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[BUENOS AIRES] Argentina's department of science and technology is to receive a 20 per cent increase in its budget this year compared to 2003.

The rise, which brings the department's budget to US$40 million, represents an increase of 150 per cent over 2002, when the country was in the midst of a political and economic crisis.

It means that Argentina's spending on science and technology has returned to levels prior to the crisis, which saw the department's budget plummet from US$39 million in 2001 to US$16 million in 2002.

Some of the additional funds will be used to pay grants that have been promised but not paid since 1998. Tulio Del Bono, the head of the country's science department, has also pledged to use US$5 million to fund research on 'priority areas' that include biotechnology, information technology, mathematics and education.

Del Bono says that these priorities, which were selected by officials from the country's science and technology agency, Conicet, in conjunction with other groups, could be extended in May to include nanotechnology, agriculture and ecosystems, ocean sciences, medical technology and alternative energy.

Many more research projects will receive funding than in previous years, he adds: "Historically, we have funded 23 per cent of proposals presented by scientists. This year, we will be able to fund 31 per cent of the proposals — or approximately 1,230 research projects." 

The extra money was found for science and technology at the end of last year when the government decided to reallocate funds that had not been used by other public bodies.

"The budget increase is an important move by President Néstor Kirchner following his commitment to develop the country's science and technology," Del Bono says. "It is a step towards the goal of doubling spending on science and technology to 1 per cent of gross domestic product by the end of Kirchner's term."