Dr Anicia Peters

CEO | National Commission on Research, Science and Technology - Namibia

The Path To Namibia’s Innovation-Led Future

Key Points

• Namibia is emerging as a new frontier for green hydrogen and ammonia production, leveraging its coastal areas to establish desalination-linked “green hydrogen valleys” to address water-energy-food insecurities.
• The country is driving a green industrialization agenda focused on 13 manufacturing sectors and beneficiation of critical minerals, while also developing its recent oil and gas discoveries alongside the green energy transition.
• Innovation priorities span artificial intelligence, precision agriculture, digital health, and building telecommunications infrastructure – with plans for an “AI Institute” to upskill youth and export virtual AI capabilities.
• The National Commission on Research, Science and Technology (NCRST) plays a central coordinating role as the regulator, priority-setter, and innovation activities overseer within Namibia’s ecosystem.
• Grassroots and community-driven innovation is fostered through flagship programs like the National Innovation Challenge, alongside regional collaborations like the Southern Africa Innovation Collective.

Addressing food security, water scarcity, and climate change is crucial for Namibia and the region. Green hydrogen plays a role in tackling these challenges and AI has emerged as a crucial enabler across all sectors.

Our challenges are not unique to our region. Many parts of the world will face similar pressures. Resource constraints create challenges that require innovative solutions, and this is what we are here to do.”


AfricaLive: What are the research and innovation priorities for Namibia at present?

Dr Anicia Peters: Namibia has an important focus on green hydrogen and green ammonia. During my time as Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Development at the University of Namibia, we established the Namibia Green Hydrogen Research Institute hosted at the University of Namibia.

Namibia is also driving the green industrialization agenda and identified 13 sectors for manufacturing. Namibia’s beneficiation strategy for critical minerals is essential. Last year, our government decided to stop exporting raw materials, emphasizing the need to enhance manufacturing capacity.

Additionally, we’ve discovered five oil fields in the past two years, contributing to Namibia’s potential energy resources. This emphasizes the importance of developing both green energy and oil and gas sectors, and NCRST supports these through capacity building and R&D.

Moreover, addressing food-energy-water scarcity, and climate change is crucial for Namibia and the region. Green hydrogen could play a role in tackling these challenges, as I’ll explain later.

As the former Chair of the Presidential Task Force on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we conducted a 4IR readiness assessment for Namibia. AI emerged as a crucial enabler across all sectors.


AfricaLive: Could you elaborate on how AI enables the development of the industries you mentioned?

Dr Anicia Peters: Certainly, but first let’s look at the importance of the water-energy-food nexus to our development plans. 

Our region faces energy and water insecurity, impacting food security. Namibia’s green hydrogen projects aim to also address these insecurities. By setting up green hydrogen valleys along our 1,500-kilometer coastline, primarily using desalination, we anticipate access to freshwater, mitigating water scarcity. Moreover, we’re exploring desalination plants for saline water sources within the country.

Energy insecurity is another challenge. Namibia imports up to 70% of its electricity from South Africa, highlighting the need for energy independence and diversification strategies. Indeed, the region’s insecurity regarding energy and water is a significant concern. If South Africa faces difficulties in supplying electricity, Namibia’s energy security is jeopardized. To address this, we will establish wind parks and solar parks for the production of green hydrogen. However, excess energy can be channelled to communities, hence we have to conduct studies into grid stability and setting up mini-grids.

Regarding food insecurity, Namibia plans to produce solid-state hydrogen in the form of green ammonia, which can also be used as fertilizer. A portion of this will be reserved for local use, particularly in green schemes aimed at enhancing agricultural productivity. NCRST’s support for agriculture includes leveraging emerging digital technologies like AI and Internet-of-Things, IoT.

Infrastructure development, especially in telecommunications and digital technology capacity, is crucial for economic prosperity. 

AI can address inefficiencies in green hydrogen technologies and manage the vast amounts of data generated by large-scale production plants.

AI’s role extends beyond green hydrogen to sectors like healthcare and agriculture, where it enables precision agriculture and digital health systems. However, infrastructure challenges, such as access to water and energy for data centers, remain the primary challenges


AfricaLive: Indeed, it’s a challenging environment to industrialise with the growing pressure on water and energy security.

Dr Anicia Peters: Absolutely, and unfortunately, these challenges are not unique to our region. Many parts of the world will face similar pressures. 

Resource constraints create challenges that require innovative solutions, and this is what we are here to do.


AfricaLive: Do you foresee Namibia being in a position to export a lot of the knowledge that you’re building up now as you use AI to foster innovation domestically?

Dr Anicia Peters: Yes, I do foresee Namibia exporting a lot of knowledge. This is a topic that needs further unpacking on its own. For me, the promise of AI is also about the insights it can bring – modeling the future, making predictions. 

One advantage Namibia has is a large population of unemployed youth. What does this untapped potential mean in the age of AI? These individuals can be very quickly upskilled or reskilled in AI, because AI brings new methods of learning.

We cannot keep applying the same old models, expecting people to go through four-year university degrees before they are ready. By the time they graduate, those skills are already obsolete due to the rapid pace of change. Universities cannot keep curricula current – by the time new programs are approved and rolled out, years have passed.

We need a fundamentally new way of skilling people. We can take our unemployed youth and put them through fast-paced, project-based “bootcamps”. I don’t believe in purely theoretical training anymore. A project-based approach where they learn just-in-time skills by working on real-world projects is ideal.

Some participants will demonstrate abilities to excel in AI specialist roles, which are in high demand and we currently lack  AI specialists. But we’re not just talking about skilling 20 people – this would be a constant pipeline, pushing multiple people through the upskilling pipeline whilst building multiple systems.

At the end of this process, you can even start exporting some of the AI solutions developed within the country by setting up virtual AI centers or software developer teams that export virtual skills.

This ties into my vision of what  an “AI Institute” should look like that combines a coding academy with working on digitalization projects, AI solution development, e-government initiatives and more. It would also have an R&D arm focused on areas like AI governance as policies like the EU AI Act.

We are lacking research for policy advice on issues like ethical and responsible AI applications as  “high risk AI” may be allowed into Africa. As AI develops rapidly, we need to explore governance frameworks to create appropriate guardrails.

Ultimately, this AI Institute could become a revenue-generating service industry for the country by offering AI capabilities and virtual teams to global markets. But it starts by upskilling our local workforce through applied, project-based training pipelines.


AfricaLive: Let me ask you about partnerships. What does partnership mean to you? 

I’m sure you’ll be working with many Namibian partners, but I would also like to ask what you feel the building blocks of successful international partnerships are – whether engaging with universities, the private sector, or government.

Dr Anicia Peters: I believe the problems we face can only be solved through a consortium approach like the quadruple helix approach. You need government, academia, the private sector, and communities. All of them must be involved. It’s a transdisciplinary research approach, and if any one is missing, something will go wrong. 

For example, even if we provide research grants, if there’s no private sector partner to apply it to, or no community involvement through a co-creation approach where they benefit and participate, it will fail. The different partners have different roles, but you need all those building blocks.

Research can’t just be for publications to increase knowledge. It must be impact-driven – addressing real problems. Communities play a key role in demonstrating that impact.

Local partnerships and businesses are obviously important. But when we fund projects, we try to involve international partners too – not just for money, but for expertise. There may be areas we struggle with where they can help, and vice versa. It should be a mutually beneficial relationship where both sides contribute substantially, whether at a local or global level, to drive impact but framed in our different contexts.  


AfricaLive: How does internationalisation help foster an entrepreneurial culture within Namibia?

Dr Anicia Peters: Internationalisation is extremely important for bringing in fresh perspectives and new ideas. If we all just stay in Namibia talking about the same things, we don’t expand our horizons. You need that exchange and outside viewpoint acting as the “devil’s advocate” at times.

In terms of the entrepreneurial culture in Namibia, because of our resource constraints, we certainly have a number of local businesses on board whom we want to see moving their businesses forward. One key finding from assessments is that Namibians, especially the youth, are extremely innovative and have good ideas. But the challenge is taking those ideas from concept to actual product and getting over the barrier to international markets, which is very high in Namibia due to factors like various trade barriers for entrepreneurs we’ve identified.

From my technology background, the mantra is “fail fast and fail early.” But in an entrepreneurial setting, where you’re working with someone else’s money – whether grants, funds or investments – do we really allow those entrepreneurs and innovators to fail? At NCRST, we provide innovation grants and then scrutinize “What’s the outcome? Where’s the prototype?”. 

But instead of just counting the successes, shouldn’t we also count the failures, as long as there is learning from that failure? Taking a monitoring, evaluation and learning approach. Just as we celebrate the successes and count products on shelves, why not also celebrate the failures where new learnings emerged on how to avoid past mistakes?

Internationalization can play a role here too – not just funding, but bringing in outside expertise and perspectives. The barrier to international markets is a serious one we face with our innovation programs, often due to regulatory environments around international payments and gateways. If we can untangle that lynchpin issue, so many other things will fall into place.

We’re working on enabling policies too, like we are validating a national indigenous knowledge systems management policy currently. Namibia has incredible natural resources, such as many medicinal plants and . We want to build repositories of that indigenous knowledge, while also ensuring benefit-sharing with communities to prevent exploitation.


AfricaLive: How do you approach grassroots innovation?

Dr Anicia Peters: We engage widely at grassroots level but one flagship programme is the National Innovation Challenge for Women that we have been running since 2017. We’ve now broadened it to be more gender inclusive, not just focused on women, because Namibia has the opposite issue of the boy child being left behind in some areas. 

But this initiative was aimed at fostering industrialization through female empowerment. From 2017 to 2022, we reached over 1,256 women and trained 128 women in Namibia. You’ll find products from these women innovators in stores. They were working mainly in energy, water, agriculture, nutrition, food security, value addition on natural resources, health, ICT, waste upcycling and cosmetics. 

We also have a Grassroots Innovation program where we go into communities, identify their local level challenges, and train them to start businesses addressing those challenges within the community.

Another new pilot is the “Learners Can Innovate” program testing innovation curricula in schools. 

Finally, NCRST is Namibia’s focal point for the Southern Africa Innovation Collective. We facilitate participation in the annual Booster program for innovators, which is part of a three-part series for tech startups. We coordinate all the innovation hubs across Namibia and connect them with five other countries – Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and of course Namibia.


AfricaLive: Looking at NCRST as an organisation, how would you define your identity and the role you play within Namibia’s innovation ecosystem?

Dr. Anicia Peters: The National Commission on Research, Science and Technology (NCRST), first and foremost, is the national coordinator and regulator for research, science, technology and innovation in Namibia. That means ensuring we have all the proper safeguards, policies, acts, etc. in place. We also provide policy advice in this area. 

Secondly, by that same Act, we are tasked with defining the national research priorities and developing the national program/agenda that lays out priorities for research, science, technology and innovation.

Our third key pillar is serving as the innovation coordinator for the country. Unlike South Africa which has a specific agency like TIA, in Namibia we coordinate and run various innovation activities ourselves. 

Part of that coordinating role includes being responsible for establishing different research councils, similar to how South Africa has separate councils for areas like human sciences or agriculture. The councils we’ve established so far include the National Biosafety Council, for which NCRST regulates all biosafety and biotechnology matters like genetically modified organisms. We have the national biotechnology laboratory for this under our purview.

We’ve also established a Space Science Council, as that is a priority area. And we are currently appointing a National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Council.

These councils then fall under NCRST’s oversight as part of our broader mandate. We are also responsible for collecting and managing all national data relating to innovation, R&D expenditure, and so on for Namibia.

So in a nutshell, NCRST wears multiple hats as the regulator, policy advisor, priority-setter, innovation coordinator and data manager for the innovation ecosystem here.

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