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[MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY] Paraguay's investment in science is the lowest in South America, and has remained at the same proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) for a decade, according to a new report. However, insiders say there are signs of improvement that could lead to better times for science in Paraguay.

The 2011 Science and Technology Indicators Report, published by the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT) last month (19 August), shows that the proportion of Paraguay's GDP dedicated to science and technology (S&T) is only 0.06 per cent. This is far lower than in other countries in the region: Argentina and Uruguay invest between 0.5-0.6 per cent and Brazil 1.2 per cent.  

"Investment has remained constant because successive governments didn't include — or didn't consider — research and innovation as a variable for change and development, due to [the governments'] short-term vision," Sergio Duarte, director of the National Incentive Program for Researchers (PRONII) at CONACYT, told SciDev.Net.

The report shows that Paraguay actually has ten per cent fewer researchers than it did in 2001; furthermore, out of 1,039 researchers, only 225 are full-time, and just 177 have PhDs. The proportion of local patent applications by Paraguayan residents has remained the same for a decade (19 out 335 applications in 2011).

Juan Carlos Rolón, research director at the National University of Asunción's faculty of engineering and CONACYT's former president, said the country's science investment is "insufficient".  

"We lack modern lab facilities, a good quality certification system and enough qualified researchers to make profound transformations in the research and development system," he said, adding that the country needs to triple current researcher numbers.

The report comes in the wake of Paraguay's recent suspension from two regional economic blocs,  which have played an important role in boosting science in Paraguay through regional projects and financial support.

The suspension "has not affected current S&T investment but has alienated the country from regional projects designed to improve S&T," Antonieta Rojas de Arias, a researcher at the Center for the Development of Scientific Research (CEDIC) in Asunción, told SciDev.Net.

As a result, Paraguay does not participate in meetings aimed at reducing inequalities in regional S&T — "a goal that would clearly benefit Paraguay," she concluded.

But there are signs that the country's new national science policies, created over the past few years, could finally turn the tide for Paraguayan science.

"Although Paraguay is lagging way behind other countries in the region, it is also the one that has shown more progress over the last few years," said Pablo Angelelli, senior specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).

Paraguay is now in a "stage of experimentation […] trying to learn how to deal with its new science policies," he said.

Benjamin Barán, engineering professor at the National University of Asunción, said that, since 2000, there had been improvements, including new university jobs and higher number of master's and PhD courses, allowing more researchers to complete their studies in Paraguay.

Another positive sign, said Rojas de Arias, was the creation of the incentives system, PRONII, in 2011 (see Paraguay to grant economic incentives to its scientists, in Spanish). PRONII is now funding 118 researchers, through a US$1.5 million per year fund "to help them increase scientific production and train other researchers".

Duarte added that CONACYT is negotiating with the IADB for a new five-year R&D loan, of between US$10–20 million.

Furthermore, the government is currently discussing a new bill that would provide R&D investment of between US$20 and US$30 million, resulting from the sale of energy from the Itaipu Dam, a hydroelectric dam joint-owned by Brazil and Paraguay.  

Link to the full report in Spanish