Microbiology students in Tanzania collecting DNA from yeast fungus (blastomycete). Sida has supported Tanzania's research institutions for over 30 years with the goal that Tanzania will eventually be able to conduct its own research with international quality.
Photo: Edwin Mjwahuzi
Support to research cooperation
Research prioritized by the low income countries themselves solve local problems and contribute to poverty reduction. Swedish research support has a long tradition and stands on three legs; capacity building, support to domestic research, and international research support.
A cornerstone for Swedish development cooperation is that it should proceed from the realities of the poor. Every government and population must have the main responsibility for equitable and sustainable development. However, high income countries still dominate the world’s collected knowledge production. The priorities and perspectives of the poor are therefore not heard as strongly.
Universities in Eastern Africa are developing a climate-smart grass that is resilient to drought and more nutritious for cattle. And at the Universidad Mayor de San Simón in Bolivia, farmers are taught to use mud to clean their water from heavy metals. These are two examples of how increased research capacity allows low income countries to solve their own problems.
Development on one’s own terms
The importance of local ownership was emphasized in the propositionShared Responsibility: Sweden’s Politics for Global Developmentfrom 2003: “Development can never be externally created or imposed on people. Poor people must shape their own development.”
A university system is an important part of the development of a country. It allows a country to research into topics of relevance to its population, provides competent personnel to the public and private sector, helps the government base its policies on evidence, provides higher education with teachers, and helps generate innovations that can help the economy. In high income countries, private and public research support is self-evident.
– We are living in a knowledge economy. Countries that fail to participate in the exchange of ideas will remain poor, says Nick Perkins, Director of SciDev.net and one of Sida’s partners.
By supporting the university system, we put the low income countries in the driver’s seat. Sweden has provided research support since 1975, and the budget today is about a billion SEK per year.
Research is a long time commitment
Swedish research support has three important areas.
- To strengthen the capacity of low income countries to use research in the struggle against poverty.
- To support international research of relevance to low income countries.
- To support Swedish research of relevance to low income countries.
The aim for a holistic approach to strengthening research capacity has to do with the nature of research. For it to function well, research capacity needs to be strengthened at the national, institutional and individual levels. It is dependent upon a system of national research strategies, research councils that supply funding and secure scientific quality, research training that can bring forth a new cadre of researchers and teachers, and a working infrastructure for performing quality research as well as for communication of the results. Many pieces of the puzzle need to be in place for a system of research to work.
This means that it takes a long time, sometimes decades, before a working system is in place. Research support needs to have a long-term perspective, while still being light-footed enough to respond to new needs and developments in the cooperating country. This insight is often appreciated in the partner country:
– Sweden supports research capacity as well as individual projects at institutions. It’s not just one project and that’s it. The support is horizontal, structural and integrative, which is very good for us, says Volga Iniguez, molecular biology professor at UMSA, Bolivia.