Universities join hands to create Biodiversity for Malawi 2063 research plans

National Planning Commission (NPC) Director General Dr. Thomas Munthali has applauded Malawi universities for joining hands to organise a research dissemination conference that will create Biodiversity for Malawi 2063 research plans.

Munthali was guest of honour at the opening of the conference on Tuesday at Nalipiri EcoResort in Mulanje, whose sub-themes are Water Resource Management; Natural Products & Health; and Machine Learning for Diversity.

Munthali being briefed of research displays being done

The conference has been jointly organised by Malawi University of Science & Technology (MUST); Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS; Malawi University of Business & Applied Sciences (MUBAS) in collaboration with Future Africa Institute; University of Pretoria and Carnegie Corporation of New York, USA.

The conference’s three primary objectives include creating trans-disciplinary research among early careers through sharing of new research findings to inform policy and best practices.

The second objectives is to enhance collaboration among researchers, academia, government and industry in order to create sustainable research programmes in synergy with other health and water development sectors.

The third is to highlight the technological application, experiences and solutions for health, artificial intelligence and machine learning and water resources management for improved livelihoods.

Attending the conference are experts, scholars and early career researchers from various areas of specialization such as water quality management; natural products; medicinal chemistry; biodiversity and ecology.

Others are from artificial intelligence and machine learnings; environmental researchers as well as practitioners from academia, government, trade and industry.

In his keynote address, Munthali implored on Malawian researchers to design projects that are in line with MW2063, whose vision statement is ‘Inclusive Wealth Creation and Self Reliance’.

He impressed on the participants that it was very pleasing that the top brains of the country are driving in the same direction as that of NPC’s vision.

“Collaboration is key to any development and the topics to be covered at this conference reflect into the future in as far as biodiversity is concerned.”

Munthali asked the participants and other researchers out there that their projects shouldn’t just be done for academic purposes and shelved but they should always think how the research will help the country to create wealth and self reliance as in MW2063.

“When you think in this way, stakeholders — such as the Ministry of Finance — can be cajoled to finance such projects as they will be impressed that it is good for the nation.”

He added that the formulation of the first 10-year implementation plan to actualize the MW2063 will soon be rolled out.

In his remarks, KUHeS acting Principal, Prof. MacPherson Mallewa said the country has the capacity and technical know-how to use the ecosystem for various wonderful innovations that can be robustly packaged for protection of intellectual property.

He gave an example of traditional healers who use plants and herbs to create medicine yet they are not regulated or that their natural intellectual property is protected.

He added that researchers can work in collaboration with such traditional healers using the plants and herbs they use.

The idea for the conference was mooted by Future Africa’s Early Career Research Leader Fellowship programme, which sought to offer opportunities for the development of research leaders that should fill a critical gap in the African research capacity ecosystem.

Through a two-year postdoctoral study, fellows from different countries undertook research to address Africa’s most urgent challenges and opportunities to develop a sustainable and inclusive bio-research-based economy.

This led to organising the conference in Malawi to engage various stakeholders through a series of plenary speeches, oral and poster presentations, practical demonstrations, discussion and networking events to help the participants make new connections.

Considering the prevalent CoVID-19 pandemic, the conference is on a hybrid mode of virtual and onsite presentations being offered by a host of experts.

The speakers are Prince Mleta, Deputy Director in the Department of Water Resources; Dr. Emmanuel Vellemu, who has vast experience in water quality monitoring and assessment studies with focus on experimental ecoxicology and bio monitoring of River health ecosystems.

Vellemu is currently using drone technology to map various ecological systems and assists small-scale farmers in Malawi to estimate crop yields, monitor crop health and seed germination so they can make decisions that would transform their livelihoods.

Other speakers are Kumbukani Nyirenda, senior lecturer in pharmaceutical chemistry at KUHeS — whose fields of expertise include food chemistry, natural products, medicinal chemistry, nanomaterials and chemical characterization.

Mphatso Kalemba is a Principal Environmental Officer responsible for biodiversity conservation at Environmental Affairs Department while Fanuel Lampiao is a Professor of Reproductive Physiolgy at KUHeS with topic ‘Herbs and male reproductive health.

Macleod Nkhoma is the Executive Director of Centre for Agriculture Transformation programme in Lilongwe, who has spent his life using personal and career experiences to help organisations turn-around to profitability that help subordinates develop into reliable and ethical career managers.

Dr. Amelia Taylor is a lecturer at MUBAS teaching artificial intelligence and programming, who is doing research in natural language processing, digitalization and eHealth.

She recently developed a Chichewa news database which was used in one of the two Zindi.africa competitions focused on Malawi.

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