Brazil awaits approval of huge science budget

Will scientists receive a windfall? Copyright: Flickr/Joao Victor

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[RIO DE JANEIRO] Brazil’s science community is waiting to see whether this year’s bumper science budget will be signed off without being cut.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva approved the budget, which is almost a third higher than last year’s, late last month (26 January).

If given final approval by Lula in March after being evaluated by the Ministry of Planning, it will be the first time since 1999 that the country’s core science budget — managed by the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (FNDCT) — has not been cut during the approval process.

The Ministry of Science and Technology submitted a science budget of US$3.6 billion to congress in December last year, already an increase on 2009’s US$3.2 billion. But parliamentarians — some of whom can decide to provide additional money to specific activities — added a further US$500 million, resulting in a total budget of US$4.1 billion.

The budget is often cut by congress — which makes the increase by parliamentarians all the more unusual — and FNDCT’s core ‘sectoral funds’ for research are sometimes cut by the planning ministry.

The 2009 science budget was initially cut but eventually reinstated (see Brazil’s government to make up for S&T budget cuts).

"In the end, the [2009] cut didn’t affect the science and technology system as a whole but it generated an environment of uncertainty among the scientific community," Jacob Palis, president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, told SciDev.Net.

Palis said that the current budget is "very promising" but that the academic community must be cautious.

The ministry "has worked exhaustively" to show both congress and society the importance of science and technology (S&T) to the country’s development, said executive secretary Luiz Antonio Rodrigues Elias.

It is now coordinating the 4th National Conference on Science, Technology and Innovation, to be held in May, which will assess the success of the government’s 2007–2010 S&T plan and devise a new four-year strategy.

Elias said one of the conference’s main aims is to create a state policy on S&T to ensure enough money for science regardless of who the president is.

The 2007–2010 plan focused on 13 priority areas, including biotechnology, nanotechnology, biodiversity and climate change. Elias said the next plan must have a broader scope and take the next ten years into account.

Two further challenges, according to Palis, are linking research and innovation to the production system and both attracting and retaining new scientific talent.