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[LIMA] A Peruvian government minister has admitted that the country is not investing enough in science, the first time a government official has said this openly in an international forum.

Peru's science output is among the lowest in South America, with most of the country's registered scientists restricted to teaching, rather than doing active research.

Economics and finance minister Mercedes Araoz Fernandez spoke of "a pending debt" to science and technology at a Latin American science and technology workshop two weeks ago (10 August). The government has allocated only 0.15 per cent of gross domestic product to science over the last ten years, compared to the continent's average of 0.60 per cent.

Araoz did not promise any specific increase in funding in response to the failure to support the sector in the past. But she said that Peru "requires investing in science, technology and innovation research".

"Our first objective is to establish policies that promote technological appropriation, innovation and quality," she said. "The second objective is to expand the resources devoted to innovation, with a leading private sector, encouraging greater interaction between them and the universities to build knowledge and compete in the markets."

The one-day 'Science, Technology and Innovation in Latin America' workshop brought together policy-makers from Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama.

Araoz told the meeting that the government was carrying out an assessment of Peru's top ten scientific research institutions, which together manage an annual budget equivalent to US$99 million, or less than US$10 million for each institution on average. The evaluation is being carried out by the National Competitiveness Council — a government consortium under the Ministry of Economy and Finance charged with boosting policies to increase the country's competitiveness in partnership with the private sector.

It will identify priority research areas for each institution, in order to allocate more resources for specific research projects. At present, the institutions are involved in a wide range of research fields, ranging from nuclear research and agriculture, to marine biology and technology.   

Augusto Mellado Méndez, president of the National Council for Science and Technology (CONCYTEC), told SciDev.Net he hoped the minister's words would be translated into more concrete resources for the sector.

He said CONCYTEC had received the same budget for the last ten years, equivalent to US$1.5 million annually, while a similar institution in Chile — a leading science performer in the Andean region, and a country Peru strives to emulate in science performance — received US$240 million.

He also said the limited support Peru provides its scientists meant that "90 per cent of those receiving a scholarship abroad never return."

CONCYTEC's database has 8,000 registered scientists, but in practice only ten per cent are working in science — and even less do any active research, he added.