The Use of Science and Technology to Alleviate Poverty in Africa

science and technology

Introduction: More than 70% of Africa’s population lacks the resources and information to meet basic human needs such as adequate food, clean drinking water, sanitation, good health provision, shelter, and education. However, Science, technology, and innovation can play a crucial role in poverty alleviation. They have led to a wide array of developments, from boosting agricultural productivity to providing the means to generate energy cheaply.

Developments in science and technology can make a significant contribution to meeting the key commitments of the eight Millennium Development Goals that the United Nations (UN) members and International Aid Organizations agreed to achieve. They include reducing extreme poverty and child mortality rates, fighting disease and creating a global partnership for development. A seminar was held and designed to benefit people in the poorest parts of Africa, particularly those living in rural areas. These included technologies to provide clean water, electricity, disease control measures, and mobile communications. The speakers also explored financial, social and cultural factors affecting the uptake of new technologies in developing countries.

However, new advances in scientific fields such as electronics and nanotechnology could provide enabling technologies to alleviate poverty on many fronts, provided that they can be implemented appropriately. To benefit the lives of the world’s poorest people, innovation must be prioritized, developed and delivered in a way that fulfills their needs, as well as being supported with adequate funding at each stage.

Three areas where research-led technologies can help to reduce poverty are energy generation, agricultural productivity and the provision of clean water. But first, let us know what science and technology really are.

Meaning of Science and Technology: While science is a theoretical knowledge acquired through research based on scientific methods, technology, on the other hand, is the collection of techniques, methods or processes in the application of scientific knowledge in driving scientific investigation.

Why the Need for Science and Technology? The importance of technology lies in its manifold benefits to society. Digitization of information has been a major breakthrough in the world of information technology. It has made possible the compaction of information, which in turn allows efficient information storage. The mechanization of industrial processes has reduced human effort. Household appliances that are in daily use for the common man are as a result of developments in science. Machines have replaced human beings in monotonous and risk-bearing tasks. Scientific discoveries have made life easy. They’re important because they keep us inter-connected and they streamline the processing and manufacturing of goods and services.

Without technology, we would not have access to limitless amounts of information and knowledge that sources like the internet provide us. We would not be able to easily communicate with people across the world in seconds, and we would be unable to process international transactions on a wide-scale. Technology strives towards the globalization of our world. Without it, we would be more isolated and localized as a society.

In summary,

  • It boosts the economy of a country
  • It increases the literacy level of a country especially when the education system is well grounded
  • It aids agricultural production expansion
  • Mobile banking: it aids the poor to gain access to banking and to protect their assets in order for them to invest wisely
  • Mobile health care: giving pregnant and nursing mothers access to mobile health care through the use of a cheap mobile phone can assist them in getting the information they need or designed to help counterbalance superstition and pregnancy-related myths.
  • Access to clean water: science and technology have helped to slow down diseases through unsafe water and also to reduce expenses in obtaining clean and safe water to the society through the development of a solar-powered water pump that uses locally-sourced equipment to pump 30,000 liters of clean, safe water to the society.
  • Improved farming techniques: about 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day according to the United Nations. Science and technology have a great impact on agriculture that could reduce hunger.

How Government Can Embrace Science/Technology In Africa.                 

The following points are the ways in which government can create an atmosphere for science and technology to strive in its nation.

  • Use of new technologies for teaching and communication.
  • Regional courses and the possible establishment of regional institutions for scientific research and training.
  • Role and possibilities of national and regional actions on the part of the African National Research Councils of Science and Technology.
  • Development of research and teaching capacity in the universities.
  • Role and possibilities of international cooperation.

How Can Government Use Science/Technology Alleviate Poverty In Africa? There is a need for a comprehensive assessment of Africa’s Science and Technology. This needs to be followed by some action, such as a research and capacity foresight exercise, which would provide bases for a focused approach to the utilization of constrained resources. A set of modeling exercises should be implemented to measure, in the African context, the social and economic impact of Science and Technology.

These three items are elaborated below: assessment, planning, and modeling. For each of these items, a broad overview or motivation is given first, after which are listed more specific points generated in the brainstorming session.

1a) Assessment of African S&T systems and capacities:                                                 

 Broadly, the assessment should cover the following areas:

  • S&T human resources available in universities, colleges, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government scientific laboratories and institutions at all levels and in all relevant disciplines. Special emphasis should be placed on the role of women in science and the development of youth.
  • Existing research and teaching programs, areas of sub-regional, regional, and international cooperation at the current time, S&T facilities and those facilities that will provide an enabling environment for S&T development in universities, colleges, NGOs and government institutions.
  • Quality of existing governmental S&T policy and policy processes and determination of where such policy does not yet exist.
  • Fundraising strategies, the availability of funding resources.
  • Attempts at increasing the public awareness of S&T activities.
  • Evaluation of strategies of non-African institutions in a similar position with a view to identifying and learning from the strengths and weaknesses with respect to S&T development.
  • Other assessments and studies that have been done so as to determine what has already been covered and where gaps exist. Specifically, the following items should be considered, among others, in the assessment of African S&T systems and capacities:
  • S&T programs in Africa to determine patterns of success. Fundraising strategies (and source identification) in the context of globalization.
  • Possible sources of funding for each problem area. Successes and failures of S&T models for centers, including those that are outside the region such as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) models.
  • African resources for developing S&T.
  • Core science capabilities.
  • Existing regional S&T cooperation programs and keys to their success, e.g. mathematics program in Zimbabwe.
  • Generation of a roster of African scientists with gender specification.
  • Telecommunications and information technology to the extent to which it will facilitate and support S&T development.
  1. b) Foresight planning:                                                                                         

 In a broad sense, there is a need to identify regional and continental thrust areas so as to have a focused approach to optimal employment of S&T resources. We further submit that the generation of data within the African assessment will be extremely relevant if done in such a context. It is, therefore, necessary to implement an assessment of those natural resources, which could facilitate the development of S&T. Specifically, there is a need to explore the environmental impact of S&T (e.g., renewable energy, water, soil and ecosystem management, eco-tourism).

  1. c) Modeling:                                                                                                                 

 Broadly, we have identified a need to develop clearly understandable models to inform policymakers and the public at large about the significant economic and social impacts of S&T.

Specifically, it is necessary to quantify the economic impact of S&T in Africa, to study the role of industrial investment for the promotion of S&T, and to study the role of S&T      for industrial development.

Alleviating Poverty Strategies                                                                                     

  1. Capacity-building: In order for a capacity-building initiative to be effective, it is assumed that certain conditions will be in place. They include the following:
  • That the educational system is restructured to reflect the prevailing socio-economic conditions.
  • That adequate arrangements for funding have been made.
  • That there is a developed assessment of existing S&T facilities that have the potential to be developed.


Any capacity-building program in S&T in the region must have the following objectives:

  • Increase the participation of disadvantaged groups in S&T such as youth and women.
  • Promote regional and international cooperation in research and training.
  • Stimulate the growth for the utilization of newer and emerging technologies.
  • Encourage the establishment of S&T funds for national and regional programs.
  • Promote investment in human resources development including training for the sustainable management of S&T equipment.


In order to realize the above objectives, it is recommended to promote regional cooperation by:

  • Identifying and transforming existing facilities into Centers of Excellence;
  • Strengthening research institutions networks;
  • Showing national commitment by allocating resources for sustainable capacity-building programs in S&T.
  1. Infrastructure and telecommunications                                                         

Objective: In order to effectively attain an operational capacity in S&T, it is a necessary prerequisite that adequate infrastructure is established in information technology, in particular through national telecommunication policies, to enable African researchers and educators to utilize optimally their resources.


For the purposes of achieving the above objective, it is recommended to:

  • Ensure access to information databases;
  • Develop a virtual university in S&T linking African universities and centers of excellence;
  • Establish electronic networking for the dissemination of S&T information.
  1. Raising awareness level for S&T value                                                              

The level of awareness of the value of S&T must be raised among both the general population and those with influence on educational policies. There are a number of examples of quality science being undertaken in Africa which may be used for the promotion of the discipline. The South African Large Telescope is a typical multinational achievement that could be used for this purpose of promoting and increasing awareness. International support is needed for an African-driven project to investigate practices employed to promote science in industrialized countries. This project could identify practices for successful adaptation and/or application in Africa.

African nations should explore the opportunity for developing high profile promotional material for dissemination across the available media services.

To stimulate an early awareness of S&T among young people, consideration should be given to the development of low-cost, early-learning materials based upon science and relevance to Africa. Such a project would help the development of skills among the young in Africa. Coordination should be provided via an international agency (e.g., UNESCO, UNICEF, etc.) and based upon the following principles:

  • Design of activities jointly between the industrialized world and collaborators in Africa.
  • Manufacturing of products in Africa from local materials.
  • Sponsorship by multinationals who may wish to take advantage of self-promotion via these products.

The Use of Science and Technology in the Alleviation of Poverty in Africa

The following points summarily explain the steps and attitudes the government needs to put in, in order to arrive at a positive outcome.

There seems to be a very huge gap between government perception and public perception in this matter. While governments are busy counting the number of workshops conducted, the number of hospitals built and doctors employed, for instance, they fail to count or even notice the outcomes those activities bring about, especially to the growth and benefits of the public.

There should be a partnership between the government and a social entrepreneur or a scientist because the first thing you need to understand is that the government have something that a scientist may not have. Like in the areas of financing any innovations which the scientist or social entrepreneur may present and also help government decision-makers figure out how to get the necessary or conducive atmosphere for the innovation.

Most times, the government responds to other people and at other times social entrepreneurs/scientist are only accountable to themselves and to their own organizations. So they need to work together to achieve more.

Some scientist doesn’t like engaging in politics and complains that working with the government is too slow. But sooner or later, irrespective of whether you want public money or not, you will need to engage government. It does not matter if you are in eye care or water or energy or financial inclusion-government have scale, government set policy and regulatory frameworks, the government has nation-wide infrastructures. Engaging with the government is a critical challenge if social entrepreneurs want to take their innovations to scale. Another major challenge in Africa’s underdevelopment is that, and I quote “Due to lack of capacity to transform much of its raw materials into finished products, Africa continues to export its resources with little or no value added, leading to loss of job opportunities. Where value is added, these African products are subject to many tariff and non-tariff barriers in the major Western markets,”


– Asekome O. Samson                                                                                   


 Guide: S&T means Science and Technology                                   

Sources: Brookings,  Practical ActionReutersTake PartScience NordicTIMEWater Aid, IFAD, United-Nations-Development-Programme