मङ्गलबार, ०६ चैत २०७४, १३ : ३०

Networking & Virtual Return can be a best suited knowledge transfer model !

With the formation of a majority government in 2018 and the prospect of political stability, Nepali diaspora around the world are talking about how knowledge could be transferred back home. In this article, I shed light on the contemporary knowledge transfer module popular globally for insight into ways that could be adopted for knowledge transfer in Nepal.

Brain drain in Nepal

The production of graduates, including PhD holders, in the country continues to increase; however, the number of graduates entering the labour market or resorting to self-employment has remained low.  The brain drain that is taking place is a great challenge. The demand in semi-skilled national labour market is adequately met by supply of workers possessing low-skill sets. Whereas, the market for high-skilled manpower is tight as the highly skilled tend to leave the country (UKAID 2017). The migration pattern is: people shifting from villages to roadsides, roadside to district headquarters, district headquarters to the capital, and depending on education level attained and opportunities available, to foreign countries. The migration patterns indicate that young Nepalis neither are willing to take up on agriculture as a profession nor are encouraged towards entrepreneurship. The underlying root cause for such frustration is the delay in return on investment (ROI). ROI delay is related with extreme lack of body of knowledge on how value can added in manufacturing based on local raw materials making them globally competitive.

Global scenario

Globally, significance has been given to knowledge gained by universities and public research institutes. The transfer of knowledge from foreign universities, research institutions to private sectors in Nepal for requirement-specific innovation has immense potential to drive national GDP growth. According to Apax Partners Survey 2005, every $1000 worth of knowledge acquired by academics and research institutes needed $1 to $10 million of spending to commercialize a commodity based on that knowledge; with no guarantee of Return on Investment (RoI) from the marketplace. This shocking fact led the private sector institutes to seek alternatives and the search has established a new and quite sustainable module for knowledge transfer.

In early modules, industries shifted beyond public-private partnerships to adopt collaborative approaches for knowledge ‘co-creation’ to materialize unique requirement-specific innovations. Researchers, whenever their skill-set matched with the needs of local industries, moved out from public-funded institutions. Such practice gradually weakened public institutions and research centers and an impact on the overall national performance was felt. To address such downsides, Greece envisioned a knowledge transfer model—Knowledge and Partnership Bridges— that created space for co-creation by building bridges between industry (practice) and research institutes (knowledge).

The ‘Knowledge and Partnership Bridges (NPB)’ initiatives is now fully functional in Greek. NPB have developed a logic of interconnection and functional networking enabling a ‘virtual return’ of Greeks from abroad. Rather than focusing many earlier official and non-official initiative to ask ‘return of graduates’ they ask help through virtual return through connections between them and Greeks who remain in the country. It has facilitated direct networking and wide-ranging potential partnership opportunities among Greek scientists, professionals, entrepreneurs and employees around the world and succeeding to maintain tangible mutual support on a scientific, professional and business level .The module became a unique task force that significantly contributed to drive forward research, innovation and knowledge transfer. Leading public research institutes in Germany, UK, Austria  among others are currently operating laboratories, technology transfer offices and incubators in a public-private collaboration model of Knowledge and Partnership Bridge (Stimulating knowledge transfer, 2017). Therefore, ‘Knowledge and Partnership Bridges’ could be a suitable module for the NRNA to adopt for transferring knowledge and skills of Nepali global diaspora back home.

In the process, local intermediaries will have a crucial role in storing, cleansing and customizing transferred knowledge, as per local needs. In early phase, the NRNA’s policy should be on transferring unsophisticated knowledge, techniques and technologies that will suit local needs. Knowledge transfer activities in Nepal must focus on innovations sought by a particular industry. The demand for innovation may vary as industries differ in terms of operation and structure. To capitalize further, collaboration among institutions like polytechnics, university and industries are required to ensure innovation and stakeholders with low absorptive capacities should be filtered from early phases.

NRNA can play the role of facilitator encouraging innovation. It could set up an innovation hub in the country to facilitate ‘co-creation of knowledge through collaboration’ as a part of sustainable knowledge transfer initiative. The NRNA’s innovation hub can collect requests from Nepali entrepreneurs regarding specific areas in businesses and scrutinize those requests to determine the type of skills or innovation sought in areas concerned. Similarly, NRN diaspora must come forward and help transfer skills they possess. The forwarded knowledge and concepts, stored in NRNA institutional memory, would be analyzed and matched with requests registered with the NRNA innovation hub. This type of ongoing process will provide an opportunity for co-creation of knowledge and skills uniquely meeting local demands. Moreover, the government of Nepal can also fund and facilitate knowledge co-creation activities by implementing a strict set of regulatory framework for the same.

There is a dearth of skilled workforce in Nepali industries. Expertise of high-skilled foreign workers and firms have proven to be burdensome and costly. Thus, technical and vocational centers run training programmes in collaboration with industries must cover ‘base’ technical skills. For instance, targeted training can be provided to food-handlers in agro-food processing industry to maintain global quality standards. Training options designed and delivered with input from industry will address specific skills gap in every sector (UKAID 2017).

Innovation in agro-food processing industry

Agriculture contributes to about 39% of GDP of Nepal and employs nearly 66% of the population (Ministry of Agriculture, 2014). Of the total 14.16 million hectares land, only 4.12 million is suitable for agriculture, of which, only two-thirds is cultivated and only half is irrigated (MOA 2012). Hence, farming is highly fragmented. An average size of a farm land is 0.96 hectares and half of the average is less than 0.5 hectares in size (IFAD 2013). Agricultural commodities from Nepal have a good market in the country and abroad. Export markets mainly exist for six sub-sectors – (a) Improved seeds, (b) Fruits processing, (c) Tea processing, (d) Spices processing, (e) Dairy processing, and (e) Medicinal andaromatic (MAPs) processing (Dolma Development Fund, 2014).

The use of simple technologies being adopted for basic processing of dairy, fruits, MAPs, spices, tea and coffee has limited their scope to retail value addition. The end consumer demand for highly-processed products have not been realized. Due to lack of processing knowledge and infrastructure in the country, most raw material is exported to India and imported again at higher rate for the finished goods. (Intellecap Analysis, 2014). Likewise, MAPs suited for ayurvedic, homeopathic non-prescription drugs, flavorings, cosmetics and sanitizing MAPS are first exported and then, imported at 20 times higher price.

To promote private sector investment from foreign countries, 100 per cent FDI is allowed in agricultural sub-sectors in Nepal, except in poultry, fisheries, wool and bee-keeping. Currently, a viable investment opportunity exists in agribusinesses such as seeds, dairy, fruit processing, spices, MAPs and tea. The degree of attractiveness for investment opportunities in these sub-sectors can be categorized as very “high” (Dolma Development Fund, 2014). Nepal’s favorable climatic conditions for cultivation and processing of high-value spices makes it a potential global player in a highly valued spice commodities market. Spice trade involves collection or farming, cleaning and processing of spices and global market is focused on peppers, cinnamon, nutmeg/mace, cloves cardamom, vanilla, turmeric, and cassia for seasoning of foods. Processed spices include whole or ground spices, mixtures of spices, and ready-to-cook sauces made from spices (Dolma Development Fund, 2014).

There are an estimated 15,000 known plant species of which 3,700 have medicinal values and have been in use for generations as foods, food additives and traditional therapies (Azlan, 1999). Nepal is home to more than 7,000 types known plant species. Of the total species, 10 percent is said to be (and is cited everywhere) medicinal and aromatic. Approximately 1,500 plant species in the country are known for medicinal, aromatic and religious purpose, and more than 140 species are exported through Indian trade hubs to the EU, Japan and the USA as raw materials for pharmaceutical, fragrance and flavour industries. Its best options of ayurvedic food, fragrance and flavour never explored. About 60% of the world population and 60-90% population in developing countries rely on traditional medicines. It is estimated that 80% of Nepalis use traditional medicine (Shinwari et al., 2000). Over 90% of MAPs from Nepal are shipped aboard without value addition, and then imported back as essential oils and finished products.

There is a high growth potential for domestic industry; knowledge to convert MAPs into semi-processed and processed final products can bring in higher profits from international markets. In 2013, drying and packaging machinery worth over US$ 14 million were imported to Nepal, the bulk of which is being used in MAPs industry (TEPC 2014). Even with the availability of imported machinery, the lack of body of knowledge about ayurvedic food, cosmetic, flavours and natural health products formulations has bottle-necked in the growth of MAPs based industries in Nepal. MAPs commercializing institutions need linkages with foreign body of knowledge for ‘co-creation of knowledge through collaboration’. Interconnection and functional networking through virtual return of nepali diaspora to Nepal is thus appeared as a suitable model for knowledge transfer to Nepal through NRNA. The government of Nepal has yet to utilise NRNA platform to manage required skill-set transfer, as done by OECD countries.

(Written by Mr. Narayan Ghimire, a Canadian Food Scientist and Flavorist. Mr. Ghimire is working for 11 years in Canada in the field of medicinal and aromatic plant based Agro-food products and flavouring innovations. He is a principal scientific research and experimental development research scientist and Technical Manager of a largest Canadian private sector innovation house. With a proven track record of developing innovative ingredients for vegetarian meats, vegan cheese, e-vape and aromatic and medicinal extracts Mr. Ghimire has involved several R&D commercialization and skills transfer venture in Canada).