First funding cut in eight years for Brazilian science

Dilma Rousseff took over from Lula in January Copyright: Wikicommons/Agencia Brasil

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[RIO DE JANEIRO] The Brazilian science ministry’s budget has been cut for the first time in almost a decade with an eight per cent decrease compared with 2010’s funding high of 6.18 billion Brazilian reais (around US$3.3 billion).

The approved funds for 2011 total just over US$3 billion, according to data presented by the executive secretary of the ministry, Luiz Antonio Elias, last month (21 September). The reduction is a consequence of general spending cuts announced by the government at the beginning of the year.

It is the first science cut since former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party took the helm of the Brazilian government in 2003.

When Dilma Rousseff was elected to replace Lula in October 2010, the general opinion was that funding for science would keep increasing.

Elias promised that, in 2012, the budget would rebound to a new high of more than US$3.4 billion.

But this figure includes the US$793 million still under negotiation with the Ministry of Planning, Budget and Management, which will have to be confirmed by President Dilma Rousseff and her economic team.

So far, only US$2.6 billion has been secured for 2012.

"I want to believe that the reductions in the science budget this year were only an accident and that next year this will be reversed," Luiz Davidovich, director of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, told SciDev.Net.

"Investing in science and technology to fight the [financial] crisis is the method adopted by other countries, such as the United States and Germany," he said.

One of the areas most affected by the cuts is social inclusion, which received substantial support during the eight years of Lula’s government. The Workers’ Party even set up a Secretary of Social Inclusion under the science ministry, responsible for articulating public policies that facilitate economic, social and regional development as a whole, as well as programmes aimed at popularisation of science. Its budget was more than halved, and will likely suffer further reductions in 2012.

Ennio Candotti, vice-president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, said the reduction of the budget for social inclusion was a "serious mistake".

"The Secretary has been the link between the ministry and society, and the projects have been successful and have had a positive effect on society and influenced parliamentarians and decision-makers, leading to a bigger budget for the science ministry," he said.