Leveraging science for development – I

It is notably curious and rather mystifying that within the mainstream development studies discipline, science and technology are not considered and regarded as tools to advance progress and human wellbeing. For decades, some of the most critical advancements in human progress has come through scientific and technological ingenuity. For instance, the Green Revolution: which revolutionized agriculture across the global south, feeding millions of mouths during that process. Of late, however, this thread is receiving a fillip through bilateral assistance – Obama administration’s QDDR places considerable premium on mainstreaming science and technology in American foreign policy. The broader field as its becoming to known is Science Diplomacy, which encapsulates all efforts undertaken by governments to integrate science and technology as a tool of statecraft and diplomacy. The AAAS covers this terrain through its inter-disciplinary journal Science and Diplomacy. In a recent Science policy forum article, Thomas and Paul Bollyky capture this burgeoning trend under the Obama administration that has identified innovation as the  “currency of the 21st century and the means by which the United States and its partners would create new jobs and tackle the global challenges of climate change, hunger, and disease.”

For the past year, we had been engaged in such an effort at the LKYSPP, seeking to facilitate and nurture science for development (and diplomacy) linkages within South Asia. However, since our effort originated from the non-state terrain and did not involve any governmental involvement or stake, it was called Science Engagement, not diplomacy. As a theme, we focused on rice by uniting rice scientists across South Asia and China to unite and discuss issues related to growing rice and how we can use science and technology to further that effort. One of the critical takeaways from the effort was the realization that scientists across the region are assiduously leveraging technology to raise crop yields given rising deficits, mainly labor, land, water and uncertainties associated with varying climate patterns. One of the major bottlenecks, that can be tackled through surmounted external financing, include chronic capital shortages for research, hiring scientists and retaining them, purchasing technology and also for small-scale research activities, including travels, conferences, joint projects, etc. The endeavor was a success; it vindicated our efforts and intentions of designing and undertaking this effort. And through it, we realized that great potential exists to deepen work on this thread. Indeed, many similar efforts are already underway across Africa and some in Southeast and South Asia. Calestous Juma’s work on this front is well known.

As mentioned, I’ll cover this particular theme on this blog through regular posts and developments. More work, research and policy efforts, are sorely needed. As our initiative’s report underscores, there exists several possibilities to deepen work on this thread through building scientific networks within and beyond regions and more importantly, establishing venues and mechanisms that connect them for possible mutually beneficial projects.

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