─ Without research, there is no development in our country. It makes us dependent on foreign technology instead of patenting our own ideas, says Ignacio Chirico Moreno, researcher and research coordinator at Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA) in La Paz, Bolivia.
Bolivia ranks among the last countries in the world when it comes to scientific and technological development. The support from Sida aims to help building up Bolivia's research capacity, and health is a priority. Ignacio Chirico Moreno gives an example of a successful project where they investigated why so many children living in the cities get diarrhoea. The results of the research led to vaccination programmes and new national health guidelines.
Training of PhD students and funding their projects is one important part of Sida’s support to research. The so-called sandwich model is being used, where the students alternate their time between Bolivia and Sweden, with mentors at both countries’ institutions. The research concentrates on existing problems in the cooperation country, and the Swedish universities offer expert scientists, well-equipped research environments, knowledge of critical thinking and how to analyse results. This is a guarantee that the knowledge remains in the home country as well as that the country’s own institutions develop.
─ Previously, research in Bolivia only relied on individual researchers and their international contacts, says Ignacio Chirico Moreno. There were no overall objectives to guide the research focus, but it was all carried out as random, isolated projects.
So what have 12 years of cooperation with Sida meant for research in Bolivia?
─ Sida has indeed contributed to the development of a research culture that didn’t exist before. The interest to do research has grown significantly among our PhD students and teachers, partly due to the research fund that Sida established in 2007, where students and teachers could apply for funding. During its first three years, the number of applications rose from 28 to 115, says Ignacio Chirico Moreno.
Increaed interest through cooperation
Research hasn’t been considered a career opportunity in Bolivia. Lack of funding is one major problem, as well as the fact that the time required to do research hasn’t been prioritised. The total number of researchers with PhDs in Bolivia is only about 300, all of whom got their doctor’s degree abroad as this cannot yet be done in Bolivia. But the cooperation with Swedish universities has increased the students’ interest.
─ Swedish universities have offered support through expert-guided studies and research environments where the students can process their material from Bolivia. Once the students have seen how things work in Sweden, they have been inspired to create their own research team and work on a more multi-disciplinary basis. Seeing the different kinds of equipment that is available is another inspiration, says Ignacio Chirico Moreno.
Bolivia is a country rich in natural resources, but instead of refining the commodities in the country, they are sold to foreign parties. Within the field of energy research projects, Sida’s funding contributed to the acquisition of a so-called gas chromatograph. It helps separate the natural gas from the heavier liquid, thus avoiding giving away many of its components for free when the gas is sold to Argentina or Chile. Inspired by the Swedish model, the students then built their own equipment to use the residues from the separated gas, such as producing degradable plastic, “made in Bolivia”.
Despite clear evidence of progress over the last years, a lot of the long-term work to develop Bolivia’s research still remains. The national budget is still very small, and without education, the quality of research will remain low. But there are examples of how research is becoming more prioritised at the universities. The national IDH fund, based on tax from sales of combustibles, annually allocates five per cent of its funds to the national universities. Since two years, a small share of that money has been directly earmarked for research.
─ The governing board of the university saw that our unit, who was responsible for Sida’s funds, did a good job handling that money. They then thought we should take care of part of taxpayer’s money as well, says Ignacio Chirico Moreno.
Sida's research cooperation with Bolivia:
Sida has a cooperation to help build research capacity in Bolivia since the year 2000.
In 2012, the total support amounts to 30 million SEK, divided between the two universities Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA) in La Paz, and the Universidad Mayor de San Simón (UMSS) in Cochabamba. A small amount (1 million SEK) also goes to the country's ministry of education, for building access to electronic journals for researchers.
The support is divided in two parts; one of them goes to the education of postgraduate students and to building up research environments, partly through the "Research Training Partnership Programme" where research teams in Bolivia collaborate with Swedish researchers in individual research projects, with a focus on the education of future researchers. Some 30 projects in science, technology, social sciences and health in Bolivia can be offered support for the coming research period 2013-2017.
The second part of Sida's research cooperation is about building up activities that support research, i.e. management, organisation, policy work, financial systems, career development systems, innovation, technology transfer, the research fund, libraries, IT, etc. At the moment, UMSA is launching a collaboration with Stockholm University and SPIDER. Ignacio Chirico Moreno recently visited Sweden to meet the Swedish colleagues and develop a project proposal, which also included the development of ICT.
Sida’s support to Bolivia primarily focuses on research in the areas of health, agriculture and sustainable use of natural resources, technology and environment.
Some examples of research results in 2011 that Sida's support has contributed to:
- Great effects by the medicinal plant Evanta against the parasitic infection leishmaniasis, which is transmitted by sand flies. Industrial processing of the plant for medical purpose has begun. Evanta is also being used directly from the forest and used in the villages, where the knowledge of its effects is well known.
- Creation of a system for biogas production from biomass, such as potato leftovers. The systems can be introduced in villages and use the material available there. The biogas is used for cooking in an ongoing pilot project in a village on the Bolivian altiplano.
- Tree Cluster in the Yungas region (forest at the foot of the Andes). Implementation of a plan for sustainable use of forests, including developing systems to utilise the entire tree, not just the tree trunk. Large parts of the tree, such as the branches, are usually wasted.