Conference Founded by Alvaro Sobrinho Features Heavyweights of African Science and Policy

The Planet Earth Institutes’ yearly ScienceAfrica UnConference will take place next week, featuring some of the most prominent African scientists and policymakers, along with leading voices from Africa’s business community.

African businessman and philanthropist, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, oversaw the development of the conference from its nascent beginnings to the high-profile event it is today. As Chairman and founder of the Planet Earth Institute, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho played a key role creating and designing the format of the conference and in attracting the high-level speakers that have attended.

This year the conference focuses on how to promote, foster and grow Africa’s capacity for making contributions to science in key areas, including agriculture, water, energy and health care. The organisers are asking attendees to “help to promote the successes, showcase great ideas, address challenges and galvanise support for the continent’s science and technology pioneers.”

Over 250 people are expected to attend alongside the high-profile speakers and workshop hosts. This year’s conference features a wide variety of speakers from the scientific community, each at the top of their field. This includes Professor Kelly Chibale, Professor of Organic Chemistry at Cape Town University, Professor Maggy Momba from the Department of Environmental, Water and Earth Sciences at Tshwane University of Technology and Dr. Joe DeVries, Vice President of Innovation and Development at the Alliance for a Green Revolution.

Alongside the scientific contributions key people from business and policy circles will also share their thoughts. These include Maya Kulycky from IBM Research-Africa, Noah Samara, Chairman of recently launched education company Yamzi, Blade Nzimande, Minster of Education, South Africa, and Ibrahim Mohammed Awal, Minister of Business Development, Ghana.

The high-profile guests will deliver speeches and presentations, as well as engage in the workshops and discussions throughout the day. To learn from their experience and expertise register for the ScienceAfrica UnConference today and support the work of Dr Alvaro Sobrinho and the Planet Earth Institute though your participation.

Álvaro Sobrinho Turns Attention to Transport

Writing for the Huffington Post, Dr Álvaro Sobrinho has stated the case for private sector intervention in Africa’s ailing urban transport systems: “Private sector companies can be vital partners to African urban centres by providing financing to expand and develop low-carbon transport options,” wrote the Angolan-born investment banker and philanthropist.

Using OECD data, Dr Sobrinho points out the damage being done by air pollution in Africa, where more than 700,000 people die from air pollution each year. Traffic, power generation and industry are the three primary causes of air pollution and Africa has yet to take decisive action to curb emissions.

Given Africa’s fast rising urban population – the Brookings Institute estimates 1.2 billion Africans will live in cities by 2050, up from 400 million today – it is vital that urban transportation is improved. The World Bank believes “quality and cost-efficient transportation is one of the main challenges facing the continent’s urban centres”. The existing systems, claims Dr Sobrinho, are inefficient and too expensive for most residents.

Most African cities rely on minibus services, taxis and private vehicles. These options are neither scalable nor affordable, says Dr Sobrinho. The result is that most citizens journey by foot to their destination, a reality that is limiting their capacity to find work and be competitive. On top of this, these systems emit excessive amounts of greenhouse gases and cause immediate air pollution.

In order to redesign and rebuild Africa’s urban transport infrastructure, Dr Álvaro Sobrinho recommends turning to private sector companies, who have the financial means, technological capacity and initiative to make positive changes. He advocates the use of Green Bonds to raise capital and argues for improved STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in order to provide the skilled workforce need to build a modern transport system.

Planet Earth Institute Shines the Spotlight on Health

After a successful initial event focused on agriculture, the Planet Earth Institute Spotlight Series is back, this time with a focus on health. Titled “The Future of Public Health in Africa” the second edition of the Spotlight series will attempt to tackle one of Africa’s most pressing and most saddening development issues.

The dire situation of health care in Africa has been highlighted by numerous health agencies and development agencies for years. Most recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation highlighted the issue by dedicated huge resources to curing some of the most destructive diseases found on the continent.

The Planet Earth Institute makes the situation clear, concluding, “Africa confronts the world’s most dramatic health crisis”. According to the institute, 24% of all disease is located in Africa. With only 16% of the worlds population, this figure indicates the excessive disease burden Africa is currently baring.

Though progress has been made in recent years, both in terms of treatment and prevention, “Africa still accounts for 90% of malaria deaths, 70% of all people living with HIV and 26% of all tuberculosis cases.” The weaknesses of the African health care system have also been exposed by the horrifying impact of virus outbreaks, such as Ebola.

On top of this, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates deaths from non-communicable diseases (diseases that cannot spread from human to human, a.k.a. non-infectious diseases) will surpass those from infectious disease by 2030. The causes of these deaths will primarily be cancer and type-2 diabetes.

In an effort to combat the situation the Planet Earth Institute will bring together the best and brightest minds from academia, business and government to discuss ways of overcoming Africa’s health challenges. The Institute will “be shining a light on those individuals, research groups, academic institutions and commercial organisations making scientific and technological advancements that are of benefit not just to Africa but to the world.

African Agriculture at a Crossroads

As philanthropist and businessman Álvaro Sobrinho turns his attention to agricultural development in Africa, the Planet Earth Institute takes a look at some of the most interesting aspects of the continents farming sector, the progress it has made and its distinguishing characteristics.

The Planet Earth Institute points out that agriculture currently accounts for 60% of the continents jobs. This figure demonstrates clearly just how important agriculture is to the stability of Africa. It also belies the huge potential locked in the sector, should it find ways to overcome social, political and ecological barriers and manage to become a technologically advanced sector.

Alongside the potential improvement introducing high-tech agricultural machinery and modern methods could bring, the continent also boasts most of the world’s uncultivated arable land. The Brookings Institute estimates sub-Saharan Africa contains 200 million hectares of unused arable land which could be used to produce nutritious food for the continent.

Analysing the potential of African agricultural development, the World Bank has suggested the sector will grow to be a 1$ trillion industry by 2030. This will be necessary if the continent is to avoid the dire situation being predicted by the African Development Bank, which has warned of a jump in the number of undernourished people in Africa over the next 8 years, from 240 million to 320 million. Using all available land and utilising the best agricultural technologies will be necessary to ameliorate the situation.

To achieve the gains in productivity needed to avoid the food security deficit, Álvaro Sobrinho has called for more public and private investment in African agriculture. He has argued for public investment in promising research initiatives and for new financial mechanisms to be made available to farmers who need capital to bridge gaps in revenue flows and to expand their operations.

The views of Álvaro Sobrinho correlate with those of the Planet Earth Institute, the question remains whether governments around Africa will heed the advice.

Álvaro Sobrinho turns Attention to Agriculture

Successful international businessman Álvaro Sobrinho has this week turned his attention to the issue of agriculture in Africa, a topic that has attracted the attention of aid and development agencies for decades.

Despite the attention African agriculture is still dramatically underdeveloped, as Álvaro Sobrinho is quick to point out: “The vast majority of our [Africa’s] farmers remain mired in low value agriculture, […] with subsistence farmers comprising 80% of the continent’s producers”.

This, argues Sorbinho, is a worrying reality. Especially given the alarming prediction published by the African Development Bank, suggesting some 320 million Africans will be suffering from undernourishment by 2025.

Yet the potential for African agriculture to expand and flourish is enormous. 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land exists in Africa, points out Sobrinho. The continent already boasts numerous ‘agri-preneurs’, who are busy “translating bright ideas into reality”, providing jobs, generating wealth and revolutionising Africa’s agriculture.

Unlocking Africa’s agricultural potential, argues Álvaro Sobrinho, requires greater investment in agricultural technologies. He points to Brazil, where the government funded an agricultural research institute that went on to double the Brazilian soy yield by introducing a variety of soy that could be harvested twice a year.

If Africa is to develop an efficient and profitable agricultural sector, similar initiatives are needed in Africa, claims the Angolan business magnate, which will require commitment and investment. To achieve this innovative financial mechanisms will be necessary. Again, Sobrinho points to Brazil, where the government has supported the creation of a wide-variety of financial services to support is growing agricultural sector.

Álvaro Sobrinho concludes by quoting Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, as he calls for agriculture to become a business, not a way of life.

Álvaro Sobrinho’s Charity Announces Science Conference

The Planet Earth Institute, a charity founded and supported by Angolan businessman and philanthropist Álvaro Sobrinho, has announced the return of the Science Africa UnConference in July of this year.

The annual conference promotes the achievements of African scientists and encourages participants to join the Planet Earth Institute in working towards the scientific advancement of Africa. The Institute believes science and technological innovation will be the driving force behind 21st Century African development. In particular, Álvaro Sobrinho has made clear the need for new avenues of growth, based on science and technology, in order to find meaningful employment for Africa’s burgeoning population.

The conference will include presentations from some of Africa’s leading scientist, along with development professionals, academics and business experts. Participants will be invited to take part in working groups and workshops focused on creating concrete proposals for advancing science in Africa. Last year, participants agreed to focus on creating better opportunities for women in science, thus empowering women and girls to choose careers in science.

In attendance will be the prestigious partners of the Science Africa UnConference. Among these are the United Nations, IBM, the World Bank, the British Council and many more. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which recently awarded a grant to the Planet Earth Institute, are also sponsors. During last year’s event, a representative of the charity gave a speech to the assembled audience on the Foundation’s work in promoting health care in Africa.

The Planet Earth Institute expects more than 250 people to attend. Registration is now open to those who would wish to go. The event will take place in London, UK, on the 20th July, from 9am until 5:30pm. Registration is possible via the Planet Earth Institute website.

Planet Earth Institute Announces New Board to Manage Growing Scholarship Programme

Last year the Planet Earth Institute launched the HE Ameenah Gurib-Fakim PhD Scholarship Programme after long months of planning and fund raising. The first 10 scholarship were handed out to Mauritian academics to conduct research in five key areas: water, energy, agriculture, medicine and blue sky science.

The programme came into being as the result of a joint effort between the Planet Earth Institute, its Chairman, businessman and philanthropist Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, and a group of partners that includes the World Bank. The private-public partnership that was formed has committed to funding 10,000 PhDs over the next 10 years. The funding will be given to African academics who’s research is focusing on one of the 5 main areas.

To oversee the administration and maintain high academic standards, the Planet Earth Institute has create an Academic Board. The board, which consists of 8 high-profile scientists, will ensure the PhD funding is effectively utilised and assist recipients of the funding throughout the process of completing their research.

Sir Christopher Edwards has been named Chairman of the Board, alongside such distinguished colleagues as Professor David Ingram, Professor Sir John Beddington, Professor Madeleine Atkins and Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub. Together they comprise the Academic Board and it will fall to them to ensure the smooth running of the HE Ameenah Gurib-Fakim PhD Scholarship Programme.

Upon acceptance of the position of Chairman, Sir Christopher express his gratitude to Alvaro Sobrinho, “for his ever generous support of these scholarships”, and said the board will be looking to “other African entrepreneurs and organisations working on the continent and passionate about scientific advancement to follow his example”.

The scholarships offered by the Planet Earth Institute cover all the expenses a research might incur and offer recipients the chance to undertake placements with international businesses and make use of the Institute’s own resources and outreach capacity.

Planet Earth Institute Announces Board Restructure

At the first African Breakfast Club meeting of 2017, the African NGO, the Planet Earth Institute, announced a restructuring of its board. Long-serving Chairman, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho is to step back from the position and be replaced by Lord Paul Boateng, previously British Ambassador to South Africa and a Plant Earth Institute Trustee since 2012. Sir Christopher Edwards will become the Chair of the PEI Academic Board and President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, previously the Vice-Chair of the Institute, will become the organisations Patron.

These changes come in the wake of many successes for the Planet Earth Institute, which has grown rapidly since its founding 7 years ago. Dr Alvaro Sobrinho no longer has the time, he says, “to dedicate the time that my responsibilities as Chairman demand, while simultaneously battling for the success of new ventures in Mauritius and across Africa.” While Mauritian President, Her Excellency Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, will begin to focus on the Institute’s international advocacy work, which is now supported by a generous grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In reference to President Gurib-Fakim’s altered role at the Planet Earth Institute, now Chairman, Lord Paul Boateng, said “we are also further delighted that freed from day to day governance responsibilities as Trustee and Vice Chair, Her Excellency Gurib-Fakim will be able to continue to play a leading part in the PEI’s advocacy efforts in the new role of Patron of the PEI in Mauritius.” The incoming Chairman also gave a nod to his forerunner, noting the invaluable contributions Alvaro Sobrinho made to the organisation during his 7 year tenure.

Upon accepting the newly created position of Chair of the PEI Academic Board, esteemed scientist Sir Christopher Edwards said he is “delighted to be assuming this new role”. “Academic rigour and excellence will characterise the operation of our scholarship scheme combined with a focus on developmental impact” he continued.

The changes in leadership mark a new era for the Planet Earth Institute, an organisation that has clearly reached maturity during recent years.

International Fund of Agricultural Development Hosts President Gurib-Fakim

The International Fund of Agricultural Development (IFAD), a branch of the United Nations, hosted President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius at its 40th Governing Council meeting in February. HE President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, first woman president of the island nation, is a trustee of the Planet Earth Institute, along with Dr Alvaro Sobrinho. Her Excellency used her platform at the IFAD to bring up the topic of women in development.

Women play a central role in Africa development, argued President Gurib-Fakim. Not only do they take an active role in farming and cultivation, they often possess valuable traditional knowledge form which international agencies can learn a great deal. Including women in the process of development, continued President Gurib-Fakim, can provide a perspective that only they can offer and they can “introduce us to ways of thinking and practices that are not confined by our own experiences and backgrounds”.

For African women to fully realise their potential they must be equipped with the skills and tools they need said President Gurib-Fakim. In particular, women must be given the necessary scientific knowledge and technological equipment to contribute fully to the realisation development goals. When they are given both knowledge and technology, continued Her Excellency, rural people will become “agents of their own development”.

Relating the issue to agriculture, President Gurib-Fakim drew the attention of the audience to some of the technological tools that are already improving conditions for rural communities in Africa, including an online system for small farmers to buy and sell crops and farm inputs together and an innovative insurance scheme for small-holder farmers. Innovations such as these, argued President Gurib-Fakim, can make all the difference when it comes to creating sustainable development in rural, agrarian communities.

The meeting concluded with the election of Gilbert Houngbo as the 6th President of the IFAD. The new President hopes to create “visible change” in live of Africa’s rural poor.

New Seminar Event Launched By African NGO

In an effort to alter the largely “negative” discourse surrounding the African continent, the Planet Earth Institute has launched a seminar event focusing on the positive scientific and technological advancements being made in Africa. The seminars will provide a platform for groups and individuals to showcase and discuss their innovative work and to share their expertise with the world.

The first event in the Spotlight Seminar collection will take place in March at Burlington House in London. The event will focus on African agriculture, bringing to light the numerous scientific innovations being developed in African agriculture. The seminar will include high-level presentations, panel discussions and question and answer sessions with the distinguished guests and speakers.

Agriculture, asserts the Planet Earth Institute, “is at the heart of African development”. The sector employs around 65% of the African population and accounts for more than 30% of the continents GDP. Yet African farms face many obstacles, including harsh weather conditions, particularly drought, pests, plant diseases, poor quality soils and low access to reliable markets. The institute is also critical of the government support currently being provided to African small-holder farmers.

The first ever Spotlight Seminar will focus on the efforts being made to overcome the challenges faced by African farmers. A panel discussion on the opportunities these challenges present will dominate the first half of the event, while the second half will focus on the innovative solutions already in action and those on the horizon.

The speakers include well-known academics, CEO’s, agricultural entrepreneurs and leaders of international organisations. They will offer the audience their expert opinions on the problems and opportunities facing African agriculture and highlight the impressive efforts being made to overcome and capitalise on the on the situation.

The event will take place in London on the 15th March at the Royal Society of Chemistry, located at Burlington House.