Sweden slashes research aid budget

African R&D programmes will suffer Copyright: USDA/Scott Bauer

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[CAPE TOWN] Sweden’s development agency will cut its research and development budget by 20 per cent in 2010 as a result of the financial crisis, SciDev.Net can reveal.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) is planning to reduce its 2010 budget for ‘research cooperation with developing countries’ from an estimated 1.05 billion kronor (US$148 million) to 800 million kronor (US$112 million).

The cut is because of a general decline in Sweden’s budget for development aid, the full extent of which will be clear once the country’s 2010/11 budget — to be presented by the government in September or October — is signed off in December.

The preliminary figures have forced SIDA to make some difficult choices, says Tomas Kjellqvist, who heads the organisation’s secretariat for research cooperation.

SIDA will attempt to maintain its bilateral R&D support with its partner countries and is planning only minimal cuts — from US$49 million to US$44 million — for this part of its budget.

"I guess that’s some sort of silver lining," says Kjellqvist.

But other budgets will be hit hard. "Latin America is a region that the Swedish government essentially wants to pull out of," says Kjellqvist. "Our support there will decrease from US$8.5 million to US$1.5 million by 2011."

In Africa, funding for pan-African R&D capacity building through organisations such as the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) will be cut from a planned US$24.6 million to US$14 million.

"It’s disappointing that this comes at a time when Africa’s regional organisations are mobilising to strengthen research and higher education," says Kjellqvist.

His regret is echoed on the African continent. "This is bad news — SIDA is one of the funders that has supported African science for a long time," says Christoff Pauw, coordinator of the Initiatives in the South from the division of research development at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

Swedish researchers working on development issues will also feel the pinch. In 2010, SIDA will cut support for their projects from an estimated US$21 million to US$11 million, of which US$5.6 million is already tied up in existing projects.

"That would not be so bad if we hadn’t recently called for proposals from larger research groups and promised bigger grants," said Kjellqvist. He added that as a result of these cuts, success rates for grant proposals are likely to plummet from 15–20 per cent to five per cent.

Funding will also be curtailed for global organisations, including the WHO and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Kjellqvist says that the latter is in need of SIDA funding right now, as it is undergoing a structural reform.

SIDA is not the first funder to cut back as a result of the global financial crisis. Earlier this year, the Wellcome Trust, a UK medical research charity, announced it would cut its funding for 2008/09 by £30 million (US$49 million) after its endowment declined by US$3.3 billion (see Africa Analysis: Global finance crisis will hit grants)

Cuts in R&D support for developing countries is a worrying trend, says Kjellqvist.

"The current tendency within development funding seems to be to go for short-term objectives rather than investing long-term," he says.