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Science department launches SA’s bio-economy strategy

Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom on Tuesday launched the country's bio-economy strategy, a road map on how to develop South Africa's natural biological resources into commercial products in health, agriculture and industry.

The bio-economy strategy, which has taken more than seven years to develop, would focus on health, agriculture and industrial applications, and aims to facilitate the development and manufacture of biopharmaceuticals and vaccines, biofuels; improve and adapt crops and remedy industrial and municipal waste.

Ben Durham, chief director for bio-innovation in the department, said: "The strategy involves the development of products and services, not because it's a really interesting academic idea, but because there's a real-world need in government, industry, filling a market need."

"We are confident that the strategy we are launching today will address the full value chain, going beyond the mere generation of new technologies to ensuring that technology development is informed by the needs of the country and the people, and that social and economic value is generated," said Hanekom.

Neither Durham nor Hanekom were able to say how much money would be allocated to the different projects.

Cost
"We will only have a good indication [about the cost] once we have the implementation plans … [which will be] developed under the guidance of co-ordinating committees," Durham said. Draft implementation plans are expected in August.

However, even if the strategy did not receive extra money, it would still make in-roads in improving the space and increasing impact, Durham said.

"It's not just about additional money, it's about harnessing existing money in a more efficient way. We need to increase greater co-ordination and find mechanisms to achieve that, bring the critical partners together, see who is doing what," said Hanekom.

But Durham  said: "We are hoping [that we will receive funding] because this is not a department of science and technology strategy; it is a multidepartment government strategy. When we go to treasury, it is not just the department of science and technology saying we would like more; it is other departments."

Glaudina Loots, the department's director for health innovation, said the previous biotechnology strategy of 2001 focused on "what is easy to commercialise, not what is actually needed in South Africa".

She said that the hope was for the bio-economy to account for 5% of gross domestic product by 2050, "maybe before that".

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Sarah Wild
Sarah Wild is a multiaward-winning science journalist. She studied physics, electronics and English literature at Rhodes University in an effort to make herself unemployable. It didnt work and she now writes about particle physics, cosmology and everything in between.In 2012, she published her first full-length non-fiction book Searching African Skies: The Square Kilometre Array and South Africas Quest to Hear the Songs of the Stars, and in 2013 she was named the best science journalist in Africa by Siemens in their 2013 Pan-African Profiles Awards.

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