Swiss State Secretary Martina Hirayama participated in the Africa–Europe Space Earth Observation High-Level Forum in Lisbon on June 11 and 12. Organised as part of the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU, the forum focused on how Earth observation can facilitate sustainable development while fostering new skills and creating jobs. The forum also provided an opportunity for bilateral discussions with the Portuguese minister for Science, Technology and Higher Education, Manuel Heitor.
At the High-Level Forum, State Secretary Hirayama highlighted the importance of Earth observation as well as Switzerland’s contribution to the activities of the European Space Organisation (ESA) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). She also emphasised the importance of data access and current data-processing technologies, pointing out that free access to data and scientific publications can help significantly to accelerate potential applications for these technologies.
Europe and Africa have been working together on Earth observation for decades, beginning with the provision of crucial information for African weather and climate services. More recently, ESA and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have been collaborating on the 50×2030 initiative, which aims to fill the global agricultural data gap by transforming national data systems in 50 countries, including several in Africa, by 2030. Current state-of-the-art systems provide large quantities of data on the local and regional situations, and the technology to analyse it is available. Yet potential users’ access to this data remains a major obstacle. The initiative aims to remedy this. Space technologies play a key role in the development of the African continent: enabling researchers to access scientific findings is equally as important as enabling governments and entrepreneurs to access the technologies.
Switzerland and Portugal: a long-standing research partnership
State Secretary Hirayama also used her time in Lisbon to hold bilateral talks with the Portuguese minister for Science, Technology and Higher Education, Manuel Heitor. She reiterated Switzerland’s interest in joining the EU’s Horizon Europe Framework Programme for Research and Innovation as an associated country. In its predecessor programme, Horizon 2020, Portuguese and Swiss researchers worked together on around 400 projects. Cooperation between the two countries is most clearly evidenced in areas such as information and communication technology, mobility funding through Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and research infrastructure.
Since 2011, the Swiss National Science Foundation has supported more than 110 projects involving researchers from Portugal. Portuguese students also formed the sixth-largest group among international students in Switzerland, with over 500 students enrolled at Swiss universities in the 2020–21 academic year (only counting students who completed their entire schooling in Portugal). Researchers from Portugal have been awarded almost 90 Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships since 1963.