Date: Nov. 14, 2006
Contacts: Christine Stencel, Media Relations Officer
Michelle Strikowsky, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Second Annual International Conference to Be Held
For Major Initiative to Develop African Science Academies
YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon -- About 150 leading scientists and policymakers, primarily from Africa, will gather in Yaoundé on Nov. 15 and 16 for the second annual international conference of the African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI), an effort to strengthen African academies' ability to inform government policymaking with evidence-based advice. Participants will discuss how science academies -- through their capacity to convene experts from various scientific and technical disciplines -- can help their governments solve public policy challenges related to food security. Additionally, the conference will highlight current debates in this area regarding agricultural productivity, management of natural resources, and responses to acute food shortages. The event will take place at the Hilton in Yaoundé.
The goal of the conference is to determine how the rigor of an academy's advisory processes could better support national policy development, as well as government efforts to meet international targets such as the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.
Participants also will explore ways to engage broader communities of African scientists, engineers, and medical professionals in policy issues -- and to build mutually beneficial relationships between these groups and government leaders in their countries. The meeting will feature panel discussions among prominent African scientists and government authorities and a keynote speech by Isatou Jallow, chief of the Gender, Mother, and Child Health Service at the Rome headquarters of the U.N. World Food Programme and a former head of the National Nutrition Agency in Gambia. Mary Shawa, Malawi's permanent secretary for nutrition and HIV/AIDS in the Office of the President, will share her experiences as a leader who often makes policy decisions that have scientific underpinnings. And Susan Offutt, administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, will talk about her experiences requesting and using studies from the U.S. National Academies.
"A primary objective of this conference is for scientists and policymakers to examine food security in Africa, and how the academies can best inform public policies in this critical area," said Samuel Domngang, president of the Cameroon Academy of Sciences, the meeting's host, and a physicist at the University of Yaoundé. "The initiative itself aims to revitalize African science academies and give science more influence in government through interaction among the academies, policymakers, and the media. African scientists have a duty to contribute to the development and well-being of their nations."
While rates of chronic hunger have slowly declined in sub-Saharan Africa, about one-third of the region's population lacks the food necessary to meet daily requirements, a 2005 U.N. study found. And the number of poor people continues to rise. Major development institutions and countries around the world have accepted the U.N. Millennium Development Goals as blueprints for action to meet the needs of the world's poorest people. The goals aim to halve by the target date of 2015 the proportion of people worldwide who suffer from hunger. Stronger science academies can inform and promote measures that will save lives or raise the standard of living by settling questions on topics such as the role of nutrition in maintaining a healthy immune system or strategies to enhance national and regional trade.
The Yaoundé conference is the second in a series of annual ASADI meetings designed to encourage regional collaboration and joint learning among sub-Saharan Africa's science academies. ASADI also has started its efforts to strengthen individual national academies. After a comprehensive application process, the academies of Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda were chosen in 2005 as the initial focal points for the initiative. Some of the preliminary activities to build their capacity involved helping them hire and train staff members, implement administrative procedures, manage finances, and develop and test advisory activities such as studies and forums. Once the partner academies gain in-depth experience and advanced management skills, the initiative calls for them to raise matching funds and eventually carry out independent advisory work.
In addition to its intensive efforts in Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda, ASADI has provided financial support for strategic planning to the science academies of Cameroon, Senegal, Ghana, and Kenya, as well as the regional African Academy of Sciences.
Established in 2004, the African Science Academy Development Initiative is a 10-year project supported by a $20 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and administered by the U.S. National Academies. More information about ASADI is available online at http://www.nationalacademies.org/asadi. The U.S. National Academies comprise the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.
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[ This news release is available at http://national-academies.org ]