Pakistan-US science cooperation renewed

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ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan and the United States have renewed science collaboration in a range of sectors like agriculture, university education, water and renewable energy.

US envoy in Pakistan, Richard Hoagland, announced a grant of US$ 4 million this month (5 September) in Islamabad for the fifth phase of the Pakistan-US bilateral science cooperation programme.

Pakistan has pledged US$ 2.116 million for the programme covering agriculture, livestock, food security, health, education, water, renewable energy, telemedicine, wastewater and sewage treatment sectors.

The programme will focus on improved management, governance and capacity building in research in 2,000 colleges in Pakistani universities; and networking inter-college and inter-university research, Hoagland said.

'The overall goal of the new grant is to improve living standards of Pakistani people through extensive research and development in these sectors, which are central to socio-economic uplift of the country,' Hoagland told SciDev.Net.

Sohail Naqvi, executive director of Pakistan's Higher Education Commission that oversees university education and research, explained to SciDev.Net that 70 joint projects were initiated over the first four phases. These covered telemedicine, sewage treatment and solar energy.

'More importantly, US-Pakistan joint research and development and science and technology have significantly boosted the research culture in different education institutions in Pakistan, and helped capacity building in research and science and technology in higher education institutions,' Naqvi said.

Pakistan ‘s ministry of science and technology (MOST) and the US government signed an agreement in 2003 to set up a framework for cooperation in science and technology. In 2005, USAID and Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission (HEC) joined hands with MOST in boosting science cooperation.

The previous four phases ran for a year each, in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, visiting professor at the school of engineering at Lahore University of Management Sciences, observed that Pakistan government has not been able to adequately fund research in science and technology and that 'progress in research activities in the country, at any level, is at lowest ebb.'

A major chunk of the education budget goes to administrative expenditures, leaving little for university research, Hoodbhoy told SciDev.Net.

US funding for joint research programmes has improved the research capacity of the educational institutions and promoted science and technology in Pakistan, Hoodbhoy said.

US researchers have, for example, been helping Pakistan combat the cotton leaf curl virus that has, since 1993, been affecting the country’s textile exports.

The virus was responsible for a decline in Pakistan's cotton exports from US$ 13.78 billion during July 2010–June 2011 to US$ 12.35 billion during July 2011–June 2012.

Virus-resistant cotton hybrids developed by US and Pakistani scientists are giving 'satisfactory results' in parts of Punjab and Sindh provinces, Safdar Ali, scientist at the department of plant pathology, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, told SciDev.Net.

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