Cacheblog notes that our science graduates can overcome much of the unemployment problems they face after school through science entrepreneurship.
Nigeria does not have an industrialised economy. This forces science graduates to take postgraduate diplomas in business, Public Relations and so on to qualify for job placements.
Apart from job roles in the teaching profession, Nigeria does not have much use for her scientists. A little percentage could get employed by the Research Institutes but then, that sector is one of the most severely challenged in the country; especially in terms of funding.
For example, research and development into the production of cassava flour and other flours from Nigeria’s cereal crops started well over 40 years ago at FIIRO, yet we are only just beginning to talk of popularising cassava flour inclusion in bread and confectioneries.
The role of science in national economic development is yet to be fully appreciated by the designers of our economic and education policies. We need to understand that although scientists work in the laboratories, away from the public glare; their findings, when translated into goods and services, rule the world.
The Asian nations that are aggressively pursuing science, technology and innovation(STI) related industry are leapfrogging into the global market while hesitant nations like Nigeria remain uncompetitive and import dependent.
In the new world trend, natural resources endowments are not enough for wealth creation but the knowledge of how these raw materials can, through STI, be transformed into valuable goods and services for economic development and improved quality of life.
We cannot continue to separate science from business in our thinking. Science is good business. The nation therefore needs to devise policies that will groom the youths to embrace science, not just for academic gratification but for wealth creation.
In a chat with Dr. Mrs Gloria Elemo, former Director General, FIIRO in 2008, she opined that undergraduates in science-related professional courses be mandated to first earn degrees in the Basic Sciences before advancing to engineering and medicine.
This approach would produce a new crop of science graduates, who are genuinely interested in the sciences and who would embark on the quality of R&D that can launch the nation into the big time. It will also correct the current drift that produces scientists who now work in the banks counting money; a situation that undermines the prospects of Nigeria attaining national productivity through STI.
In a previous article, I discussed how the Neem (dogonyaro) tree is impacting the economy of India; yet it is said that the percentage of the active ingredient in the Nigerian Neem is 2 to 3 times that of India. Their success did not come about because they felled the Neem trees for sale.
India is profiting from this beneficial tree through investments in Research and Development (R&D). They have scientifically investigated the tree’s phyto-chemical (properties, isolated the active ingredients and developed relevant products like organic cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, bio-pesticides, etc. from them.
When my article on industrial enzymes years ago, I received mails from many science graduates who are now thinking of using their training to go into the manufacture of intermediary products for local industry, using local raw materials.
The torrential spate of technological products (like ICT ware, luxury cars, etc.) influx into our markets is so breath-taking that one wonders if we could ever earn a place of reckoning in the global market. Fortunately, we do have some feasible reference points.
At a forum on the utilization of natural products for foods and non-food uses convened by FIIRO, Dr. Francis Shode, a professor of chemistry advanced nutraceuticals as one such area, considering our biodiversity, indigenous knowledge, etc.
Addressing a pool of scientists on Building Innovative Capabilities and Capacity for Natural Products Research & Development in Nigeria, the Nigerian born University of Zululand don who also owns an R&D company in SA, spoke on the need to rescue the nation from her “Dutch Disease” syndrome through R&D.
Nigeria can, through concerted research, hone her comparative advantage in nutraceutical resources to competitive levels. If imported Nutraceutical brands like Forever Living Products, Tianshi, etc could enjoy so much upscale patronage in Nigeria, local entrepreneurs too should itch to participate in this trending niche; after all, we are a well endowed nation.
While we may not catch up fast in the production of hightech products, today’s science entrepreneurs can focus on the development of natural products which will include foods, cosmetics, nutrition and health products; fertilisers, animal feeds and so on.
These are areas where we already have raw materials that are currently either being consumed locally, exported in their raw form or wasted as post harvest losses. Some of the multinationals and other corporate giants currently sponsoring dancing and singing competitions could also incorporate sponsorship of R & D programmes, to equally encourage the science community and promote a science culture.
It is time now for us to make use of our Natural resources to create wealth through Science and Technology if the nation is to avert a looming poverty substrated on prolonged import dependency and unproductivity.