Building research infrastructures is key to developing South Sudan’s fisheries sector
s an instrument for the advancement of knowledge and technology, building research infrastructures provides opportunities to address challenging issues of our time and plays an influential role in attracting young researchers to science and professional careers. Research infrastructures – the facilities, resources and services used by researchers to conduct quality research – also link research communities and disciplines within and outside a country.
South Sudan is blessed with rich fisheries resources coming from the Nile River and its tributaries, the Sudd swamp, lakes and streams. The Nile River that flows through the centre of the capital city Juba and the Sudd swamp between Malakal and Bor are the two major sources of fish supply to the local markets in rural areas and urban cities. If rationally used, these water bodies are potential economic pillars that can address the ever rising demand for fish as food, provide employment for youth or marginalised groups, and contribute to local and national economic growth.
Given the potential of fisheries resources to improve food security and income-generating activity in South Sudan, it is unfortunate that this sector is facing setbacks due to lack of appropriate research infrastructures.
The need to rebuild
The University of Juba was established to build capacities on the rational use of fisheries resources as a source of livelihood and socio-economic development. However, its department of fisheries, as well as other universities or research institutions, have limited capacity to generate quality research outputs/outcomes. Rebuilding fisheries and aquaculture research infrastructures or strengthening the existing facilities will establish a strong starting point for accelerated development of the fisheries sector in South Sudan.
Fisheries and aquaculture research facilities that were established in the University of Juba between the 1970s and 1980s are no longer in good shape. For instance, the demonstration fish ponds in the department of fisheries were damaged during the two decades of the liberation struggle and never repaired. Reconstructing these ponds, and building laboratories, will enable the university to improve its research output regionally and globally.
The use of these facilities could be extended to other researchers or scientists in sister departments within and beyond the University of Juba, enabling collaborative research projects. Building better relationships between researchers is one of the benefits of establishing and strengthening appropriate research infrastructures in South Sudan and other under-privileged developing countries.
Inadequate research infrastructures not only affect research productivity but also impact on collaborations and cooperation between scientific communities in Africa and those outside the continent. This could be one of the reasons why the aquaculture industry is growing slowly in sub-Saharan Africa. Besides infrastructure, several constraints such as lack of funding, lack of skilled and extension specialists, lack of environmental impact considerations and insecurity among others have been documented as impediments to the development of the fisheries sector in South Sudan and some developing countries. Yet, there are no profound improvements in the sector.
As an essential source of food and livelihood opportunities, fisheries resource is in the government’s National Priority Programs for economic development. The potential contribution of fisheries resources to improve individuals’ living conditions and the national economy has been captured in the South Sudan Vision 2040 blueprint and the recently approved Comprehensive Agriculture Master Plan (CAMP).
Strengthening research outputs/outcomes requires collaboration with local and international partners. This can be achieved through formal or informal arrangements aimed at empowering learning networks and coalitions that may boost fisheries production and the value chain approach. For example, partnerships between the European Union (France, UK, Greece and Belgium) and Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Egypt) have facilitated the sharing of research resources such as botanical gardens and drought monitoring facilities. Such collaboration helps researchers and scientists explore weather conditions, plant or animal species that are different from their own, and offers them mobility opportunities.
Partnerships that bring governments, the private sector and international communities together can unleash the potential of fisheries resources to fight hunger, malnutrition and improve food security, as well as be a source of income-generation for unemployed youth and marginalised groups. Partnerships that can potentially identify gaps and opportunities to increase investment in fisheries and aquaculture are particularly important in order to revamp the development of the sector in South Sudan. Such partnerships should also provide capacity building opportunities for young and emerging researchers (YER) to help them produce quality research outputs/outcomes locally and globally.
ChallengesSouth Sudan, which has been mired in conflict for more than 20 years, faces the challenge of limited research outputs/outcomes due to lack of appropriate infrastructures and funding. The potential of its fisheries resources, if supported by appropriate infrastructures and availed grants, can scale up nutrition and income through quality research outputs/outcomes. Grant opportunities from development partners, if considered and made available, may complement a funding scarcity that’s already affecting the development of fisheries and aquaculture research infrastructures. Examples can be drawn from the recent grant that was awarded to build an aquaculture industry in Malawi through a partnership with universities in the United States of America.
To ensure sustainable research and development, African researchers require long-term funding from national research grants. These have already been set up in countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Namibia and Ghana to revitalise local research but they will need additional support, such as from international donors, to remain reliable. Funding reliability is often influenced by a strong developmental commitment from local or national agencies to build and maintain partnerships with international funders to develop research infrastructures.
The Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) is an excellent example of a coalition working to bolster development in Africa through funding and trainings to help African researchers contribute to tackling the continent’s developmental challenges. DELTAS Africa and Grant Challenges are other well-known programmes established to support researchers working on challenging health and other developmental problems, with the aim of building scientific capacity in Africa.
Because building research infrastructures can also result in social and economic benefits for South Sudan, it should receive equal attention alongside other developmental needs and potential areas for investment. There is no doubt that research contributions will help unleash the potential of fisheries resources to improve food security and support the national economy in South Sudan. Such an initiative can ignite advancement in research and development, drive policy and institutional reforms, and build more linkages between the University of Juba and other local or international institutions working in the area of fisheries and aquaculture. It may also attract South Sudanese who had the opportunity to study abroad in the area of fisheries and/or aquaculture and those in the diaspora to come home and join hands to increase research contributions to development.
(Main image: A fisherman from the Shuluk tribe retrieves his net from his handmade boat on the Nile in the capital of South Sudan's Upper Nile State Malakal. Malakal and its harbour is a commercial hub where food arrives from Juba and supplies the whole state. – Camille Lepage/AFP/Getty)