Innovation for Poverty Alleviation Programme: Department of Science and Technology briefing

Science and Technology

09 November 2016
Chairperson: Ms L Maseko
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Meeting Summary

The joint Portfolio Committees of Science and Technology, Communications and Public Enterprises, hosted a meeting to overview the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST’s) performance regarding its Innovation for Poverty Alleviation programmes. The meeting was taken through the different projects implemented across the provinces in South Africa, and the potential opportunities for development which were provided through science and technology.

The DST said it lacked the institutional capability and resources to introduce large-scale poverty alleviation measures, and most initiatives did not take into account the poverty alleviation possibilities that science and technology could contribute. It was therefore focusing on the so-called “demonstration projects,” identifying fields such as aquaculture which were not currently present in South Africa. The DST had learnt much from these projects, but its new strategy was oriented to intervention rather than the introduction of new techniques and innovative plans. The DST acknowledged that institutions were taking a multi-dimensional approach around issues of quality of life, changing the traditional approach which was solely oriented to creating jobs, and shifting to a global improvement in the fields of sanitation, nutrition and housing.

The Department described a wide range of developmental initiatives in the various provinces, highlighting the achievements and challenges. Moving forward, it was not looking at developing more demonstration programmes, but rather to pick up from its previous experiences and create regional initiatives enhancing effectiveness. The new approach would be called Innovation for Local Economic Development, recognising innovation as a possibility for development at the local government level. The new stand of the DST was to be demand driven, and to create as many joint projects and partnerships as possible.

Members asked how the DST could help the country avoid having to depend on agricultural imports. Was it collaborating with other departments in introducing development projects? What had been the financial and human resources’ cost of failed programmes?  In the light of South Africa’s unemployment situation, what was the involvement of young people in the DST’s initiatives? Was the community being adequately informed about these projects?

Meeting report

Department of Science and Technology briefing

Mr Imraam Patel, Deputy Director General: Department of Science and Technology (DST), Socio-Economic Innovation Partnerships, said that the report being presented was guided by the interest of Members in knowing about the Department’s poverty alleviation initiatives. However, he would be starting with contextual and general information for a better understanding of the presentation.                                                                                         

It was important to acknowledge the significant evolution the DST had gone through when dealing with poverty alleviation. He referred to the White Paper on Science and Technology (1996) to highlight its commitment to two fundamental pillars -- making use of science and technology for economic development, and to improve the quality of life of the South African people. The DST had the mission of contributing to the national research in development strategy from its mandate, despite its lack of institutional capability and resources to introduce large-scale poverty alleviation measures. This was challenging, particularly because most poverty alleviation initiatives did not take into account the possibility that science and technology could make a contribution. This was why many of the early projects implemented by the Department were categorised as demonstration projects.

The focus of the Department was on the so-called demonstration projects, identifying fields such as aquaculture which were not present in South Africa, where it had to create a new strategy to introduce the practice. It had learnt greatly from these demonstration projects, but the focus now was more on intervention instead of the introduction of new techniques and innovative plans due to significant changes in the last ten years, and because other departments had increasingly included science and technology into their portfolios. He would be focusing on presenting the historical evolution of projects and their performance over the last two years, including those programmes that were continuing.

Mr Patel made a second introductory comment covering the externally funded nature of the DST’s project of Science and Technology for Poverty Alleviation, granted by the European Union (EU) for an amount of €30 million. This had led to the assumption that all departmental alleviation programmes had come from the EU, but this was completely false as many poverty alleviation initiatives from the Department come from Parliamentary budgetary allocations. Additional to the Science and Technology for Poverty Alleviation project, the Department had received €10 million through the Treasury for the Innovation in Rural Development programme. He acknowledged that institutions were taking a multi-dimensional approach to issues of quality of life. The traditional approach, which had been solely oriented to creating jobs, had shifted to a global improvement of sanitation, nutrition and housing.

He took the Committee through the Socio-Economic Innovation Partnerships, but stressed that he would cover only the demonstration projects implemented by the DST and not all the other numerous initiatives being put in place, which mainly addressed food insecurity. He provided a description of each programme in detail, starting with the Eastern Cape province, with particular focus on the Chris Hani  and Joe Gqabi district municipalities.

Eastern Cape

In the Chris Hani district, the projects implemented had been the Technology and Rural Innovation and Education Development programme, and the Nutrition for Rural Education and Development programme. For the Joe Gqabi district, the pelargonium sidoides (a medicinal plant native to South Africa) programme was implemented. In both cases, the Department had collaborated closely with the Eastern Cape provincial government, with the intention of using schools as central institutions for development.  Within the Chris Hani District, up to 1 800 learners and 80 members of cooperatives had benefited from both programmes. In the case of the Technology for Rural Innovation and Education Development programme, new techniques and methods for agriculture were promoted to help learners think of themselves as agricultural producers. In addition, the Nutrition for Rural Education and Development assisted in finding new forms of improving nutrition within the district, and in the view of the Department, this was a key aspect, given that internationally, nutrition improvement had been strongly linked to early childhood development.

 Mr Patel said the pelargonium sidoides programme’s implementation was in the Joe Gqabi district, which focused on rural enterprises. The Joe Gqabi district had been selected because of its value in major agricultural fields, such the cultivation of maize. It had the potential to compete internationally in the market for oils, as assessed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), with which the DST worked to create programmes. This programme presented particular difficulties, given the lack of experience of South African growers with certain species, and also because it required certain scientific knowledge. This programme had been scaled down, and much of the produced oil was incubated within the South African essential oils initiative.

Free State and Gauteng

In the Free State and Gauteng, the Rosa Damascena essential oils project (Thabo Mofutsanyane District) and the Central Processing Facility (Tshwane Metro Council) respectively had focused on the use of insects to improve nutritional values and degradation in oil production.


In Kwazulu-Natal, the KZN finfish programme was an example of projects that had been finalised successfully, and from which the Department had now moved on to new initiatives.


Tea production was being reduced in the Vhembe District in Limpopo, which people were aware was a key area. The DST had then looked into the opportunities of revitalizing tea as a value product through the Tshivhase Tea Estate’s beneficiation programme, which was still being implemented, so results could not be provided. Many times the success of these programmes did not depend on the technological aspects, but on the administrative side of it, which affected the development aspect. The most successful programmes were the Hi-Hanyile essential oils project and the Nkowankowa demonstration centre, an agro-processing plant in the Mopani District. These two projects were intended to serve as examples of technical merit, despite the challenges present during implementation.

North West and Northern Cape

Mr Patel said the African Ginger Nursery in the Bojanala District, North West, was also part of the Department’s oil programme. The Onseepkans essential oils projects responded to the same plan. Over a period of two years, both projects had brought positive employment numbers to the region, with more than 700 people involved.

Moving forward, the DST was not looking at developing more of these demonstration programmes. The new approach intended to pick up from the previous experiences and create regional initiatives, enhancing effectiveness. The new approach would be called Innovation for Local Economic Development. This shift was due to the recognition of innovation as a possibility for development from local government. This level of government normally saw the small scale opportunities in manufacturing and agriculture, but they were not too sure of how to create an effective greater plan. The Department had been identifying the strong points of each district and region in order to boost opportunities related to the existing practices that were already taking place. The Department’s plan was to work with five-yearly assessments, occasionally longer, paying more attention to development of new possibilities than to the funding side of it, as it understood that the funding would be based on the potential of the projects.

When the DST had started dealing with poverty issues in 1996, two units had been created. One had focused purely on livelihood development, and the other on overviewing sustainable human settlements, which had led to the Rural Development Programme. This had brought together science committees and local government to investigate who could bring innovation to the key areas of agricultural practice, but also taking into account the needs of the community and how much each municipality could experiment with something new.

Mr Patel said that many initiatives were not necessarily oriented to individual households, but were instead intended to assist municipalities. An example of this was the Collective Action Request Report System (CARRS), which focused on improving water management at the municipal level. Another example regarding sanitation was the Low Pour Flush. Many of these initiatives might not necessarily be cost effective, so they required intermediate subsidising, but they were creating related jobs and were beneficial in the long run. The Department was in the final stage of implementing these programmes, and the idea was now to oversee the results for learning purposes. He also gave the example of a public housing programme implemented in Gauteng, where innovation was being integrated with monitoring to assess whether the approach provided better results than traditional public housing in terms sustainability.

Before concluding, Mr I Patel pointed out that although they were not included in the category of poverty alleviation, the Department had a number of successful long-standing programmes related to indigenous knowledge systems which were aiding local communities. The importance of indigenous knowledge for innovation was that it creates a necessary space for production and the recognition of small producers.


Mr N Singh (IFP) acknowledged the potential of the different projects undertaken by the Department, and asked if it was actively informing the communities about these initiatives and projects.

Mr J Julius (DA, Gauteng) requested further elaboration on the failed projects, with reference to job creation and money wasted. The real problem for South African agriculture, for example, was the dependence on imports, and the need to avoid this by innovating in the basics. He commented on the issue of unused land around mining areas, even when sometimes there was no mining activity anymore, and suggested that perhaps one could find a type of plant that could grow on such land. He asked about access to the research mentioned during the presentation, and to any other private sector sources.

Ms C Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape) asked about the involvement of the youth in the programmes listed, especially given the high rates of unemployment in South Africa. She asked for an honest analysis of the results from the ongoing programmes so the Committee could assist accordingly. She would like to know how much the Department had to contribute monetarily, as well as the revenues and trade-offs in terms of job creation.

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) questioned the Department about its involvement in agricultural matters in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Fishery and Foresty (DAFF).

Ms A Tuck (ANC) expressed concern about the lack of mention of timeframes and deadlines within the programmes, and also enquired about the role of small growers within the programmes.

The Chairperson commented on the deficits of the report that had been presented, saying there had been a lack of emphasis on the inputs and outcomes. She asked about the DST’s involvement with local municipality on the issue of dumping sites.

Mr Patel responded that the necessary amendments would be made to give a better understanding and overview of the plans in the project. Regarding the dynamics of developing demonstration projects, which had been part of the Department’s activity, he said that this was not the best approach in terms of creating a development plan. He argued that in such scientific projects, there were no “failed projects” as such -- they were mainly taken as experiments from which experts learnt and adapted. The Department was not getting involved in the essential oils programmes any more. What it would do was to get involved in the ‘sciences’ of essential oils, with a developmental orientation, and inform communities about these projects. One of the main scientific aspects of focus would be to support and contribute to the research of institutions such as the South African Essential Oils Business Incubator (SEOBI), according to the Department’s White Paper.

Responding to questions of timeframes, he said the Department worked with completely different projects and times for each of them, which were also affected by the political and bureaucratic impediments.

Addressing the question of how to keep the community informed about the projects and their developmental orientation, he said the DST was making an effort to connect with other departments, using their human capital, although internal research was not always well developed across departments. In many instances, there was no possibility of working with these departments because of their lack of expertise in technological and scientific matters. One example of community engagement was the creation of the “Community Science Journalism Programme”. The issue of language was an essential aspect in promoting this information. 

Mr Patel spoke about the problems of venturing into a mass-based fertilizer programme, and stressed that the main issue was the market structure, and not a technological one. He also suggested that there should be more creative thought around this issue, asking questions like how one could create other opportunities for fertilizers. An example would be using precision agriculture, which involved fertilizing only when it was required. He spoke about how soil conditions could be improved locally in more creative ways, and how to use less fertilizer. Local production would be beneficial, but the aim was not to create big fertilizer plants.

With regard to mining towns/areas, the process differed under the economic cluster, because a task team was not set up to look into exactly what opportunities were present. Reviving mining towns involved a lot more than just science and technology, but also included such issues as housing rights. In South Africa, a company called House of Hemp was working with the industry as part of the Department’s large scale programme to create opportunities in developing biocomposites, which involved using fibres to create new material. The role of the Eastern Cape was important, because they intend to use biocomposite products in a new programme for development.

He clarified that the Department did not carry out its own research, but funded universities and private entities, such as the National Research Foundation (NRF), to do so on its behalf. Government funded research that was oriented towards provide outputs for policy-making, and which could engage in feedback processes like the CSIR did in inviting research stakeholders to participate. Likewise, National Treasury had been funding students to create industry development sectors.

Regarding South Africa’s beneficiation strategy, he said the country was carrying out research to understand how the country could capitalize on specific sectors, therefore identifying what South Africa could potentially export on a greater scale. He spoke about ways of beneficiation that people often did not think about, such as waste management.

He commented that in the Eastern Cape, the DST had been working with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) Council on an incubation programme called Propela. This was an example of where the Department did not want to be the one that hosted innovation. He encouraged this dynamic of engaging and promoting, but letting the ideas and projects grow independently with strong partners, as the Department could cover only so much. In summary, the new stand of the Department was to be demand driven and create as many joint projects and partnerships as possible. Collaborating with other government departments and finding out how much was allocated to science and technology had been a priority. Regarding the collaboration of the DST with other departments, he said that the Science and Technology Activity Report could serve as a tracking measure for the Committee.

In terms of innovation for local economic development, South Africa had to look at what it had in its communities and consider what was possible. In Brazil, for example, the Rio Carnival had pushed the country to be an export leader because they had been able to maximize this opportunity. He related this issue to the situation at local dumping sites, and the need to improve the dignity element of a system that effectively provided an income for many. The Department did not get directly involved, but tried to establish what people needed from a research perspective and the financial adequacy factor.

The Chairperson asked if there were any other questions.

Mr Julius asked if the next report would also be about "discontinued" projects.

The Chairperson thanked the Department for the presentation, and stressed the importance of a country having a good research department.

The meeting was adjourned.

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