Swedish research cooperation with Bolivia supports for example the university in La Paz where reserach on the important potato cultivation is conduted. Everything is done in cooperation with the people in the villages - here Micaya near La Paz.
Photo: Leonidas Aretakis/Sida
Bolivian universities serve the people
Swedish research support to Bolivia has led to new knowledge on composting, water purification, health and sustainable energy. When twelve years of cooperation were celebrated with a conference in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, vice president Álvaro García Linera praised the role of public universities in the country’s rapid development: “The government is obsessed with making Bolivia a knowledge economy.”
There are cameras, microphones and security guards everywhere. The ambitious programme is already behind schedule, but the tension is high. Then he finally arrives, the elegant sociologist and ex-activist Álvaro García Linera, vice president of Bolivia.
We are in La Paz on June 26-27 to celebrate Swedish research cooperation with Bolivia. Among those present are the directors of the public universities UMSA and UMSS, which together represent 85 percent of the country’s research. Sweden is represented by our chargé d’affaires a.i. in Bolivia, Aurore Lundkvist, and Teresa Soop, research secretary at Sida. The chairs are filled with prominent Bolivian researchers and students.
Bolivia is rich on natural resources, such as minerals, natural gas and forests. Still, the country is one of the poorest of the continent. The country lacks the technical knowledge needed for adding value in its domestic industry. Instead, it exports the raw materials, and has long been dependent upon the technology of other countries. But now, locally adapted knowledge and innovations are produced at a high pace in the country’s universities.
Swedish research cooperation has the purpose of helping Bolivia to carry out independent research in order to decrease poverty. The support has allowed for investigations into the spread of heavy metals in water and foods, small-scale methods of turning waste into biogas and fertilizer, gathering health data that has long been missing, searching for treatments to tropical diseases like leishmaniasis and chagas, and much more.
Universities as drivers for economic development and decreased inequality
The current Bolivian government has made science a priority, increasing the allocation to universities by several hundred percent. Vice president Álvaro García Linera underlines the importance of independent research:
– There was a time when Bolivian academic titles only got you through the back door. Knowledge from other countries was raised to the skies, and neoliberal privatization was allowed to destroy the continent. But things have changed. Inequality is decreasing and people are speaking about our economic growth across Latin America. This in part has our public universities to thank, and we are very proud of them.
Many speakers raise the importance of research to economic development. Others, like Waldo Albarracín Sanchez, director at UMSA in La Paz, also point to its democratic significance:
– Universities must have an altruistic vision. We exist to develop research in the service of the people. No wonder that the first thing our dictatorship did was to shut down the universities. Thanks to Sweden, we have strengthened our democracy, and we are very grateful.
For technology to be useful, it needs to be adapted. Machinery, for example, can be too large or expensive for local manufacturing methods. By adapting technology to local circumstances and developing cheaper alternatives within the country, universities can help the country’s small-scale producers to grow and compete on the international market.
This is often done through innovation clusters, which consist of collaborations between universities, the government and the private sector. Innovations are about adapting existing knowledge to new settings. Thanks to Swedish support, UMSS in Cochabamba has established a unit for technology transfer, which among other things puts local business owners in contact with policy makers and researchers.
Chargé d’affaires a.i. Aurore Lundkvist takes the opportunity to underline the deep ties between Sweden and Bolivia:
– Today, only a fraction of the conducted research is relevant to low-income countries. In order to take on local challenges, you need researchers. Swedish relations with Bolivia go back more than a century. We share many values, so it is no wonder that our cooperation has been so successful. Bolivia has reached many of the MDGs, and we cannot but congratulate.
About the Swedish research support to Bolivia
Sweden works to strengthen research capacity through education, funding research projects, and supporting university administration. During the period 2000-2012, Swedish support led to the graduation of 34 new PhD’s at UMSA.
Swedish research support to Bolivia amounts to 216 MSEK for the period 2013-2017.