Follow up on the 2020 AFRAN Forum
The AFRAN Forum was held this year on 8 and 9 December 2020 at the University of New Caledonia in Nouméa and online, on the theme of « a strategic arena for collaboration and navigation of 21st Century research and innovation challenges ». This forum was also the occasion of the official launch of the Pacific Hub of the Association.
The AFRAN association, a network of researchers, industrialists and decision-makers involved in Franco-Australian collaborations in the research and innovation sector, is a structuring actor of bilateral cooperation. This network meets annually for a forum on a priority theme of scientific cooperation. The theme chosen this year is to underline the importance of the regional ties in which France, with its Pacific territories, and Australia find themselves. The unique role that this region of the world can play, with its environmental, social and geographical specificities, and its scientific and technological capabilities has also been highlighted.
Opening statements and keynote address of the Forum
The Forum opened with high-level speeches by the President of the University of New Caledonia, Mr. Gaël Lagadec, the Ambassador of France to Australia, Mr. Jean-Pierre Thébault, the Consul General of Australia in New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna, Ms. Alison Carrigton, and finally the Deputy Director General of the Pacific Community, Mr. Cameron Diver.
This was followed by a keynote address given by Dr Yann Barguil, Director of the Laboratory of Biochemistry, Toxicology and Pharmacotherapy at the Nouméa Territorial Hospital, in which he presented the impact of the pandemic on the French territories of the Pacific. It noted the need for good preparedness in the event of such a global health crisis, in order to be prepared not only for the arrival of an influx of patients and shortages of medical products and personal protective equipment, but above all by studying in the field the mechanisms of inter-species transmission. The means should not only be focused on diagnostics and treatments, a holistic approach including human, animal and environmental health would more efficiently address the increased risk of pathogen transmission associated with biodiversity decline.
Panel discussion: Cooperation in Oceania, what forms of research and innovation cooperation are possible?
A panel discussion opened on possible forms of research cooperation and innovation in Oceania. Different forms of collaboration were presented in various themes such as the environment, social sciences, food and well-being, health, or the sharing of earth observation data. Regional infrastructures, networks, and collaborations involving scientific research and operational implementation were highlighted.
The need for Pacific researchers to promote their capabilities and expertise was also highlighted. The AFRAN Pacific Hub could participate in this effort by integrating into its network the Pacific researchers, to help their connectivity and visibility. Finally, given the geographical proximity of France and Australia in the Pacific, and the context of a pandemic that hinders travel, the possibility of a regional rapprochement supported by the programmes of the Embassy of France in Australia was raised, if the borders opened in the region.
The second day of the Forum opened with 5 parallel thematic workshops giving researchers the opportunity to present their collaborations or their specific expertise in more depth.
Discussions on livelihood, food security and resources management have identified the difficulties of cultural and language differences in scientific studies and necessary exchanges with indigenous peoples, and the importance of effective communication. The workshop on space: space imagery and potential for Franco-Australian cooperation identified many promising avenues for collaboration, as well as development for the sector in the region. An AFRAN Thematic Community could be established in the region. The workshop on cooperation in Health: communicable and non-communicable diseases, health education and public health reflected on ways to finance collaborative research, and ways to improve scientific cooperation in the Pacific, and to educate the next generation of scientists. The workshop on culture, knowledge and the environment: tradition and change, discussed how best to build bridges between diverse disciplines and integrate their diverse knowledge on a common basis to foster exchanges and connections within and with other disciplines. Finally, the workshop on AFRAN mechanisms for cooperation made it possible to identify ways to strengthen academy-industry links and improve the visibility and impact of the association.
Plenary exchange and discussion about an action plan for the AFRAN Pacific Hub
The plenary session opened with the various reports of the parallel thematic workshops presenting their conclusions. Among the recurring topics that have been mentioned, we will note the importance of the role of students in creating and maintaining connections with industry or international partners, the lobbying for joint funding mechanisms of Franco-Australian cooperation to support the initiation and development of joint projects, and the creation of an AFRAN portal to showcase expertise, projects and collaborations between Australia and the region. Such a tool would promote research capabilities in the Pacific, as well as its impact in the region and beyond. The reflection led the participants to propose that the AFRAN Pacific Hub be closer to existing regional networks and communities, such as the South Pacific Community (SPC) or the South Pacific Regional EnvironmentProgramme (SPREP), in order to ensure that the research feeds into the operational actions carried out in the region, and that the AFRAN Pacific Hub is well integrated.