School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

UKZN Researchers Call for Africa to Invest more in Earth Sciences

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Economic Geology lecturer Dr Lauren Hoyer has been interviewed by SAFM about an article she co-wrote with two colleagues titled: Why African Countries Must Invest More in Earth Sciences.

Her co-authors were postdoctoral researcher Dr Michelle North and senior lecturer Dr Warwick Hastie.

Their article, highlighted on the online media outlet: The Conversation – Africa, was based on their journal publication: Out of Africa: The Underrepresentation of African Authors in High-Impact Geoscience Literature,featured late last year in Earth-Science Reviews.

The authors state in their article that Africa has some of the world’s richest mineral resources, such as cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and tantalum in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Mozambique. Both these minerals are essential components in modern electronics.

The continent also had the bulk of global reserves of platinum and palladium, metals vital in the rapidly evolving market for renewable energy and electric vehicles. The writers say with such resources, African researchers should be contributing significantly to the academic discipline of earth science, a contention which has been the spur for their research.

Their goal is to establish how much local knowledge and expertise within earth sciences are developed by Africans in Africa.

In their investigations they examined 182 996 articles published in high-impact international earth science journals and found that 70% of research articles that focus on some aspect of the subject within the African context do not contain a single African author. They also found that the average contribution of earth science articles in international literature by African authors has been only 2,3% since 1973 compared to a country such as United States (which has one-quarter of Africa’s population) with a contribution rate of 47%.

The results interested them in the light of the world having a huge interest in – and in some cases exploiting – Africa’s mineral wealth.

In the interview, Hoyer said not enough money was being spent on research in economic geology or across geosciences in general in Africa and that there were limited resources on offer for African researchers investigating water resources, food security, climate change, soil properties and similar topics. When money was spent it was usually by African countries with better financial resources such as South Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia.

Their research also examined the link between the amount of money spent on research and the amount of research being released and its impact which revealed that in Africa research spending had not significantly increased over the past 20 years whereas the global average had increased drastically during the same time period.

They said this indicated clear parallels between research funding input and research output, and what concerned them was that although a great deal of earth science research was being conducted in Africa, the majority of it appeared to be “parachute” science. Hoyer said “parachute” science involved international researchers, mainly from the northern hemisphere, visiting a country in Africa to conduct research, take samples and do analyses and returning to their home country where they published their research results in high impact science journals. They often did this without collaborating with African authors in the country where they did the research giving the impression that local scientists were not involved in such research.

Hoyer said their research showed geological surveys in African countries were underfunded, and had limited resources which led to their minerals being mined by international parties who had the capacity to do so.

Hoyer said if African countries wanted to build and benefit from geosciences they needed to spend more money on research and research resources, start collaborating with visiting international researchers and ensure more funding was made available for this type of research.

Links to the news article and Journal article are:

Words: Nicole Chidzawo

Photographs: Supplied