Brazil’s plunging science investment

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mediterraneo-forward-dive-1545724In my recent opinion piece in Biotechnology Research and Innovation, I called attention for the fact that Brazil invested roughly $25 billion in science and technology in public and private money in 2013, and should invest at least twice as much. The US, for example, invests 16 times more than what Brazil does, and yet the National Growth Income (NGI) in the US is only eight times larger than the NGI in Brazil. The NGI of Brazil and Canada are comparable, but Canada invests 10 times more in science and technology than Brazil. The private sector should invest in science and technology in Brazil twice as much the public sector, which is what happens in most developed countries.

Why is the private sector lagging in Brazil? Lack of long-term instruments. We also need long-term public programs like the SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research grants) of the US, a public program that funds small businesses to stimulate innovation. This program invests $5 billion annually, although venture capital from the private sector in the US is $40 billion per year. These small businesses need early investment because they are too risky for banks.

So the case is clear for investing in science and technology, but since I published the opinion paper last November, things have gotten worse. Brazil is going through a political crisis, and it has strongly affected our economy. The economic crisis in Brazil might be the worst in our history, and the root of the problem is corruption. A government operation called “car wash” (lava a jato) sent to prison hundreds of people, including executives from oil giant Petrobas and many politicians, but it is not over. We impeached one president and may impeach another. The Supreme Court is supporting a strong effort to reduce corruption, but in the meantime public funds for science and technology this year are expected to be $13.5 billion. Money from the private sector that could help the situation is instead feeding corruption. The only sector in Brazil to receive private investment is agriculture, and the results have been quite good: the country has doubled grain production every 20 years since 1960.

Most public programs reduced their investments and even the salaries, and scholarships and fellowships of scientists are not being paid regularly in Rio de Janeiro, the second largest economy in the country. The consequence is that many scientists are leaving Brazil to work abroad.

The majority of our population does not understand the importance of science and technology. People do not understand that science and technology are responsible for the average life span in Brazil reaching 75 years. Unfortunately politicians don’t seem to understand this either. Cutting investments in science and tech is like eating seeds, rather than planting them. With the investment in science and technology no more than 1.5% of the NGI in Brazil, the global economy does not benefit from these cuts.

Luiz Antonio Barreto de Castro

Go to the profile of Luiz Antonio Barreto de Castro

Luiz Antonio Barreto de Castro

CEO, ABCP Agriculture Biotechnology Consultorias e Projetos

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