BY EBELE ORAKPO with Agency report
Research and Development (R&D) is no doubt the surest and fastest way for any nation to boost its economy. Experts agree that this is the age of knowledge/intelligence. Knowledge, they say, is power and so for any nation to emerge as a world power, it must have a solid knowledge base. Is it any wonder then that some of the most powerful nations on earth became powerful not because of their abundant natural resources but because of their knowledge base?
On the contrary, most African countries are still poor despite their abundant natural resources. A country like Japan which occupies the third position in the world when it comes to research and development spending, has little or no natural resources but it is named among the industrial giants because it invested heavily in its human resource to improve its knowledge base.
Speaking with Vanguard recently, a former Lagos Chapter Chairman of Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, Mr. Ben Omakor noted that nations that are naturally endowed are amongst the poorest because they fail to invest in people/knowledge while less endowed nations invest in people/knowledge and therefore, are among the rich nations. He noted that “it is not the amount of natural resources you have that matters but the quality of your human resources.”
In a report published last December by Battelle and R&D magazine, listing the top 40 global R&D spenders, it was noted that the only African country on the list was South Africa at the 28th position ahead of New Zealand at the 40th position.
It is surprising that despite that fact that New Zealand budgeted $178 million for research in 2012 (because the government believes it will boost the economy), it was still at the lowest rung of the ladder.
President of New Zealand’s Association of Scientists, Shaun Hendy, said of the budget; “It will give New Zealand back the kind of R&D capabilities that led to companies like Fisher & Paykel Healthcare. Putting money into high-value technology and manufacturing is likely to deliver the most economic growth in the short term.”
Despite the seemingly huge R&D spending, Hendy still believes that it is not enough. “This still falls far short of level of investment in science and technology made by other small countries like Singapore or Denmark. Our ongoing unwillingness to invest in science and technology means that Kiwis work harder and earn less than almost any other people in the developed world,” he said.
Echoing Hendy, the Executive Director of Manufacturing NZ, Catherine Beard , noted that the country was in catch-up mode with the rest of the world. “Not only do we need more government investment in R&D but more private investment,” Beard said.
In the same vein, Manufacturers and Exporters Association chief executive, John Walley described the R&D spending as “a step in the right direction,” while Finance Minister Bill English said $14 million of the R&D budget will be used to fund “national science challenges which aim to help find solutions to fundamental issues New Zealand faces in its future development.”
According to the report, the United States continued to lead with $436 bn or 2.8 per cent of its GDP, followed by China – $198.9 bn or 1.6 per cent of its GDP. Japan occupies the third position with $157.6 bn or 3.5 per cent of its GDP, followed by Germany with $90.6 bn or 2.87 per cent of its GDP. On the 28th position is South Africa with $5.5 bn or 0.95 per cent of its GDP.
“The U.S., European Union (EU), and Asia continue to be the strongest regions for R&D, with a combined total of nearly 92% of all global spending,” said the report. The report noted that three new emerging economies – Malaysia, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia, made it to the table “starting from relatively small commitments (R&D expenditures at less than 1.0% of gross domestic product), each intends to increase its funding over the next several years to reflect the R&D ratios of more innovation-oriented economies.”
On what Nigeria must do to catch up with the developed world, an information technology specialist, Mr. Chris Uwaje said; “Nigeria must create a knowledge corridor which is where you say from Street A to B, anyone who works there is a knowledge worker and you have light there 24/7. That is what they do, it is not rocket science. Then you have facility park managers who can manage the parks effectively and then you have investors who can come in and invest and take the commercial content out.” Citing the example of Singapore, Uwaje said; “Do you know that Singapore recycles the water they use in bathing to drinking water? They found out that that is the only way they can survive.
That is chemistry. They remove the impurities and refine it and of course when you test it, it is pure. The water they use in the toilet is extracted i.e. the liquid part (urine) is extracted and used as fertilizer, the other parts are extracted and used for irrigation and the other part is recycled to make sure you can use it to wash. This is what they call science and technology.
This is creativity and innovation in nation-building. You must be able to build information technology/ knowledge parks. Lagos is a city of about 19 million people according to UN statistics. We don=t have an information technology park in the city. Mumbai in India has more than 17 so how can you compete with them? We need knowledge parks where people can go in and be creative and be self-employed. We need science parks where people can go to be able to do research and develop and innovate,” he said.