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Interview with President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim

‘We need to embrace science, technology and innovation’ What inspired you to pursue a career as an ethnobotanist? Actually, I did not intend to go into ethnobotany. I got drawn to ethnobotany while I was still following my passion for chemistry. I returned home to Mauritius with a PhD in organic chemistry and realized that I could not do organic chemistry the way I was used to so I started exploring plant chemistry and eventually discovered the beauty of ethnobotany. Ethnobotany examines the relationships between people and plants, and links culture, traditions, and the sciences. It is a short cut towards the discovery of new potential biologically active molecules from

natural sources that can be used in modern medicine, as well as in other fields. As President of Mauritius what issues are you focusing on? As President, I am limited by what the constitution allows me to do. But I think there is still a place to focus on issues that are important for the country. I am very keen to drive the science, technology, and innovation agenda, which can be transformative for any economy. After all, the difference between the North and the South is the science gap. What is the most promising research being conducted currently at CIDP, the research centre you founded?

PRESIDENT AMEENAH GURIB-FAKIM has a background in chemistry and ethnobotany. After earning her PhD in chemistry from Exeter University in the United Kingdom, she returned to her native Mauritius in 1987 as a professor at the University of Mauritius. She left the university in 2010 to open a research centre, Centre International de Développement Pharmaceutiquem (CIDP), where she served as managing director. The CIDP conducts research on the medicinal, nutritional, and cosmetic uses of plants. She was appointed to the ceremonial position of President of the Republic of Mauritius by the National Assembly, and took office on 5 June 2015.

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At CIDP, we are focused on the development of innovative ingredients for the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and nutrition sectors using plant resources. This approach is entirely new in Mauritius, where academic research has been published on the subject but never translated into a business. What are Africa’s biggest challenges in increasing research output? Africa is reported to produce only 1.1% of global research. One of the reasons for this low output has been the fact the local governments have not prioritized research and development as a prime mover of the economy. Fortunately, things are changing, and if you look at research output for the past five years, you will see that output in the health sector has increased dramatically. This can be partly attributed to the inherent disease burden in Africa. Increasingly, governments are prioritizing science, technology, engineering, and math education, and I am confident that in the next few years, this landscape will begin to change. What policies need to be put in place in order to create an autonomous and sustainable scientific research community in Africa? Research has been happening on the African continent, albeit on a smaller scale than in other regions and driven mainly by donor funding. However, some countries

Shared prosperity. Issue 20  

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