Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS
Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS

The government will push for increased investment in research and development, higher education, science and technology minister Blade Nzimande said on Tuesday.

The government has emphasised the need to invest in research and development to tackle some of SA’s ills such as food insecurity, water shortages and climate change. It has previously said it wants investment in the sector to increase from just under 1%, to 1.5% of GDP by 2020. Thus spending could reach about R60bn a year by 2020.

African governments generally don’t spend a significant percentage of their GDP on research and development, and this has stalled the continent’s growth. On average, Sub-Saharan Africa states spend less than 0.5% of GDP on research and development while the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries — mostly high-income economies — average more than four times that at 2.3%.

The SA government recently introduced the research and development tax incentive programme. The incentive was designed to encourage private-sector investment in scientific and technological research and development activities. It was introduced to help the country achieve a target for research and development expenditure of 1.5% of GDP.

“We will also continue to play our role in driving and advocating for increases in gross investment in research and development as a percentage of GDP with the aim of achieving the National Development Plan target of 1.5%,” Nzimande said during a media briefing shortly before delivering his budget vote speech in Parliament on Tuesday.

According data from the National Survey of Research and Experimental Development, total investment in research and development was close to R36bn in 2016/2017, up R3.3bn on the previous year.

Nzimande said the government had identified initiatives to develop new research and development of industries that could help improve SA's value addition in what the country produces and exports.

“The department is thus funding a number of initiatives that are expected to contribute towards this goal; for example, the launch of the Mandela Mining Precinct, a project established to facilitate the co-ordination of mining research, development and innovation activities and collaboration among stakeholders,” the minister said.

“We are going to substantially expand the agriculture and agro-processing sector by supporting key value chains and products, developing new markets and reducing our reliance on agricultural imports. Our target for the next five years is value-chain development for grains (wheat, maize, soybean, sorghum and canola), fruit and vegetables, and the forestry interventions of the Agricultural Policy Action Plan.”

Nzimande said his department would also continue to bring much-needed innovation to the taxi industry.

“We have provided support Quicloc8, a technology company proudly owned by a young black entrepreneur, Mr Mbavhalelo Mabogo,” he said.

Quicloc8 has developed a suite of technologies to support the taxi industry by enabling owners to track their vehicles, trips, routes and passenger head counts in real time via their cellphones.

Among other goals, this will assist in reducing accidents and fatalities caused by speeding and overloading, Nzimande said.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za