Status of R&I in ACP countries

A growing number of ACP countries recognises the need to invest more in Research and Innovation (R&I), as a lever of economic growth and sustainable development. However, due to various framework conditions such as lack of national R&I strategies, limited opportunities for cooperation between researchers of the region and limited involvement of the private sector, R&I have had little impact up until now in most of the ACP countries (EC, 2018). 

Global R&D expenditure on the rise, but strong disparities remain

Worldwide Research and Development (R&D) spending is showing an upward trend with a total global spending of around 1.7 trillion US dollar and an average of approximately 1.8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) expenditure according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) estimates released in 2020. 

At the ACP level, while the average for the Pacific region is comparable to the global one, the regional averages for Africa (approx. 0.38%) and the Caribbean (approx. 0.35%) remain substantially lower, well below the target figure of 1% set by the African Union’s Executive Council in 2006. Furthermore, the participation of the private sector in the R&D expenditure is still limited.

More ACP researchers and publications in the last decade

In terms of human resources, the share of global researchers has increased, with ACP countries now accounting for an estimate of more than 1% of the world’s total researchers, according to UIS recent data. Although, the majority of ACP’s researchers (74%) originate from a few countries, namely: South Africa (27.3%), Kenya (20%), Nigeria (11%), Ethiopia (10.1%), Senegal (5.5%). Even in ACP countries, as in most of the world’s leading innovation countries, women are under-represented among researchers. Indeed, male researchers outnumber women by an average of 4:1.

Concerning publications, most of the ACP regions have improved the relative citation impact of their research over the last decade, but they still account for less than 1% of global publications. Of these publications, 70% come from researchers in 5 ACP countries – with South Africa alone accounting for 40% of these publications.

Patent filings in ACP countries have grown, particularly, since the mid‐1990s, and ACP accounts now for about 2% of patents registered worldwide. Nevertheless 90% of these patents come from only 5 ACP countries – of which South Africa alone accounts for 80%.

R&I, a booster of competitiveness: the Global Competitiveness Index

Despite the growing pool of technical knowledge, most of the ACP countries have not been able to leverage this stock of knowledge to catch up with the more advanced economies on a sustained basis. In its 2019 Global Competitiveness Index (GCI), the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked 141 countries based on selected national competitiveness indicators assessing their institutional set-up, policies and other elements determining their productivity level and continuous growth1. At 60th, South Africa ranks highest of all ACP countries in the index, followed by the Seychelles (76th). Several Caribbean states appear in the ranking placements 76 – 80 (Barbados, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica), followed by Botswana (91st), Namibia (94th), Kenya (95th) and Rwanda (100th). 

Snapshot of the R&I in ACP countries




1. European Commission, Roadmap for EU – African Union S&T cooperation, Brussel, 2018
2. UNESCO Institute for Statistics. R & D Spending. 2020: