South African and Malagasy research institutions sign agreement

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Two of the world’s most biodiverse regions, South Africa and Madagascar, will work together in the fields of indigenous knowledge systems, the characterisation and high throughput screening of endemic flora, biodiversity agroprocessing and product innovations, and building biomanufacturing capability, among others.

The countries share a common in interest in indigenous knowledge systems as the local communities, rely on tradition medicines.

In Madagascar, traditional medicines are used as a first line of treatment by over 80% of the population, local populations are more likely to accept phytomedicines that are inexpensive, non-invasive, less likely to cause side effects, and already trusted in a low-resource setting.

South Africa has enacted the Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Act, of which the Department of Science and Innovation is the custodian. The act recognizes that indigenous knowledge is a national asset and that it is therefore in the national interest to protect and promote indigenous knowledge through law.

On 7 February 2023, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), an entity of the DSI signed a memorandum of understanding with Madagascar's Institute of Applied Research (IMRA) to facilitate collaboration on research and development.

The CSIR hosted its IMRA counterparts on a tour of its advanced agriculture and food facilities, life and health sciences laboratories, Biomanufacturing Industry Development Centre and nano-encapsulation facility.

The CSIR’s focus is on optimising South Africa’s biodiversity by formulating high-value products (food, cosmetics, nutraceuticals and African traditional medicines) based on indigenous plants. Developing nutrient-rich, ready-to-eat foods, enriched with plant or insect-based proteins; and reducing post-harvest losses through processing and developing green solutions for post-harvest management.

Dr Rachel Chikwamba, speaking on behalf of the CSIR's CEO, highlighted the emphasis the South African Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Decadal Plan put on the use of STI for socio-economic development and improving service delivery.

"We struggle a lot, like many other countries on the continent, with issues of poverty, unemployment and inequality, but we believe that innovation is the path to success," said Dr Chikwamba.  "Collaboration is at the heart of our strategy."

Much of IMRA's success stems from embracing Malagasy traditions and cultural norms and the and the institute’s focus has been to strengthen collaboration between modern physicians and traditional healers.

The IMRA is a leading research and development institution focusing on phytochemistry, parasitology, cellular pharmacology, experimental diabetes treatment, pharmacodynamics, toxicology and the chemical analysis of essential oils. Much of its success stems from respecting and using Madagascar's traditions and cultural norms.

The IMRA's Director-General, Dr Charles Andrianjara, says the goal of the institute is to grow the economy and improve quality of life in Madagascar, while preserving the environment to ensure sustainable development in the long term.

Since its inception, it has worked to strengthen collaboration between modern physicians and traditional healers.  In medically pluralistic societies such as Madagascar, where traditional medicines are used as the first line of treatment by over 80% of the population, local populations are more likely to accept phytomedicines that are inexpensive, non-invasive and already trusted in a low-resource setting.

The IMRA has been involved in national public healthcare programmes, and many of the health products it has developed by combining traditional medicine and modern science are used in hospitals and sold in pharmacies.  The institute has also collaborated for years with Madagascar's Ministry of Public Health in a national programme to combat sickle cell disease, which is endemic in Madagascar.

In support of the development of the agroecology sector, a biological product with antifungal properties has been developed and provided to farmers planting potatoes in the central region of Vakinankaratra.

Prof. Andrianjara said he was grateful for the collaboration, which he expected to be a success because of the good relations between the partners.

This article was first published on 2 March by South African Department of Science and Innovation.

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