Ministry, MUST to collaborate on innovation, industrialization

Ministry, MUST to collaborate on innovation, industrialization

Ministry of Industry has encouraged the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) on its industrialization drive which will, among others, see the university establish an industrial park for production of various products through value addition.

The Minister responsible, Honourable Roy Kachale, visited MUST on November 25, 2020 to appreciate activities the university was undertaking to compliment government’s efforts of turning Malawi from a net importer to one that produces and exports.

Apart from offering programmes that encourage value addition, entrepreneurship and innovation, MUST has purchased equipment for construction of the industrial park and work will commerce soon.

According to Vice Chancellor Professor Address Malata, the aim is to add value to mostly agricultural products, create jobs and improve livelihoods of both students and community members which include farmers.

“The MUST industrial park will also be working on technological innovations that come from faculty, our students, industry, secondary school students and communities and nurture them up to commercialization,” she said while asking the Ministry of Industry to support with equipment as the park stands to benefit more Malawians.

The Minister also listened to a presentation by Head of the MUST Institute of Industrial Research and Innovation (MIIRI) Dr David Mkwambisi.

The MIIRI head said they are operating under the umbrella of MUST Innovations Programme which has four pillars as follows: innovation garage, innovative growth industries, junior talent and community innovations.

“MIIRI is focusing on harnessing ideas from sectors such as the industry, academia, communities and secondary schools through collaborations so that most of the innovative ideas coming from these have a platform where they can develop further and benefit from science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Dr Mkwambisi.

“Our interest is to see our innovations succeed up to commercialization and provide solutions to some of the national problems but at a profit to the innovators. Currently, most innovative ideas die in their infant stages due to lack of support and resources and innovation management functions.”

He said the MIIRI is also seeking collaboration with the  government and other partners  to publish the 2021 State of the Industry and Outlook report as well as the Malawi Innovation Strategy that will complement the National Transformation 2063 agenda. Dr Mkwambisi indicated that  currently no-one knows how our industries are operating, opportunities available and challenges.

MIIRI expects the report to be ready by next year but appealed to Honourable Kachale for his ministry’s support and collaboration if this was to work.

“We are also planning to do a national digital skills gap analysis, which will establish the levels of digital skills for industrial development. In today’s world, digital technology is driving the industry and if our skills in that areas are wanting, there is no way we can expect any serious development,” added Dr Mkwambisi.

In his remarks, the minister said he was impressed by what MUST was doing, saying some of things mentioned were also on the ministry’s plans and as such, there was indeed need for the two to work closely together.

“It is like you knew what we were planning. This means we need not duplicate our efforts but harness them and work together. I like the idea of the industrial park because the national economic development plan emphasizes skills development and the park will help both faculty, students and community members to gain such skills,” said Honourable Kachale.

He said as a nation, Malawi has failed to develop because she thinks her people lack knowledge in relevant areas yet the knowledge is there only that we fail to add a scientific and innovative context to it.

“Even the programmes you have here are really promoting industrialization. Talk of Manufacturing Engineering, Textile Engineering, and many more others. Apart from this, I am also impressed with the projects to promote innovations,” said Honourable Kachale.

“I have to admit that our response as a nation to innovations have been discouraging. In some cases, instead of encouraging innovators, we arrest them as was the case with that boy who made a radio station. What was required was to look at the innovation and see how best it can be promoted and on the legal issues, advise the boy on what needs to be done and not arresting him.”

The minister said that everyone was complaining about high imports into Malawi but any effort to address this is bound to fail if we do not find substitutes to the imports.

“The imports are coming to fill a gap and only if we build our industry and start to produce some of the things locally, imports will be hard to stop because there will always be that gap. As government we are planning to introduce innovations awards so that we encourage a spirit of innovativeness among our people at all levels. And to have an institution like MUST championing the same really compliments our efforts,” he said, adding that as government, they were willing to support any initiatives that promote collaboration between industry and higher education institutions.

He said his ministry was planning to establish cooperatives around Tsangano and Lizulu and give them equipment to add value to the many vegetables that go to waste due to lack of adequate market.

“With your plans, we need to see how best we can work together on this project. I would thus suggest that we arrange for a meeting between the ministry and MUST to see how best we can consolidate our plans on innovations and industrialization of Malawi,” said Honourable Kachale.

Executive Dean of the Bingu School of Culture and Heritage, Dr Robert Chanunkha also shared what they are doing on ceramics.

“We are into ceramic production of various products and soon we want Malawians to stop importing these products and get them from MUST, including tiles. We are also into music equipment production and although we are starting small, we want to soon meet all local demand for guitars and keyboards,” he said.

The minister’s visit challenged MUST to do more on innovations and close the gap between industry and academics, according to Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Jonathan Makuwira.

The minister, among others, toured the various innovative projects at MUST such as ceramics factory and the innovation design studio.