South African and Indian scientists team up


The fourth co-operation agreement in the field of science and technology has been signed by South Africa and India. The two have a 20-year history of working together, which they plan to extend and deepen.

 south_africa_india_science_cooperation_3_article Although the focus of South Africa and India’s collaboration in science and technology was research for two decades, they’re now looking into innovation and entrepreneurship. (Images: Department of science and technology)

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Melissa Javan

South Africa and India have signed their fourth co-operation agreement to strengthen collaboration in the fields of science and technology.

The agreement was signed at the 10th South Africa-India joint committee meeting on co-operation in science and technology, held at the Department of Science and Technology building on the campus of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research on 18 June. The two countries already have a 20-year relationship in the sector.

Over the past two decades, the focus had been on research and Dr Arabinde Mitra, the advisor and head of international co-operation (bilateral) in India’s department of science and technology, said they now wanted to look into innovation and entrepreneurship. “We want to look at how we can create start-up companies.”

They also wanted to explore investing in young people. “Currently we have a project in India that gives African students of certain areas opportunity to be part of the exchange programme. We want to have an extended exchange programme for those that are outside the specific areas that the other project focuses on.”

 south_africa_india_science_cooperation_5_article Dr Arabinde Mitra said benefits of collaborating with South Africa is fighting challenges like diseases and food security, together.

Benefits of collaborating

The first bilateral agreement between the two countries was signed in July 1995. Between 2001 and 2014, a total of 74 projects were funded. The research areas for this collaboration include astronomy, astrophysics, biotechnology, health sciences, green chemistry and energy technologies.

An astronomy workshop was held in October 2008, which led to four projects being funded by the countries. Biotechnology workshops were held in March 2009 and February 2015.

Mitra said the two countries had a linked history and a shared future. “We are both facing challenges like disease, food security and water usage. We want to create a win-win situation for both countries.”

Daan du Toit, the deputy director-general of international co-operation and resources in South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology, explained that this initiative allowed South African scientists to work with their counterparts in India. “We jointly invest in each other’s countries.”

He also called India “a major scientific nation in the world”.

The sub-continent’s Mars Orbiter Mission, also called Mangalyaan (meaning “Mars craft”), for instance, is a space probe that has been orbiting Mars since 24 September 2014. It was launched on 5 November 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It is India’s first interplanetary mission, and has ensured ISRO is the fourth space agency to reach Mars, after the Soviet space programme, Nasa, and the European Space Agency. It is the first Asian nation to reach Mars orbit, and the first nation in the world to do so on its first attempt.

Du Toit said that South Africa stood to benefit from sharing in India’s experience and expertise. “It is critical for international co-operation. No country is ever big enough [to do things on its own]. Working together, we complement each other,” he said.

Joint committee meeting

At Thursday’s meeting, delegates from both countries spoke about projects on which they were working; they also called for proposals.

Prof Nithaya Chetty, the co-ordinator at the National Research Foundation SA, called for proposals on behalf of scientists from South Africa and India. Chetty sought proposals for an enhanced exchange programme for researchers. When there was an exchange programme there must be joint supervision of a doctoral student, for example, said Chetty.

Another proposal was for a joint seminar or workshop for researchers.