Brazil’s scientists wary of President Bolsonaro’s budget cuts

Latin America

Brazil’s scientists wary of President Bolsonaro's budget cuts

Before he became Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro campaigned with promises to cut public spending.

His latest target has scientists worried about their near-term projects and the long-term impact on Brazil’s capacity for innovation. CGTN’s Paulo Cabral explained from Sao Paulo.

There was great concern inside Brazil’s research centers and laboratories. Fear that important projects and activities will be interrupted in the coming weeks and months, following the government’s announcement of a 42 percent cut in the budget of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication.

Bruno Silva, a research coordinator at the Federal University of Sao Paulo said that about 60 projects approved for federal funding had been waiting for their grants since 2017. With the new budget cuts, it’s even more unlikely the money will come in anytime soon.

“This funding agency, the CNPq (National Council for Scientific and Technological Development), are selecting priorities. So far they have been prioritizing the payment of scholarships and not the research projects,” Silva, a professor of physiology, said. “But the students they cannot run the studies if the overall project is not funded, only the scholarship.”

Ildeu de Castro Moreira, the president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, said money had already been tight for years and his members were prepared to challenge the new cuts.

“Funds for science in Brazil have been reduced steadily since 2014. So we have less than one third of the funds for science we had 10 years ago,” he explained. “Our role as Brazil’s scientific organizations is to fight to reverse this situation but I can’t be sure we’ll be able to do this now.”

Most scientific research in Brazil is funded with government money through scholarships, research grants or resources sent to public institutions like the University of Sao Paulo. The problem is that the budget for science is often among the first to be hit whenever the government needs to cut expenses.

Luis Carlos Ferreira, the director of the Biosciences Institute in Brazil’s biggest university, said government funding for basic science was essential but acknowledged researchers need to find other sources of money, too.

“This is challenge that us in the academy, like here in the University of Sao Paulo, should accept and try to be more competitive in order to compete for international grants,” Ferreira suggested. “We should also be capable to cooperate, to collaborate, to work in partnership with private sectors of the society, including companies.”

The Ministry of Science said in a statement it has been negotiating within the government to get more resources and working to optimize the use of what’s now available. But what many fear was that cutting science and research money may help solve short-term financial problems but reduce the country’s capacity for long-term innovation and development.