Africa’s new harvest

by Calestous Juma

Calestous JumaThe second edition of The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation has been released. The first edition of the book was published in 2011 as a memorandum for Africa leaders. Its core message was that African could feed itself in a generation. It was as a call to action to achieve this goal.

The book was released on the heels of a series of food price spikes and the Arab Spring uprising in North Africa. The Arab Spring provided clear evidence that the ability of a country to feed itself was linked to its national security. The events helped create a sense of urgency among African leaders to focus on agriculture as a foundation for the long-term economic transformation of the continent.

This edition serves four purposes. First, it acts as report card on what has been achieved since the release of the first edition. The main message from the lessons of the last five years is that countries can overcome their most intractable challenge if they can bring high-level political capital to bear on the search for solutions. Continue reading

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Statement on Agricultural Biotechnology

by Calestous Juma

Calestous JumaMy work on agricultural biotechnology for Africa dates to the mid-1980s. My first major publication on the subject in 1989 was entitled The Gene Hunters: Biotechnology and the Scramble for Seeds. This was nearly seven years before the first commercial release of the transgenic crops in North America. The focus of my work has been on identifying technologies that could contribute to sustainable development in Africa. I have advocated policies that seek to reduce the negative consequences of new technologies while maximizing their impacts. Continue reading

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Why Study the Life Sciences?

by Sujata K. Bhatia

Today is a special day, not only because you are graduating, but also because you are entering the community of life scientists. Why pursue the life sciences? The pursuit of any scientific endeavor is noble, but the life sciences are particularly special. There are obvious practical reasons that the life sciences are valuable. The study of the life sciences lends important insights into disease processes, and allows the development of novel therapeutics and innovative medical devices, thereby directly improving human health. The life sciences also enable an understanding of the environment and the other living species with whom we share the earth; this knowledge guides conservation efforts and literally helps us to save our shared planet. Continue reading

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The Benefits of Africa’s New Free Trade Area

by Calestous Juma and Francis Mangeni

calestous pic The creation in June 2015 of a free trade area from Cape Town to Cairo is possibly the most significant event in Africa since the formation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. It is a grand move to merge existing regional organization into a single African Economic Community.

The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) includes the 26 countries that are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC), and Southern African Community (SADC). The TFTA covers a population of 632 million and a combined GDP of $1.3 trillion. The area spans 17.3 million square kilometers, which is nearly twice the size of China or the United States.

Critics argue a single trading bloc will not work where individual sub-regional ones have failed. To the contrary, the consolidation of the three trading blocs will build on previous trade gains and will result in the whole being larger than the sum of its parts. Continue reading

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Democracy and the Necessity of Drones?

by John Kaag, Scott Pratt, and Sujata K. Bhatia

Earlier this month, Firmin Debrabander argued in the New York Times that drone warfare creates a democratic disconnect between the American public and its leaders.  This disconnect, for Debrabander, is grounds to question current drone policies.  This is not a new thesis.  Many scholars have expressed this concern since 2009.  Drones permit us to lose track of our leaders’ military decisions.  When no one we know risks life or limb in an international conflict we tend not to care so much.

But a worry lingers in the back of our minds: perhaps, far from causing a disconnect, instead there might be a necessary connection between modern democracies and drone warfare. Continue reading

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What Does It Mean to Be an Engineer?

by Sujata K. Bhatia

Congratulations, engineering graduates! By completing this degree, you are becoming part of a very special group: you are becoming engineers. I want to share my own path to engineering; discuss what makes engineering a unique and noble profession; explain your roles and responsibilities as an engineer in our society; and give you some advice for success based on my own experiences. Continue reading

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Engaging Global Diaspora Communities for International Development

by Sujata K. Bhatia

Diasporas are communities of individuals who share a common heritage, yet are spread throughout the globe.  For instance, I am a member of the Indian diaspora, though I was born and raised in the United States.  My distinguished colleague Calestous Juma is a member of the Kenyan diaspora.  Such diasporas can play a powerful and influential role in international development, because the individuals in such diasporas share special knowledge and relationships within their diaspora communities.  Moreover, diasporans act as informal ambassadors for the United States in their countries of origin.  According to the United States Department of State, the United States is home to the largest number of global diaspora members of any country worldwide.  Continue reading

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Protecting US Critical Infrastructure: One Step Forward for Cybersecurity, One Back?

by Ryan Ellis

Ryan Ellis

Industrial control systems might be the most important technology that you have never heard of. They’re computer systems used to monitor and control a range of physical processes within critical infrastructures, such as opening valves or closing circuit breakers. It is no exaggeration to say that industrial control systems are essential to modern life: they help keep our lights on, our water clean, and our trains running on time.

But control systems—and the critical infrastructures within which they operate—are increasingly vulnerable to malicious cyber-intrusions. In last February’s State of the Union address, President Obama signaled the importance of protecting such infrastructures:

“We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.”

Shortly after, the President issued an Executive Order to enhance cybersecurity for US critical infrastructure. Then, in May, the Department of Homeland Security privately warned infrastructure operators that cyber-attacks were on the rise. There is no sense that these attacks have abated.

The growing awareness of the importance of protecting critical infrastructures from cyber-disruptions makes Rachel King’s July 20 report in the Wall Street Journal even more troubling. King reports that the Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control System Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) recently canceled two long-planned conferences and a number of training sessions. The cancellations are likely an effect of sequestration—no funds. Continue reading

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Preparing Youth to Solve Global Grand Challenges

by Calestous Juma

In a bold move, the UK Government has announced the creation of a £1 million prize for a new “grand innovation challenge.”  According to Prime Minister David Cameron, the award would go to the next “penicillin” or a plane that could fly carbon-neutral across the Atlantic.

This effort will complement the £1 million Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. The inaugural prize will be awarded to the inventors of the Internet and World Wide Web in London on June 25, 2013.

The prize will not only recognize those who come up with outstanding ideas, but it will also serve as source of inspiration for young people. Getting the youth to focus their creative energies on solving the world’s pressing challenges needs to start early, especially in high schools. Continue reading

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Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering in Africa


by Sujata K. Bhatia

The global community is increasingly facing critical challenges in healthcare, energy, sustainability, and agriculture.  These issues are technologically complex, requiring scientific literacy among politicians, policymakers, and populations in both developed and developing nations.  Moreover, these issues demand innovative discoveries, requiring well-trained engineers to both invent creative and cost-effective solutions as well as inform decisionmakers on relevant technical considerations.

In order for solutions to global grand challenges to be practical and lasting, the innovative process leading to these solutions must be inclusive.  The voices of scientists and engineers from all nations must be incorporated into inclusive innovation, and the approaches of scientists and engineers from diverse social and cultural backgrounds must be incorporated into engineering inventions.  For instance, scientists and engineers from low and middle income countries have the best insights into the needs of these countries, and they can often develop the most elegant designs.

Worldwide, PhD-level scientists and engineers play a crucial role in fostering a climate of inclusive innovation.  Doctoral training imparts a student with in-depth knowledge in a particular field of science or engineering. PhD students learn to identify problems and work independently to derive solutions to those problems.  A PhD empowers an individual to solve open-ended problems, and enables the trainee to write technical papers and teach undergraduate students, both of which are critical for knowledge generation and knowledge transfer.

Within each nation, PhD-trained scientists and engineers run research groups and teach classes at universities; start companies and develop new products in the private sector; and provide expertise for government officials in the public sector.

A cadre of highly trained, PhD-educated scientists and engineers is therefore necessary for each nation, not only to generate innovative discoveries and to train the next generation of scientist and engineers, but also to train the next generation of congressmen and cabinet ministers, and thereby guarantee scientific literacy among world leaders and throughout the world.

The African continent is currently coping with a massive shortage of highly trained scientists and engineers…  Continue reading

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