From 20-24 November 2023, representatives of the ICGEB and AICS (Italian Agency for Development Cooperation) visited Ethiopia to monitor ongoing project activities and promote upcoming opportunities for Ethiopian researchers.
Dr. Kassahun Tesfaye, BETIn Director General, who is also the incoming Vice-President of the ICGEB Board of Governors, warmly welcomed Dr. Vittorio Venturi, ICGEB Scientific Coordinator, Ms. Simona Russo, Knowledge Transfer Manager at the ICGEB, Ms. Elisa Masi, Project Officer at AICS Italy, and Ms. Chiara Carmignani, Program Coordinator for Education, TVET, Job Creation, and Employment at AICS Ethiopia. The Delegation had the opportunity to learn more about BETIn staff, laboratories and research products.
Ethiopia has been an ICGEB member since 2019, and the BIOTECHNET project has enabled further enhancement of Biotechnology know-how in the Horn of Africa, as explained by Dr. Tesfaye in this recent video:
Focusing on BIOTECHNET Beneficiaries
Dr. Molalegne Bitew introduced BETIn activities and laboratories as well as ongoing collaborations with the ICGEB, including his research project that commenced in April 2022 on SARS-CoV-2, and supported by BIOTECHNET to the value of 48,000 Euro.
“Thanks to BIOTECHNET grant, we are now set to build our local sequencing and diagnostic system, further develop our research line on Sars-Cov-2 and train researchers to transfer technical knowledge”Dr. Molalegne Bitew
On November 21, a focus group was held with Ethiopian fellows who have completed their training period at the ICGEB laboratories, as well as with local senior researchers who have been awarded a research grant or have benefitted from financial support to attend international scientific meetings within BIOTECHNET project. A common message was the opportunity to gain knowledge, learn advanced molecular techniques including practical skills and hands-on training, access state-of-the art facilities, receive international exposure and expand the scientific network.
On the same day, a workshop was held at BETIn to give an overview of BIOTECHNET results achieved so far and to promote opportunities for Ethiopian and Djiboutian nationals. In particular, Dr. Venturi explained the procedure to apply for ICGEB calls, providing suggestions and input for the audience (over 30 participants from different Ethiopian institutions) about the upcoming CRP Research Grant call (closing date: 30 April 2024).
Women researchers were encouraged to apply more to these calls, as well as Early Career researchers who wish to come back to Ethiopia after a period abroad (or those who have recently returned within the last two years) and need support to establish or upgrade their own research lab.
Enhancing collaboration with Ethiopian Research Institutes
Several local institutions were also visited during the week, to discuss local needs and promote stronger relationships with the Ethiopian scientific community, and broaden outreach on opportunities within ICGEB for Fellowships, Research Grants and Meetings & Courses. Among these were the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), the University of Addis Ababa, Faculty of Science, and the Armauer Hansen Research Institute (AHRI).
On November 23, the BIOTECHNET delegation went to Arba Minch University to view the facilities and talk with researchers and students. With the warm welcome of the Dr. Tewodros Birhanu, Dean, College of Natural and Computational Sciences, and Ass. Prof. Behailu Merdekios, Vice President for Research and Community Engagement, it was a great opportunity to see how collaboration with international partners on priority research areas is key to develop new technologies to the benefit of the local community.
The case of Enset was presented by Dr. Addisu Fekadu Andeta and his team, who has investigated and optimised the fermentation process of such an important food security crop for over 20 million Ethiopian people. Dr. Andeta received an ICGEB CRP Grant in 2021.
“The enrichment of starting culture which accelerates the process of enset fermentation and improves product quality is a significant research result, aligned to the needs of the community and helping commercialisation of enset in local and international markets. ICGEB is happy to further solidify the established partnership in funding research initiatives and capacity building”Dr. Vittorio Venturi
BIOTECHNET: Results and next steps
In Addis Ababa, the ICGEB Delegation also met with Ms. Isabella Lucaferri, Director of the local AICS Office, and with the Consul Arianna Catalano, Embassy of Italy to Ethiopia, to discuss the results achieved by BIOTECHNET project so far.
Launched in November 2021, the project “BIOTECHNET – Enhancing biotechnology know-how in the Horn of Africa” is funded by the AICS (AID n. 12098) and implemented by the ICGEB in collaboration with the Ethiopian Bio and Emerging Technology Institute (BETIn) and the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherche de Djibouti (CERD). As of today, the project has awarded 3 research grants in the biomedical field, 2 grants for a virtual training facility, 9 fellowships for PhD studies to 5 Ethiopian and 4 Djiboutian students, and 9 for short-term trainings to Ethiopian researchers (pre-doc and postdoctoral level). Many capacity building activities have been organised, including 2 workshops on Bioinformatics and Biostatistics topics (one in each country) and online seminars on complementary and soft skills with around 300 participants. Finally, support was given for the organisation of 2 specialised courses as well as 4 travel grants for attending international meetings. Additional fellowships and CRP grants are to be awarded by end of 2023 and October 2024.