimentary extraction of the resource. Most African countries fell into this category.


Efficiency-driven countries are those in which mining economies were more concerned with improving the efficiency of resource extraction processes. South Africa fell into this category.


The final category was an innovation-led mining economy, such as the US, where the country was at the forefront of developing new innovative methods in resource extraction.


Baartjes noted that countries with developed R&D frameworks and methodologies tended to be classified under the efficiency-driven or innovation-led category.




Baartjes examined the five case studies under five separate categories:
1) The quality of research institutes
2) Company spending on R&D
3) Government spending on technology proxies
4) Capacity for innovation
5) The availability of scientists and engineers.

Out of some 150 countries gauged under these categories, South Africa ranked favourably in the top quarter, while other African countries on average measured in the lower half of the rankings.


The main area of concern for South Africa was its poor ranking in the category of the availability of scientists and engineers. Ranking one hundred and ten, Baardjes identified the lack of these specialists as a stumbling block to the country's development in R&D.


In conclusion, Baardjes identified the main hurdles to developing effective R&D frameworks in African countries as the lack of collaboration between the various stakeholders and a lack of funding. Further, Baardjes emphasised the need for greater collaboration for south south partnerships in order for less developed mining economies to catch up with the west.





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