Agricultural Research Council; HSRC; CSIR on Budget: hearings

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

18 March 2003
AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH COUNCIL; HSRC; CSIR ON BUDGET: HEARINGS

Chairperson:
Ms M Njobe (ANC)

Documents handed out
Agricultural Research Council Submission (Appendix)

 

HRSC Submission
CSIR Submission
Budget Vote 18

SUMMARY
Agricultural Research Council, Human Sciences Research Council and the CSIR were happy with the grants received. Concerns were raised by members about the ageing scientists and what was being done to find ,attract, and retain the younger generation to these fields. In issues of transformation the science councils members were unhappy about the percentages of people with disabilities. The connection between the new fields of science and how this could be used in poverty alleviation strategies and in the competitive development of South Africa was discussed. Each science council needed to develop and maintain interdepartmental ties with other national departments, such as the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Education and Department of Agriculture and ties at provincial and local government levels .

MINUTES
Agricultural Research Council Submission
Mr F L Guma (Group Executive: ARC) stood in for the Agricultural Research Council CEO and presented the ARC Submissions on the 2003/2004 Budget of the Department of Science and Technology (DST)

Mr Guma said ARC appreciated the important new trends in funding allocated to the Department, and through the Department to the ARC and said that they would go a long way in enabling them to address critical structural issues key to ARC's future performance.

With regard to the Department, ARC welcomed the adoption of the National Research and Development Strategy and the clear commitment to expand the Science and Technology for Competitiveness Programme by virtually doubling the budget of this programme between 2002/3 to 2005/6. He explained that the ARC viewed the National Biotechnology Strategy, and the Innovation Fund as being of critical importance to the future direction of the work of the ARC in increasing the productivity of South African agriculture, the achievement of household food security, as well as addressing issues of food safety and traceability issues that were becoming increasingly important in international markets.

ARC appreciated the stand taken by the Department to boost the budget of the ARC, - over and above the baseline core strategic funding, through the inclusion of additional funds over the MTEF window period of 2003/4 - 2005/6. The additional funds allocated were specifically provided for the purpose of:

1. Maintaining the national public good assets in the care of the ARC.

2. Addressing the issues of transformation and human capital development in line with the National Research and Development Strategy.

National Public Good Assets
Mr Guma explained that ARC acted as custodian for various public assets such as gene banks, insect collections and various plant, and yeast collections. Diagnostic and other services were also provided that were of importance for regulatory activities but were not Research and Development activities. Public good services and assets were currently maintained using resources from the not Research and Development core strategic fund and that current estimates showed these costs as being R72 million.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) had agreed to shoulder some of this cost through ring fenced funds amounting to R30 million in this year rising to R35m and R40 million in 2005/2006. This action assisted ARC by freeing resources within the core strategic funding for performing reconstruction and development work and maintaining reconstructio and development capacity in crucial areas.

Transformation and Human Capital Development.
Mr Guma said the ARC was facing an alarming gap in the available scientist base that was ageing and not reflective of the demographics of the country.

DST had decided to assist the ARC in this regard by providing of R13 373 million in 2003/4, rising to R15 304 million and R16914 million to develop human capital required to address gaps in scientific expertise, and to develop a cadre of scientists that could take on the new science and technologies that were coming to the fore.

Mr Guma in concluding said that they hoped that this support would be maintained beyond the current MTEF window in order to enable a proper development programme for scientists and technicians to not only obtain appropriate qualifications, but also gain appropriate mentoring and exposure to the technicalities of agricultural technology development and transfer.

DiscussionMr Cassim (IFP) asked what efforts were being made in relation to the replacement of ageing scientists by young scientists.

Mr Guma said the DST had recognised normal attrition and new science coming in. He said they were trying to capture the new fields of science but faced the challenges of developing individuals that were poached. There was heavy brain drain; people were lost to industry and immigration. He further explained that due to tight financial constraints, ARC had not been able to provide salary increases in the last two or three years.

Ms TJ Tshivase (ANC) asked how far ARC was in terms of research regarding the rural people that rely on the land. These people were often really frustrated.

Mr Guma explained that the trickle down effect was negative and that what was good for the commercial farmer might not be good for the small farmer. Ways had to be found to package technology and bring it to them in a manner that would address the specific needs of rural farmers. ARC currently did not have the human resources to manage the process on its own.

Mr SL Dithebe (ANC) asked Mr Guma if there was any collaboration with any institutions to replace the aging scientists. He enquired if the ARC was doing anything to assist Botswana and Zimbabwe which is being threatened by the foot and mouth disease, in view of the fact that South Africa had been threatened by the same disease two years ago and had been able to control it swiftly.

Mr Guma said that ARC was involved in getting people to understand the value of agriculture . He said that they were able to contain the foot and mouth outbreak because of good diagnostic abilities and swift coordination. They had learnt as a country to enforce regulatory vetinary structures. There were biological divisions that provided vaccines, but the implications were that you needed to have the capacity to respond to the disease as it 'knew no borders".

The Chairperson, Ms Njobe, felt that if ARC realised that there was a shortage of young scientists they ought to have a condition that their bursary holders upon completion at university would have to join ARC even if the funding had been through the NRF.

Prof. I. J Mohamed (ANC) expressed his concerns that institutions, like banks, that paid more, were diverting research careers. State expenditure needed to put in more money.

Ms Tsheole(ANC) highlighted that there was competition between research for a niche market and research used by the majority of the people. She spoke of the ownership of property rights which were vested with the minister. What were the recommendations of ARC scientists if the Act was to be amended.

Mr Guma said it was not impossible for them to influence legislation in this country. He also pointed out that intellectual property was not well protected.

Ms MA Njobe (Chairperson) that this was a spin off effect from the Group Areas Act. People were rooted out of the land so skills could not be passed on from generation to generation. Interest from the younger generation had to be generated. She stressed that the ARC had to play a visible role in poverty alleviation and in assuring food security.

Mr Guma explained that ARC dealt with a range of crops and science both nationally and internationally; and that it was very important for some innovators to remain in the public domain. He gave an example of the wine industry in which he said had to have significant research input in order to remain globally competitive; whereas the maize industry was different. A guiding framework was needed with regards to intellectual property. He also agreed that the love of agriculture needed to be instilled at an early age.

Human Sciences Research Council Submission
Dr F M Orkin (CEO: HSRC) described the HSRC as a science council reporting to and funded by DST. HSRC's Key Performance Indicators (KPI) were above average, so he hoped the parliament grant would also go up at an above average rate. Everything HSRC published was available on their website free of charge. Dr Orkin discussed in broad terms how the organisation had managed to achieve growth again. The presentation clearly outlined their targets and their current position, as performance measures; and an indication of their future plans. In the HSRCs selected key performance indicators Dr Orkin stated that most of their targets had been reached, and explained how they would address the targets they had failed to meet. He also outlined the main areas for additional financial support that were in line with national development priorities and research and development strategies
Research support for national HRD strategy
Poverty reduction mission in research and development
Social aspects of HIV/AIDS research


Dr Olive Shisana Executive Director, Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS and Health led the presentation on the Social aspects of HIV/AIDS research. She highlighted the kind of research and surveys that were involved and the funding they received. She also referred to the importance of their findings from a survey conducted from people above the age of two years of age; that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa was 11.4%
She briefly explained this information helped them to study the risk profile of adolescence and the impact of HIV/AIDS on the economy.


Discussion
Prof I Mohamed (ANC) asked what the Dr Orkin's response was to the drop in government funding, and how he felt about DST's failure to secure enough funding. He said that he was concerned that South Africa was trailing well behind other countries. Were they not worried that the amount of contract research that they handled would encourage government to give even less?

Dr Orkin said they hope that their funding would improve and that the contract research would not negatively influence any funding they got. He said they were allies of DST but private sector and international countries had to invest in science and technology, and this was not done to let the government off the hook.

Ms Mpaka (ANC) asked whether HSRC had any ageing scientist problems.

Dr Orkin answered that they did not have an ageing problem because when recruiting they targeted young qualified black researchers. It took time for young interns to finally become publishers and become well known amongst their circles.


Mr Dithebe ( ANC) asked what criteria was used to ensure that programmes did not suffer.

Dr Orkin answered that the dimensions of representativity reflected that the proportion of women to men were still concentrated in the lower levels with 57 to 62 per cent involved in administration and 18 to 33 per cent in research; and disabled persons constituted 1%. He said this was an improvement but on a low bases.

Mr Ngcobo said in looking at the HSRC research programmes commented that there was a lack of black professionals because of the legacy of apartheid.

Ms Tshoele (ANC) commended the work done by the HSRC. Research impact on the existing poverty alleviation projects seemed to increasingly require coordination with the different departments. There could be a need for a coordinating ministry like the RDP ministry that once existed.

Mr Gore (DP) said that when looking at the last ten projects he could see that most of the external funding had come from international funding. He said there seemed to be a split between international and national funding. He was concerned as to why business in South Africa was not funding these projects.

CSIR Submission
Due to severe time constraints the CSIR presentation had to be shortened and condensed to also allow some interaction at the end.

Dr Sibusiso Sibisi (President and CEO :CSIR) explained the CSIR as a science council mandated to serve national interest through multi disciplinary research and technological innovation to foster industrial and scientific development in and out of partnership with the public and or the private sector.

He said they supported SMMEs with expertise in order to contribute to economic growth; and research that was not undertaken by the private sector because it was not quantifiable; so as to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of people.

Dr Sibisi said the CSIR had an annual turnover of R900 million and external funding of 68%. He explained that the parliamentary grant was invested in core competencies and capabilities. He highlighted CSIR major operating business units and activities in fields ranging from aeronautics, biochemical technologies, materials, mining (for example, ventilation in mines, safety, blasting with minimal structural damage), information and communications, clothing and textiles, manufacturing, transport , food processing and the environment.

Dr Sibisi emphasised that they felt that Science engineering and technology should constantly be looking at what the ways in which they could make a difference in peoples lives in the long term. CSIR was meeting all its technology missions in response to National Research and Development Strategy Missions, these included manufacturing technology( from the logistics of food and food security to issues around affordability and greens lost between harvest and distribution), value addition to resources and poverty reduction; and additional Research Missions which included environmental, infrastructure and space technologies that had a number of spin offs such as using radar to monitor crime, agriculture, climate and vessels.

The resources, particularly natural resources had to be first be protected then exploited in a way that the community would benefit, and that it was imperative to replenish these resources using social innovations and business excellence as a base.

Dr Sibisi concluded by highlighting CSIR challenges as including the declining private sector research and development and the availability of skilled human resources, particularly at tertiary education institutions.

Discussion
Mr Gore (DP) inquired about the ageing problem and how it could be solved. He also expressed his concerns that in issues around transformation the importance of disabled people had often been undermined. What was the position of women and disabled persons?

Dr Sibisi said that they were involved with working with a whole range of institutions and provided scholarship opportunities. He said that getting involved at school level was more challenging because most students who obtained the required higher level maths chose careers in actuarial sciences such as accounts rather than science. There was no excuse for the poor representativity of the disabled persons with in the CSIR and that this would receive corrective attention.

Mr Ngcobo (ANC) added that at presentations science councils always acknowledged a problem with their representatively around transformation, and yet timeframe to correct this were never set. He felt that black talent ought to be at the centre of research.
How much had the CSIR tried to coordinate its research activities in the interest of people and the environment?

Dr Sibisi said they had various projects with an emphasis on strategic scientific research in respect of astronomy, earth observation, ocean exploration, in a multidisciplinary fashion in which a number of outputs and spin offs could be achieved

Prof Mohamed (ANC) asked Dr Sibisi to comment on the declined parliamentary funding.

Dr Sibisi said that the 32% funding that they received as parliamentary grant was still very sizeable and was invested in alignment with the national research and development strategy. He emphasised that it was a critical component of HRD.

Ms Mpaka (ANC) inquired if CSIR would work with existing centres of excellence, and at what stage government would get involved.

Dr Sibisi said in growing the country in centres they had already established intimate ties with the provincial and local government. Durban and Johannesburg had already taken a lead in implementing agenda 21.

The meeting was adjourned.

Appendix
AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH COUNCIL

SUBMISSION ON THE 2003/2004 BUDGET OF THE DEPARTMENT OF SCIENCE
AND TECHNOLOGY.


The Agricultural Research Council [ARC] receives the core strategic funding for the execution of its mandate of performing agricultural research and technology development and transfer, through the Department of Science and Technology.

The ARC has noted and welcomed the following important new trends in the funding allocated to the Department, and through the Department to the ARC.

With regard to the Department, the ARC welcomes the adoption of the National Research and Development Strategy and the clear commitment to expand the Science and Technology for Competitiveness Programme by a virtual doubling of the budget of this programme between 2002/3 to 2005/6. Within this programme, the ARC views the National Biotechnology Strategy, and the Innovation Fund as being of critical importance to the future direction of the work of the ARC in increasing the productivity of South African agriculture, the achievement of household food security, as well as addressing issues of food safety and traceability issues that are becoming increasingly important in international markets.

The ARC appreciates the stand taken by the Department to boost the budget of the ARC, - over and above the baseline core strategic funding, through the inclusion of additional funds over the MTEF window period of 2003/4 - 2005/6. The additional funds allocated are specifically provided for the purpose of:

1. Maintaining the national public good assets in the care of the ARC.

2. Addressing the issues of transformation and human capital development in line with the National Research and Development Strategy.

National Public Good Assets

The ARC acts as custodian for various public assets such as gene banks, insect collections and various plant, and yeast collections. The ARC also provides diagnostic and other services that are of importance for regulatory activities but are not R&D activities. These public good services and assets are currently maintained using resources from the R&D core strategic fund. Current estimates show these costs as being of the order of R72 million.

The Department has agreed to shoulder some of this cost through ring fenced funds amounting to R30 million in this year rising to R35m and R40 million in 2005/2006.

This action assists the ARC by freeing resources within the core strategic funding for performing R&D work and maintaining R&D capacity in crucial areas.

Transformation and Human Ca~ital DeveloDment.

The ARC like all other Science Councils is facing an alarming gap in the available scientist base that is ageing and not reflective of the demographics of the country.

The Department has decided to assist the ARC in this regard through the provision of R13 373 million in 2003/4, rising to RiS 304 million and R16914 million to develop human capital
]_required to address gaps in scientific expertise, and to develop a cadre of scientists that can take on the new science and technologies that are coming to the fore.


The ARC welcomes the support that the Department is providing it in terms of enabling the ARC to address critical structural issues that are key to its future performance.

The ARC hopes that this support will be maintained beyond the current MTEF window in order to enable a proper development programme for scientists and technicians to not only obtain appropriate qualifications, but also gain appropriate mentoring and exposure to the technicalities of agricultural technology development and transfer.


 

 

 

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