Science in Brazil suffers from financing

publicado: 17/04/2020 00h00, última modificação: 14/05/2020 10h30





Marcia Dementshuk

When speculating about Luiz Henrique Mandetta leaving the Ministry of Health earlier this month, in one of his statements he compared Brazil to a patient. Taking this metaphor, if there is one organ of this patient called Brazil that is seriously ill, it is Science, Research and Development. Historically suffering from low investments, this year the effort of researchers through associations and other organizations has been so that there are no further cuts. "We are fighting so that what we still have is not taken away," said the president of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science, Ildeu de Castro.

Doctor of Physics and a great promoter of science, Ildeu de Castro's concerns are focused on improving the conditions for doing scientific research in Brazil and promoting development. His dedication has taken him more often to Brasília, where the pen ink that determines resource cuts has been spent:

"In recent years we have been present in Congress constantly fighting for a budget, and it is not to increase, it is not to decrease. It has decreased drastically in recent years, causing laboratories to stop, young people to leave Brazil and go abroad, decreased the intensity of research," said Ildeu de Castro.

Today there is a Provisional Measure (MPV) in the National Congress to open an extraordinary credit requesting 100 million in resources to confront the new coronavirus through scientific and technological research. "It takes five times as much, at least," says the president of SBPC.

The MPV in question (No. 929, of 03/25/2020) is in favor of the Ministries of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications (MCTIC), Foreign Affairs (MRE), Defense (MD) and Citizenship (MCID), in the total amount of just over R$ 3.4 billion: the MRE is allocated R$ 62 million; the MD, R$ 220 million; MCID, R$ 3.03 billion. The MCTIC, R$ 100 million.

The billions to the Ministry of Citizenship will be used for "the expansion of the number of families benefiting from the Bolsa Família Program". The MRE, to assist people abroad who are unable to return. The MD, for security and logistic support. The justifications are noble and converge to fight the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus. The problem is that the resources for the MCTIC will come from the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (FNDCT), which is R$4.5 billion, 80% of which is frozen by the Federal Government; it receives investments from the private sector to finance technological development projects. Science and Technology could have a much greater resource.

"The Fund (FNDCT) was being terminated last year by a proposal from the Ministry of Economy and we managed to reverse that in the Senate two months before this pandemic broke out. There was a proposal within the National Congress ending the country's main Science and Technology fund. Andthe resources of this fund come from business sectors, nor are they from the government," explains Ildeu de Castro. "The resources are allocated elsewhere, but not to Science and Technology, as it should be by law. And at that moment, when it is said thatthere is a general sensitivity for the fact that science is important, the National Congress itself, the government itself, doesn't make it happen.”

Pandemic is not enough to value science

Although a pandemic is occurring and the importance of science in combating Covid-19 is evident, Ildeu de Castro observes that the valuation of science is relative and there is still a lack of respect for the guidelines of health agencies:

"The recent appreciation of science because of the pandemic, is relative. Some sectors still do not respect the guidelines coming from international health organizations, sometimes we see discourses contrary to recommendations; a portion of the population does not see the importance of science. It should be much more important becauseit is important for the survival -including physical survival -of people, for the economy," he says.

The president of SBPC affirms that Brazilian scientists are presenting rapid responses to society regarding the new coronavirus, despite budget cuts, difficulties with infrastructure, lack of inputs, lack of grants: "At this moment, many students and researchers at universities are working intensively on this confrontation. Each university in Brazil has done, since the production of material, new equipment, research to verify the contagion, production of tests, analysis of the genetic code, the perspective of making a vaccine ... We regret because if we had a more adequate infrastructure, and a greater social perception we could do much more".

Brazil has potential for innovation

The lack of investments reflects on Brazil's performance in relation to other nations on the planet. Brazil ranks68th in the world in terms of innovation (in 2016 it was 64th). There is a lack of conditions, mechanisms, so that at least a portion of the creations from research can be transformed into products.

"You have to have a country project that puts the advantages you have first. For example, we have the largest biodiversity in the world; if well studied and explored within the perspective of sustainable development, it can be an immense source of resource for the country maintaining preservation and not cutting down trees to raise cattle," argues Ildeu de Castro and continues:

"We see our potential in the use of technology in agribusiness, in deep-water oil exploration, but we have to seek development in other areas, in mining, energy, biodiversity. Even agriculture must be modernized and preserve the other potential wealth that exists in Brazil such as the Amazon. Agriculture can have greater productivity with more science, technology. The term sustainable agriculture will be important in the future. In the coming years it will be more important, to feed this immense mass with billions of people".

Another sector that can beexplored in Brazil is tourism, although it is not the ideal time for this approach, as Ildeu de Castro put it, "Brazil receives fewer tourists per year than Portugal and Brazil has more regions with natural beauties with great potential to receive tourists from all over the world".

But nothing can move forward without the necessary investments, because "it is essential to train people for this, any scientific or technological advance requires qualified training; improving education at all levels in Brazil is also an important challenge," concludes Ildeu de Castro.