African Agriculture can learn from Brazil, Says Alvaro Sobrinho

Alvaro Sobrinho, trustee and founding member of the Planet Earth Institute, has declared his support for the development of African agribusiness. In an article published online, the philanthropist and Angolan-born businessman explained how and what African agriculture can learn from Brazil, a country that has transformed itself into an agricultural power-house in only a few decades.

Central to Brazil’s success, claims Sobrinho, has been the financial support and investment of the government. In 1973, the Brazilian government created the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. The newly established organisation set about looking for commercially viable plant varieties to stimulate Brazil’s ailing agricultural sector. The discover of a new variety of soybean, one that is better suited to tropical climate and can develop into a harvestable product in a much shorter time.

As a consequence of the discovery, Brazilian farmers have been able to grow to soy harvests a year, leading to a boom in soy production. The country is now one of the largest soy exporters in the world, selling to Europe and China, primarily to feed livestock populations. Alvaro Sobrinho believes this transformation has made the country an “agricultural power to rival the United States and Europe.”

Africa must learn form Brazil’s success, concludes Sobrinho. This means funnelling much more investment towards agricultural research institutions, in the hope that they will produce productive plant varieties, specialised machinery and other useful technologies. Innovation of this kind could transform African agriculture from subsistence farming to an industrial sector that drives development and change on the continent.

Given the dire warnings given by the African Development Bank that the population of undernourished people on the continent will rise from 240 million to 320 million by 2025, transforming African agriculture has never been more important and, at the same time, more possible.

“Brazil has shown what is possible”, says Alvaro Sobrinho, now it is time for action in Africa.

Science Africa UnConference to be held in London

The annual Science African UnConference will take place on July 20th, 2017, in London. The event is hosted by the African NGO, the Planet Earth Institute, and focuses on the scientific advancement of Africa.

The main objective of the Planet Earth Institute is promote and encourage science, technology and innovation as a primary driver of development in Africa. The Institute is funding African PhD programmes, running education programmes for young African students and engaging funders and governments though its campaign work. The Science Africa UnConference falls under the last category. The Conference facilitates the promotion of cutting-edge African science and gives promising African scientists the chance to share their innovative ideas and to meet inspiring people.

The conference is sponsored by several well-known institutions active in African development programmes, including the United Nations, the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and IBM. Representatives from these institutions will join the board of the Planet Earth Institute at the conference to share their expertise and experiences. Pervious years have been marked by highly engaging presentations from representatives of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and IBM, in particular.

The Planet Earth Institute hopes to attract more than 250 distinguished guests to this years Science Africa UnConference. Guests will be invited to participate in working groups and workshops, with the hope of producing practical outcomes that can be put into action after the conference. Key outcomes from the 2016 conference included empowering girls and women to pursue careers in the sciences and encouraging the private sector to contribute to the creation of the next generation of scientific leaders in Africa.

Planet Earth Institute Trustee, Álvaro Sobrinho, emphasised the importance of promoting science and technology in Africa through events such as the conference, when he pointed out that, “excellence in science and technology can equip Africa with a workforce ready to compete and lead in the 21st century global marketplace.”

Registration for this year’s conference is now open.

Sir Christopher Edwards to Lead PEI Academic Board

In February Planet Earth Institute trustee, Sir Christopher Edwards, became Chairman of the newly created Planet Earth Institute Academic Board. His appointment was announced during the first Africa Breakfast Club of the year, held in London. Sir Christopher described his “delight” at the appointment, going on to say, “Academic rigour and excellence will characterise the operation of our scholarship scheme combined with a focus on developmental impact.”

Just over a month later and the full board has been announced. Sir Christopher Edward will be joined by 7 more board members, each with a distinguished career in their field. The board appointments have been designed to match the key areas of research the Planet Earth Institute scholarship focuses on. These are energy, water, agri-business, medical and blue sky science.

As such, the board consists of Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, who will focus on medical sciences, Professor Paul Younger, a leading energy expert, Professor Sir John Beddington, Professor of Natural Resources Management at Oxford who will advise on water, energy and agribusiness, Professor Madeleine Atkins, who will advise on education, Professor Lynn Frewer, a food production expert, Rob Hope, a renowned figure in the area of water, and Professor David Ingram, Emeritus Professor of Health Informatics UCL who will advise on medical science, higher education and blue sky research.

The primary purpose of the board is to oversee the running of the Planet Earth Institute’s scholarship programmes, particularly the HE Ameenah Gurib-Fakim PhD Scholarship Programme. The Institute has the ambitious goal of funding some 10,000 PhDs within the next 10 years. It is clear that rigours oversight will be essential to ensure the quality of the research being funded.

The funding itself comes directly from Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, several international organisations and network of enlightened businessmen committed to supporting African development.

Lord Paul Boateng Assumes Chairmanship of PEI

On February 9th, during a meeting in London, the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) announced a change in leadership. After 7 years of pioneering leadership at the helm of the PEI, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho is to step down, handing over the role to his colleague, Lord Paul Boateng.

7 years ago, when Alvaro Sobrinho took up the role of Chairman, the Planet Earth Institute was a freshly conceived project in the nascent stages of development. Under his attentive leadership, the PEI has emerged as a leading voice in African development. The NGO now runs development programmes across the continent, contributing to the discourse and development of science and technology in Africa.

Numerous educational projects have been launched under Alvaro Sobrinho’s leadership, including the ambitious PhD programme, which aims to fund 10,000 science focused PhDs over the course of the next decade. On top of this, the PEI has successfully reached out to nearly 2000 young African students, communicating the importance of science and technology to them. The organisation has promoted science as a key development tool at high-profile events around the world, including the World Economic Forum in Davos, at events in London and all over Africa.

Dr Sobrinho described his period as Chairman as the “greatest privilege” of his career. It was with “great sadness” that he decided to step down from the role, explaining that it has become “increasingly unfeasible to dedicate the time that my responsibilities as Chairman demand, while simultaneously battling for the success of new ventures in Mauritius and across Africa.”

Into Dr Sobrinho’s considerable shoes will step Lord Paul Boateng. For many years Lord Boateng has served the PEI as trustee, drawing on his experience as former British Ambassador to South Africa. He described himself as, “delighted to have been asked to Chair the PEI at a time in which we are redoubling our efforts both in relation to our advocacy role and now the delivery of a range of PHD Scholarships”.

The incoming Chairman took the time to pay his respects to Dr Sobrinho, a man who has, “demonstrated a remarkable and continuing commitment to science in Africa, and his pioneering leadership has brought the PEI from its early stages to become a strong and stable organisation”, explained Lord Boateng.

Nobel Prize Winner Gives Keynote Address at PEI Event

Professor Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, informally referred to as Venki, graced the staged at an event hosted by the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) and several of its partners, including the British Council, the British High Commission, the University of Mauritius and the Medine Educational Village.

Sir Venki Ramakrishnan is considered one of the world’s foremost scientists after being granted the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work on exposing the atomic structure of the ribosome in 2009. He discovery is contributing to biological research all over the world, and has earned him a knighthood in the United Kingdom and the elected position of Chairman at the Royal Society, one of the most prestigious scientific institutions in the UK and around the world.

His keynote address focused on scientific evidence and the way scientific facts are being blurred with fictions and how we can determine what is really verifiable. He enlightening speech captured the attention of audience, many of whom had scientific and educational backgrounds.

Also in attendance were President of Mauritius, HE Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, a well-respected biologist, Mr Jonathan Drew, High Commissioner to Mauritius and Planet Earth Institute CEO Mauricio Fernandes. Fernandes concluded the meeting, offering thanks to Nobel laureate Professor Ramakrishnan on behalf of PEI Chairman Lord Paul Boateng and the organisations trustee, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho.

The event also included the launch of a new science communication competition being run by the British Council. Named FameLab, the initiative gives entrants 3 minutes to describe a scientific concept to a jury for evaluation. If the entrant is able to communicate the concept to the jury in a clear and concise manner. The winner will earn a cash prize and private tuition.

Planet Earth Institute Announces the Spotlight Seminar Series

African NGO, the Planet Earth Institute (PEI), recently announced the launch of a new series of events called the Spotlight Seminars. As part of the PEI Partners Forum, the Spotlight Seminars will highlight key issues facing African development and celebrate Africa’s burgeoning science and technology pioneers.

The first of the Spotlight Seminars will take place on March 15th at the Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, in London. Starting at 10am and running until 3 in the afternoon, the seminar will explore the topic of agriculture, focusing on the “great many opportunities” that African agricultural challenges present. By hosting foremost experts at the event, the PEI “will be shining a light on those individuals, research groups, academic institutions and commercial organisations making scientific and technological advancements that are of benefit not just to Africa but also to the world.”

Those esteemed experts include Dr. Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Dr. Robert Mwanga, a breeder of sweet potatoes and winner of the World Food prize, and Dr. Gideon Onumah, an agricultural economist at the University of Greenwich. These speakers will be joined by Planet Earth Institute board member, Lord Paul Boateng, to discuss opportunities and challenges in African agriculture, agricultural innovation emerging in Africa and participate in question and answer sessions with the audience.

The seminar hopes to address some of the problems facing small-holder farmers in Africa, including drought, soil erosion, gender imbalances and unhelpful government policies. By showing that Africa is dealing with these problems, and producing science and technology that can make global contributions, the Planet Earth Institute hopes to alter what it describes as “largely” negative rhetoric surrounding the continent.

Planet Earth Institute Partners with E-Lab to Promote STEM Education

E-Lab (The Engineering Lab Africa) is a Kenya based education organisation that brings science, technology, engineering and mathematics – collectively referred to as STEM – to African students between the ages of 6 and 18. Operating out of Nairobi, E-Lab has hosted numerous classes and project days to educate children about the importance of developing STEM knowledge and skills.

The Planet Earth Institute, a firm advocate for STEM education in Africa, has partnered with the E-Lab to produce a visual essay documenting the first-class STEM education practices exhibited by the E-Lab. The essay includes young Africa students using power drills to create advanced technology, demonstrating the often practical nature of E-Lab’s classes, students using computers to learn about coding and information about one project designed to improve access to education for refugees.

The organisation claims students between the ages of 6 and 13 are most likely to gain long-term benefits from the classes they run. It is at this age, says the E-Lab, that students are most ‘receptive’ to what they are being taught. The Planet Earth Institute has also created a programme focusing on young Africa students, after spending a great deal of time and resources improving higher education. The programme is called STEP and has hosted study days in Mauritius and Angola, reaching thousands of students with an important message about the benefits of learning STEM subjects.

Planet Earth Institute chairman, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, believes STEM education will be essential if Africa is overcome its 21st Century development challenges. In an age of robotics and advanced technology, argues Dr Sobrinho, Africa students will need to learn the relevant skills to be useful in Africa’s technology driven, knowledge based economy.

Africa’s Future Depends on Business, claims Alvaro Sobrinho

Writing in the Huffington Post, Chairman of the African NGO the Planet Earth Institute, international banker, businessman and philanthropist, Alvaro Sobrinho, claims Africa’s development depends upon businesses. As the “recognised engine of growth”, business has a vital role to play in Africa’s future, argues the Angolan.

Recalling the words of Klaus Schwab, spoken at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Alvaro Sobinrho claims an “emphasis on responsible and responsive leadership is especially pertinent for Africa”. If Africa, says Sobrinho, is to meet the needs of its population it must look to business to provide the responsible and responsive leadership required. With millions unemployed and a fast growing population of young people – 10 million people are excepted to enter Africa’s labour market every year for the next decade – every effort must be made to create new jobs.

Overcoming Africa’s challenges is a task that many stakeholders must participate in, argues Sobrinho. But as the main source of growth and employment, business has a key role to play. Investing in clean energy solutions, educating young Africans, and providing capital to African start-ups are all activities business can undertake. Bringing new technologies, innovative business practises and managerial competence are all examples of responsible and responsive ways business can further African development.

Alvaro Sobrinho calls on all “private sector companies operating on the continent to embrace their leadership position” and work with national governments and international agencies to ensure a sustainable development in Africa. We must recognise, says Sobrinho, that “frustration and discontent are only increasing” among those who have missed out on progress. To rectify this, leaders must act responsibly and respond to the needs of the people.

Coalition for Research and Innovation Announced at Davos

Planet Earth Institute deputy chair, President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week. During the event Her Excellency joined an expert panel on the global outlook for science and gave a speech announcing the Institute’s new R&D (research and development) initiative.

After a successful panel discussion and welcome reception to her speech, President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim worked together with Thomas Kariuki, Director of the African Academy of Science and Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of New Partnership for African Development, to publish an article about the important role science has to play in Africa’s development. Titled, “Africa’s future depends on its scientists. Time to stop the brain drain”, the jointly written article focused on the need for a science, technology and innovation (STI) fund.

The authors argue that “with African countries still spending a measly 1.3% of the total global spend on R&D, such a dedicated fund for STI across Africa will be crucial.” Only by developing its scientific capacity, continue the authors, can Africa overcome the numerous development challenges the continent is facing, such as urbanisation, climate change, agricultural issues and disease pandemics.

Increasing spending on science in Africa is a primary goal of the Planet Earth Institute. The organisations founder and guiding spirit, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, has been calling for more resources to be diverted to scientific research and education for many years. He firmly believes that Africa’s future lies in science, technology and continuous innovation.

The authors use the publication to announce the Coalition for Research and Innovation (CARI), an alliance between science leaders and international donors that seek to focus and coordinate science, technology and innovation funding across Africa. CARI was announced during the World Economic Forum to the assemble guests and is part of the Planet Earth Institute’s new R&D initiative being promoted by President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim.

Plant Earth Institute Deputy Chair to Attend World Economic Forum

The 47th annual World Economic Forum will take place next week in Davos, Switzerland. This year, deputy chairwoman of the African NGO the Planet Earth Institute, President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim will attend the forum and deliver a speech to the assembly of prestigious and influential guests.

The World Economic Forum annual meeting is a who’s who of powerful people from the world’s economic and political elite. Well known political figures will be in attendance, including John Kerry, the 68th Secretary of State of the United States under Obama, Christine Lagarde, former French finance minister and current director of the International Monetary Fund, and British Prime Minister, leader of the Conservative Party, Teresa May.

Alongside a host of high-level representatives of international trade and business groups, the politicians will discuss the state of the global economy and make proposals for future developments. President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, of Mauritius, will take her place among the distinguished groups over the course of the event.

Her Excellency President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim will join a panel to discuss the state of science and scientific research globally. Her Excellency will also give a speech to the assembly, during which she will announced a new Planet Earth Institute Campaign. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the campaign aims to mobilise capital for investment in research and development in Africa. The campaign will reach out to national governments, international donors and the private sector, communicating the benefits a strong scientific research base could bring to Africa.

Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has expressed his gratitude to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for supporting the campaign financially. Scientific research has not kept pace with other developments in Africa, Sobrinho explains, ensuring the availability of funding for scientific research will be essential to Africa’s continued success.

President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim’s speech at Davos will be the launching point for the campaign. Many of the organisations the campaign will target will be represented in the audience, giving President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim the chance to reach out to them.