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[QUITO] One of Ecuador's most senior science officials, Alfredo Valdivieso, says the country's main science agency might get no funding next year because the government views the sector as a low priority.

Speaking to SciDev.Net in November, Valdivieso was commenting on the 2005 budget proposed by Ecuador's finance ministry and due to be considered by the parliamentary budget committee this month.

The proposed budget has no allocation for the National Secretariat for Science and Technology (Senacyt) – the main agency for the promotion of scientific development in Ecuador. If the budget is approved, Senacyt will have to cancel 137 research projects due to take place next year.

"The explanation I had was that science is not important and, as it is not priority, it was excluded from the national budget," said Valdivieso who is executive director of the National Foundation for Science and Technology (Senacyt's executive branch).

He told SciDev.Net that Ecuador invests 0.07 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in science. In contrast, figures released last month show that its neighbour Colombia spends about 0.38 per cent of its GDP on science (see Colombia's science progress has been slow, says study)

In 2004, Senacyt received US$200,000 in the national budget. It also receives about US$232,000 each year through the terms of a loan to Ecuador's government from the Inter-American Development Bank, as well as 0.25 per cent of the country’s public works budget.

But according to Valdivieso, the public works budget is very small because of Ecuador's weak economy.

César Paz y Miño, a geneticist at the Catholic University of Ecuador, says the lack of financial support for science in Ecuador limits the ability of researchers there to publish papers in international journals.

"Two years ago, we had a spectacular laboratory, but it is too expensive to maintain it to follow the new techniques required by journals," he adds. 

As a result, Ecuador's small scientific community seems even smaller when viewed in an international context, he says.

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