SEPEMBER 1, 2014 By Gabriel Benjamin
Sierra Leone science graduates are the least encouraged of all job seekers in the country labor market. Oftentimes, they have to take postgraduate diploma in business, public relations and so on to qualify for job placements. This is because Sierra Leone does not have much use for her scientists as only a little percentage of them can get employed by research institutes, mining company and other engineering firms.
However, this sector is one of the most severely challenged in the country, especially in terms of funding.
The role of science, technology and innovation in national economic development is yet to be fully appreciated by the designers of the nation’s economic and education policies. We need to understand that although scientists work in the laboratories, fields, and research institutes which are away from the public glare; their findings, when translated into goods and services, rule the world.
The Asian nations that are aggressively pursuing science, technology and innovative-related industries are leapfrogging into the global market, while hesitant nations like Sierra Leone remain uncompetitive, less innovative, un-industrialized, none-pioneering and hugely import-dependent.
In the new world trend, natural resources endowment is not enough for health and wealth creation but the knowledge of how these raw materials and resources can, through science, technology and innovation be transformed into valuable goods and services for economic development, improved quality and good standard of livelihood.
We cannot continue to separate science, technology and innovation from business in our thinking. The nation, therefore, needs to devise policies that will groom and motivate the youth to embrace science, technology and innovation not just for academic gratification, but for health and wealth creation, and as a means of livelihood.
Furthermore, undergraduates in science-related professional courses should be mandated to first earn degrees in the basic sciences before advancing to engineering and medicine. This approach will produce a new crop of science graduates, who are genuinely interested in the sciences; who will embark on quality research and development that will launch Sierra Leone into the big league.
It will also correct the current drift that produces scientists who now work in the banks counting money, in communication firms as customer attendant; a situation that undermines the prospects of Sierra Leone attaining national productivity through science, technology and innovation.
Research has shown how the Neem tree is impacting positively to the economy of India. Their success did not come about because they felled the Neem trees for sale. India is profiting from this beneficial tree through investments in research, development and innovation.
Indians have scientifically investigated the tree’s phyto-chemical properties, isolated the active ingredients and developed relevant products like organic cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, bio-pesticides etc from it for the treatment of leprosy, eye disorders, urinary tract disorder, bloody nose, intestinal worms, stomach upset, loss of appetite, skin ulcers, diseases of the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular disease), fever, diabetes, gum disease (gingivitis), and liver-problems.
The spate of the influx of technological products like ICT wares and luxury cars into our markets is breathtaking and mind boggling that one wonders; if we can ever earn a place of reckoning in the global market. Fortunately, we do have some feasible reference points only if we can translate our ideas into realities.
There is an urgent need to rescue the nation from her “Dutch Disease” syndrome through science, technology and innovation.
Sierra Leone can through concerted research in health, agriculture and the mining sector, hone her comparative advantage in science and technology. Local entrepreneurs should itch to also participate in this trending niche; after all, we are a well endowed nation.
While we may not catch up fast in the production of high-tech products, today’s science entrepreneurs can focus on the development of natural products, which will include foods, cosmetics, fertilizers, animal feeds, nutrition and health products. These are areas where we already have massive raw materials that are currently being consumed locally, exported in their raw form out of the country or wasted as post harvest losses.
Some of the multinationals, development partners and giant corporate organizations currently sponsoring singing and dancing competitions, beauty pageants; should also incorporate sponsorship of research and development as part of their corporate social responsibility. This will equally encourage the science community and promote a science culture.
It is time now for Sierra Leone to make use of her vast natural resources to create health and wealth through science, technology and innovation if the nation is to avert a looming poverty induced by prolonged import dependency and lack of productivity.