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MALI: Technology Transfer So Slow "We’ll Have to Copy Like China"

Isolda Agazzi

BAMAKO, Sep 15 2009 (IPS) - Cars and motorcycles are stuck because of the heavy rains that have drenched Mali’s capital for the past few days. It is late afternoon and the water, mud and damaged fruit from nearby stalls make the journey for those heading home to celebrate Ramadan even more treacherous.

These sudden floods are a direct consequence of climate change that is causing extreme changes of weather with shorter and more abrupt rainy seasons alternating with drought and desertification. "Since the beginning of the 1970s, Mali has experienced a 20 percent decrease in rainfall and a 50 percent decrease in the rate of flow of the largest rivers," describes Sidi Konate.

He is an engineer who works at the technical permanent secretariat (TPS) of the ministry of environment, which is in charge of implementing the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Kyoto Protocol forms part of this convention.

Konate was participating in a panel organised this past weekend by the Media 21 Global Journalism Network in Bamako. The network is a Geneva-based initiative that a team of journalists launched to improve the media coverage of key issues such as climate change.

In order to help developing countries adapt to a phenomenon they have not contributed to but which they suffer the consequences of, the Kyoto Protocol foresees a transfer by Northern countries of environmentally friendly technologies to help poor countries develop and industrialise but still pollute less.

"But up to now we have not received anything!" exclaims Konate. "Technology is not something you can transfer — mainly because of intellectual property rights. You have to copy it, like the Chinese! The convention has not found any satisfying mechanism and the Copenhagen conference will not find it either."

The UN’s climate change conference in Copenhagen in December this year will follow up on the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2012. The protocol commits developed countries to reduce their greenhouse emissions between 2008 and 2012 to five percent below that of 1990 levels.

Experts and non-governmental organisations are calling on them to commit to at least a 20 percent reduction but industrialised countries also want emerging economies — like China and India that are major polluters — to make binding commitments. The latter are reluctant because of the implications for growth.

Mali, which is in West Africa, is "a hot and dry country," continues Mamadou Gakou, director of the TPS. "We have sun and wind and therefore need the technologies to transform them into solar energy and wind power. And we also need technologies for irrigation."

The problem is, argues the Geneva-based Agency for Trade Information and Cooperation (AITIC), that "in the normal course of events governments themselves cannot secure technology transfer. Transfer occurs when private concerns have an interest or an incentive.

"Naturally, the transfer can not only occur with the construction or importation of climate-friendly goods and facilities, but also through the exchange of know-how and project-management experience in the direction of developing countries", continues AITIC, which is an intergovernmental organisation that assists poor countries with capacity-building to spur "trade-led growth".

Some interesting environmentally friendly technologies already exist in Mali but these are not the result of technology transfer. The government has often had to make full payment for them.

The "cloud-seeding program" is one such project. It is managed with the help of the U.S.-based Weather Modification Corporation.

"During the rainy season, when we see a promising cloud, we send a plane to inject salt to cause condensation," explains Daouda Zan Diarra, an engineer at Meteo Mali. "Half an hour later, it rains precisely where we want it to. If it has not rained for 10 days in a region, then we send the plane."

The project – which is also being carried out in Senegal and Burkina Faso – has been entirely funded by the Malian government. It spent 13 million dollars to buy two planes and radar equipment from the Weather Modification Company that runs the operations in cooperation with the Malian Air force. The engineer adds that rainfall has increased by 15 percent on average and the production of millet, rice, sorghum and peanuts by 50 percent.

Meteo Mali runs two different weather forecasts on Malian television: one for natural rainfall and one for seeded rainfall.

Near Bamako, Coca-Cola has built — in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) — the only water treatment plant in the country. It treats the wastewater of the Bramali factory – a producer of beer and soft drinks under Coca-Cola licence, among others.

The process is entirely organic – bacteria consume the waste – and the water is sent back into the Niger River. The project’s cost has been 2,2 million dollars so far.

But elsewhere there is no water treatment, not even for Bamako’s sewer which flows directly into the Niger River. With private companies seemingly disinterested, the Malian government is building a water treatment plant in the new industrial section of the city.

Germany has been Mali’s most important partner in the field of environment. "Up to a short while ago, donors were not very aware of climate change," argues Michaëla Braum of GTZ, the German technical cooperation agency.

"We have helped African countries in their fight against desertification but today we are trying to pursue climate change concerns across all our projects. The process is still new but the Copenhagen conference can give it new impetus."

Gakou points out that, "one of the biggest problems is how to mobilise funds that are already there". The Global Environment Fund contains million of dollars that have not been mobilised yet". For example, one of the most important private equity initiatives investing in the environment is the Global Environment Fund.

The road to Copenhagen is still steep. The UN’s Bali Action Plan, adopted in 2007 to chart a course for new talks on climate change, calls for "enhanced action" on technology transfer, including financing and cooperation on research and development. It still needs to be seen whether Copenhagen will kickstart this "enhanced action".

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