"Ghana Asks, Legon Answers; The Challenge of Managing Plastics" - UG Celebrates 2022 DSRA

The active participation by the University in this year’s Day of Scientific Renaissance of Africa (DSRA) has generated insightful debate on the media airwaves. 

Following the public lecture series, poster presentation, exhibition of scholarly works of faculty and PhD students, exhibition of technological innovations, webnairs, seminars, Radio Univers discussions, cocktail research networking sessions and the many other activities  undertaken by the different units of the University during the month of June to commemorate the celebration of the DSRA;  a high-level panel discussion at the Cedi Conference Centre was organised to mark the climax of UG DSRA 2022 celebration.  

Major news houses/portals in the country have carried media reports to draw attention to the University’s outstanding first time celebration of the DSRA, particularly, the high-level panel discussion on the theme: “Ghana Asks, Legon Answers; The Challenge of Managing Plastics”.

The Driver of UG DSRA

The event was chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Nana Aba Appiah Amfo. In her opening remarks, Prof. Amfo welcomed and expressed gratitude to all present for the event. She noted that DSRA is celebrated on June 30, each year to remind African governments and its people of the critical roles played by science and technology in national development. 

Prof. Amfo also expressed how the celebration is held in recognition of the continent's significant contribution to the rise and development of modern day science and technology. She stated that the University’s active participation in this year’s celebration is based on recommendations by the University of Ghana’s Pursuit of Excellence Task Force (UG-POET). “The simple but very important reason for this celebration is to serve as a strategy to drive the overall growth of the University as a world-class research-intensive University and to draw attention to the scholarly works, innovations and development championed by members of the community including our hardworking faculty and students”, she added.

Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Nana Aba Appiah Amfo

Prof. Amfo being impressed at the level of participation and diversity of programmes, events and research outputs showcased at the various colleges commended Prof. Felix Ankomah Asante, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research, Innovation and Development (RID) for his oversight responsibility, and all Provosts for leading their Colleges’ activities. She further commended Prof. George Obeng Adjei, Director of Research, RID, and Chair of the University-wide planning committee, and his team, together with the committees which superintended the various activities at the college level.  

Noting that the celebration was not intended as a one-time event and with the year’s impressive celebrations, Prof. Amfo declared June as the month of UG Research month. “We will continue to celebrate DSRA as an annual event”, she added.

Prof. Aba Amfo entreated all Provosts to sustain the momentum and drive the initiative for many more years, as a strategic tool to promote the attainment of the University’s vision of becoming a world-class research intensive university. She noted that the University in its quest to its vision does simply seek to champion innovative research work published in top-tier journals but more importantly, seeks to positively impact society, through suggestions for problem-solving, providing a scientific basis for decision making, and more effective and efficient policy alternatives for reforms and development of the nation and the continent.

“Under my leadership as Vice-Chancellor, a number of measures are being rolled out to bridge the gap between researchers, policy makers and (if you like) the ordinary people. Through the Office of Research, Innovation and Development and the Institute of Applied Science and Technology, the University has created a platform to connect researchers and inventors to industries, agencies, organization and even individuals who need those services. An online portal, UG Tech Online, has been developed to serve as a conduit for this purpose. The portal showcases the economic, social, environmental and cultural impact of the University’s research on businesses and the society. It also provides an opportunity for the University to mobilise resources to scale up technologies developed by researchers to facilitate technology transfer and or commercialisation”, she added.

Prof. Amfo expressed confidence in the month-long celebration of the Day of Scientific Renaissance of Africa by UG and its stakeholders paving an innovative pathway for the recognition of UG’s world-class researchers.

The Panel Discussion

Due to the technicality of the impact of plastics and environmental sustainability, policy and nation building subject, there was a careful selection of adept individuals to serve as panelists to help the lay Ghanaian appreciate the topic.

The Role of University in National Development

Prof. Ivan Addae-Mensah, Ghanaian Chemist and former Vice-Chancellor, taking his turn as a panelist, on the topic, “The role of University to National Development”, highlighted how essential higher education is to the development of a nation, noting that any country whose universities are allowed to decline in opting out of the development process in this 21st century is calling for trouble. Prof. Addae-Mensah stressed that higher education cannot be viewed as a luxury but as a necessity for all developing countries.

“There are so many problems facing Africa and solutions to virtually all these problems; challenges of poverty, disease, industrialisation, socio-economic and manpower development all depend on a determined effort to inculcate science, technology and innovation in our economic and social development and this cannot be achieved without the development of requisite human resources which depends entirely and critically on education at all levels especially higher education”, he added.

Former Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ivan Addae-Mensah

 Noting that the quality of knowledge within higher education institutions and its accessibility to the wider economy are critical in national competitiveness, Prof. Addae-Mensah bemoaned how Africa is falling behind in this regard. “Our high education system are chronically underfunded even though we need to teach more students to higher standards and develop the research capacity that will help us connect to the knowledge industry”, he stated.

He expressed concern that without more and better education, there will be an increasing difficulty in benefitting from the global knowledge base economy. Prof. Addae-Mensah concluded his submission by differing from a popular notion that the universities are not putting out the requisite minds to meet the needs of the industry. He explained that the role of the university is not to produce ready-made materials to serve the purpose of any industry but to train the mind so that persons can adapt to changing situations.

Africa, Policy, and the Circular Economy 

Dr. Fatima Denton, Director of the United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA), in her submission on “Africa, Policy, and the Circular Economy”, expressed concern on how Africa often accepts how these policies are defined to them, thus always following the parameters that are already set. Dr. Denton noted that it is time Africa, as a continent that is resource dependent begins to think about the sustainability of its resources. “We cannot produce in the same as other countries so we have to produce and consume in a sustainable manner”, she added.

Director of the United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA), Dr. Fatima Denton

Dr. Denton added that sustaining Africa’s development would depend on adopting principles that ensured a circular economy. Noting that the principles are to rethink, reduce, reuse, redesign and recycle. She expressed how the effective use of these principles will allow the continent come out of a vicious cycle of linearity to a circular economy.

Plastic Pollution and our Health

Prof. Agyeman Badu Akosa, Professor of Pathology and former Director-General of the Ghana Health Service, in discussing “Plastic Pollution and Our Health”, expressed how the constant use of plastics affect human lives and the environment. He mentioned that humans produce over 8 billion tons of plastic which, among others are used for various purposes such as the manufacture of clothing, curtains and carpets, due to its low cost of production. “Plastic when leached into the atmosphere as a result of its improper disposal, causes bronchitis, asthma, and pulmonary cancers when breathed in”, he stated.

 Professor of Pathology and former Director-General of the Ghana Health Service, Prof. Agyeman Badu Akosa

Prof. Akosa announced that the ocean now contains ten per cent (10%) of all the plastic produced in this world, and revealed how the use of plastics disrupt the hormones of men and women as plastic act as anti-androgens which affect the production of sperms resulting in infertility, and in most cases, birth defects. He called for the need to ban single-use plastics in the country, thus a way of reducing the adverse effects of plastics on human lives and the environment. “We live with plastics. If we as a country are not prepared to deal with the plastic menace, the consequences are just great“, he stated.

Local Alternatives to Plastic Food Packaging 

Prof. Kwesi Salia, who sat in for Prof. Kofi Sefa-Dedeh, former Dean, School of Engineering Science, speaking on “Local Alternatives to Plastic Food Packaging” threw light on the importance of plastic to the food industry. Prof. Salia noted that 60% of all plastics are made for food packaging, and added that the food industry is driving the plastic industry. Noting that plastics cover all the advantages such as protection, safety, lightweight and the ability to extend the shelve-live of food that a packager will need, Prof. Salia indicated that it will not be feasible to go back to how packaging was handled before the advent of plastics. Prof. Salia stressed the need to research bio-degradable packaging materials that will cause the ability to make plastics that are bio-degradable. Prof. Salia mentioned the essence of education on waste and plastics so individuals get to understand its dangers.  “We need to understand what plastics are doing to us. We also need to understand how to move from everyday use of plastics, how to manage them and reuse them”, he stated.

Challenges of Early Career Researchers

Ms. Millicent Amekugbe, a Ph.D. Candidate, Environmental Science, University of Ghana, in her address on the challenges of early career researchers, noted that it is estimated that about eighty thousand highly trained professionals move out of the continent annually and amongst this, thirty percent of them are scientists. She expressed how this has a dire consequence for the continent if it is to achieve its developmental goal.

Expressing how early career researchers move out of the country in search of better career opportunities, seek higher wages, and get access to conducive environment like infrastructure and management that will help grow potential in research, she noted that early researchers in the country are faced with scarcity of mentorship, lack of motivation, low demand of research by policymakers and lack of training to develop skills.

Millicent Amekugbe, Ph.D. Candidate, Environmental Science, University of Ghana,

Ms. Millicent Amekugbe added that the lack of funds and assistance in acquiring funds is another challenge early career researchers face in the country. “Funds that are available come from foreign agencies and this comes with aims and objectives that they seek to achieve already. This limits our originality and innovation. If we have home-based organisations that are able to fund us, then we can go unto the ground and engage stakeholders, what their needs are, and then come back and provide research that is of use, for development, for the country and for the continent”, she added.

The event ended with an extensive session of questions and answers.

Prof. Amfo in her closing remarks was excited about the in-depth knowledge shared by the panelists and the enthusiasm of all present, especially the youth. “I love the enthusiasm of our youth. It gives me hope for the future. Our youth are thinking and are concerned. More importantly, they are prepared to be part of the solution”, she stated. She gladly noted that there is the potential and Ghana and the continent’s problem can be solved. She reiterated that Africa’s governments need to invest in research and higher education. “It is not over. We will keep doing what we do and we will keep talking about these till we get the needed attention”, she stated. 

The event was interspersed with cultural performances from the Ghana Dance Ensemble and Seprewa.

Present at the event were Prof. Felix Ankomah Asante, Pro. Vice-Chancellor, Research, Innovation and Development; Mrs. Emelia Agyei-Mensah, Registrar; Professor Bill Buenar Puplampu, Vice-Chancellor, Central University, Deans, Directors and a cross-section of members from the University community.

The event was also attended by students from the University of Ghana Basic School; University Staff Village Basic School; Kwabenya Senior High School and the media fraternity. The University anticipates that the outcome of this event will receive adequate response at the national level.


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