Apps to detect cancer, drones to boost crops: CSIR is improving life for all South Africans
How the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research is accelerating SA's socioeconomic prosperity, one hi-tech innovation at a time
At first glance, it’s difficult to make the connection between the development of hi-tech mine safety equipment and new mobile phone apps to detect cancer, on the one hand, and technology to help small-scale farmers convert biomass into energy and drones to boost crop yields, on the other.
But one doesn’t have to dig deep to realise that these projects, all of which represent cutting-edge technology in their own way, originated from the same place: the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR).
The CSIR's objective is to research, develop, localise and diffuse literally hundreds of technologies, bringing them to life to stimulate commerce and industry, job creation and tangibly accelerate socioeconomic prosperity in this country.
The CSIR's objective is to bring literally hundreds of technologies to life to stimulate commerce and industry, job creation and accelerate socioeconomic prosperity
In the process, it also provides impetus to national government priorities such as the National Development Plan, the Medium-Term Strategic Framework, and the Economic Reconstruction & Recovery Plan — the framework aimed at mitigating the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on SA.
And these are just a tiny fraction of the host of successful projects that the CSIR has researched, developed (or are being developed) and, more importantly, brought to market often in collaboration with other bodies — commerce, industry, government, academia and civil society — both locally and internationally.
These projects are also evidence that a repositioning of the CSIR, initiated in 2018 to make it more relevant, is delivering tangible results and rewards and thereby “improving the quality of life of SA’s people in a comprehensive and holistic manner”.
That's according to the organisation's CEO, Dr Thulani Dlamini, who says that the multidisciplinary nature of the CSIR has a growing relevance for many sectors including mining, health care, chemicals, agriculture and food, defence and security, manufacturing, built environment, water, environmental sustainability, energy, and smart mobility sectors, together with the digitalisation of the government and public and private institutions.
And further evidence that the organisation is on the right track comes from its recently published 2021/2022 annual report. In it, Dlamini says that despite the challenges of the pandemic years, followed by geopolitical and economic turmoil in 2022, the CSIR put in an overall performance improvement compared with the previous financial year.
Total revenue rose from just under R2.6bn to R2.7bn — despite a reduction in government research grants. This was complemented by more than R235m in revenue from the private sector and just over R200m in international income.
Dlamini says the organisation, which employs more than 2,200 people — 70% of whom constitute the science, engineering and technology base — primarily at its five sites in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban, Gqeberha and Stellenbosch, achieved 81% of its strategic objectives. The most successful of these included improving the competitiveness of high-impact industries to support SA’s re-industrialisation by collaboratively developing, localising and implementing technology and driving socioeconomic transformation.
In terms of one of its key objectives, improving the competitiveness of high-impact industries, the CSIR managed to localise 14 technologies during the year (compared with five previously), it achieved 25 technology agreements and supported 99 SMMEs.
And in terms of transformation, regarded as another vital thrust, Dlamini says the CSIR fostered empowerment through its research & development programmes, and achieved level I BBBEE status itself.
It also contributed to broad transformation through its partnership with the Youth Employment Service (YES) programme to provide unemployed youth with work experience, taking on 55 youths during the financial year, bringing the total to 145 since the programme’s inception in 2020.
It is also focusing considerable resources into developing black and female researchers within the organisation.
While Dlamini says there is no one flagship project that now defines the work done by the CSIR, this is achieved by showcasing a multitude of projects, some of which have already come to market and others still in the pipeline. They embrace a seemingly infinite number of technologies from a whole clutch involving mobile phone apps that do everything from HIV/Aids to tuberculosis and cancer detection through to mapping potholes for the local authorities.
It also helped boost competitiveness among local tech start-ups such as Aditiv Solutions in developing the first local commercial metal 3D printer, and helped boost the competitiveness of local firms in the aeronautics, marine and defence manufacturing sectors through the Aerospace Industry Support Initiative.
Click here for more information about the CSIR and its projects.
This article was paid for by the CSIR.