In recent years, the Ministry of Science was able to effectively complement knowledge with production. A tighter interaction with countries in the region and the development of plans to reinforce food security destined to cope with climate change are among the office’s agenda.
“The State has to actively participate in the assembly of new production chains, asides from obtaining information and making it available”.
The Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation was created to build a new production model aimed at generating greater social inclusion and improving economy competitiveness under the paradigm of ‘knowledge as the basis of development’.
In order to do so different actions requiring a series of innovations were taken in regards with the organizational structure and financing instruments in the area of Science and Technology (S&T).
Thus “we managed to rebuild the Argentine scientific system with more investigators, higher salaries and better infrastructure”, says Lino Barañao, minister of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation.
What’s the importance for the Ministry and the S&T sector of the inauguration of the new Scientific and Technologic Pole?
It has multiple meanings. The first is to centralize the administration of science – the Ministry, the National Agency of Scientific and Technological Promotion (Agency) and, in the next stage, the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) – will operate from the Pole. Furthermore, it is a unique experience to bring together in the same building administrative, research and promotion activities. Research facilities will be located at the International Institutes of Interdisciplinary Innovation, established along with a foreign partner. The first is the Max Planck Society, and we are underway with the Industrial Design Bilateral Center with Italy; the biotechnology center with the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB ) of Trieste (Italy) and a Supercomputing Center with France. We want people from other countries working on different subjects of a common area to achieve an interdisciplinary interaction that nurtures innovative development. The promotion department will be a center for content development, information on activities of the Ministry and promotion of scientific and technological careers, and will have an auditorium with open activities for the community. The Scientific and Technological Pole will bring a new profile to the area of Palermo where it is located, that is already being called “Palermo Science”.
What is the meaning for our country of the inauguration of a research center with a prestigious partner as the Max Planck Society?
It is a sign of the high level and excellence research Argentina has, which differences us from others in Latin American (countries) and enables us to convoke other institutions to work at the Pole.
How do the scientific-technological systems integrate at the Common Southern Market (MERCOSUR, for its acronym in Spanish)?
Almost since the creation of the MERCOSUR there is a meeting specialized in Science and Technology (the Specialized Meeting in Science and Technology of the MERCOSUR – RECyT, for its acronym in Spanish) which seeks to coordinate policies in these areas with relative success. Now we are moving forward towards more specific projects involving access to funding and effective coordination among different countries. The first is the EU-Mercosur biotec project destined to improve different food and forest chains through biotechnology. The second is related to biomedical platforms included in this Pole as the Max Planck Society, the Institut Pasteur of Montevideo and other institutions from Paraguay and Brazil. This is the first project of its kind in the MERCOSUR.
Within the MERCOSUR, Brazil is a strategic partner for Argentina. What is your opinion from the S&T viewpoint?
It clearly is a strategic partner and has a very important scientific development. Without a doubt Brazil and Argentina are the countries with the greatest scientific and technological development in South America. In fact a study published at Nature magazine on the efficiency of scientific cooperation between countries concluded that the relationship between Brazil and Argentina is the most intense of all cooperation projects between two nations in the world. This demonstrates how important complementarity and cooperation are. We will participate in the construction of some of the synchrotron light modules, a very important research infrastructure at the University of Campiñas (Brazil). I believe that cooperation with Brazil is going to be tighter in the future.
Which is the S&T balance of Argentina in recent years?
We managed to rebuild the Argentine scientific system with more investigators, higher salaries and better infrastructure. Today we have a more effective integration between knowledge generation and production thanks to sector funds and financing from public-private partnerships in different areas such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs). Finally, we inaugurated the headquarters of the Ministry and will launch TV channel. These are achievements that consolidate the strategic decision to prioritize science and technology and make them a state policy.
Which are the areas the Ministry currently prioritizes when granting support to investigation projects?
Our policy has two components: to finance areas of knowledge, through scientific promotion funds from the Agency as FONTAR, and to support certain areas that we deem important. In this regard we have three technology platforms (biotechnology, ICT and nanotechnology) that address problems in the health, agribusiness, energy and social development areas. This new logic demands, since the beginning, a partnership between the public and private sectors to ensure that the State investments reach the citizen.
Which are the priority areas for training of scientists in Argentina?
We provide specific support to computer science careers with ICT scholarships to facilitate completion of university career. We are interested in education in all basic sciences and particularly in engineering, which is a limiting factor for the future development of the country. We also support the training of technological managers that link together knowledge creation areas with its application.
It is believed that in October 2011 the 7.000 million individual was born. Which are the actions taken by Argentine S&T institutions to anticipate future increases in food demand?
The problem are going to be the 2,000 million people that will arrive before 2050 and will require 70 percent more food. The only way to meet that demand will be through technology. We prioritize the food industry and we are aiming at what the Royal Society of England defined as “the challenge”: sustainable intensification of global agriculture. For this, we must develop technologies to produce more on less land, in a sustainable process and maintaining ecosystems. This is only possible through an interdisciplinary approach. Although we are talking about year 2050, the required timeframe to increase agricultural productivity is commensurable, so it is a critical area for us.
Is it the same case for actions destined towards climate change mitigation or adaptation?
Yes, many of these investigations aimed at obtaining plant varieties resistant to drought have two purposes: to assess crops in marginal areas – historically not suitable for agriculture -, and to offer the producer different options when facing potential changes in weather conditions. To address these concerns we should have a portfolio of plant varieties able to adapt to different parts of the country likely to suffer different changes. Climate change aggravates the problem of food security, as some not very optimistic projections indicate that food production can be reduced by 30%. Therefore we are facing a really critical situation ahead.
The “RAÍCES” program (network of Argentine investigators and scientists working abroad) promotes connecting with Argentine investigators working abroad, asides from repatriation. How does this network work and which are the current joint projects?
It is a very broad program implementing a myriad of actions from different agencies. It has a database to which investigators and technicians outside the country are incorporated to receive regular updates on the country’s situation. There’s also has the Milstein scholarship for those considering to teach or train people in this country. It also includes a program for investigators to live in Argentina. This was very successful because it gives the researcher for the first time the security of a contract and a salary comparable to those who remained in the country and accumulated different types of salary extras. It is important for us to maintain the bond with the scientific community living abroad because they can effectively contribute to the scientific development of the country. Today there are more than twenty investigators collaborating in areas such as meteorology, physics or molecular biology, among other disciplines.
What is your opinion on the National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA) as Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation?
INTA is one of the pillars of scientific and technological activity in our country. It has a very particular profile because it is carry very good level basic scientific research combined with irreplaceable outreach activities. We are interested in expanding that relationship with a new inclusive innovation program to achieve what the president of the Nation, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner calls “industrialization of rural areas”. I think the State, asides from obtaining information and making it available, must actively participate in the assembly of new production chains. As State, we need to keep moving and organizing these projects if we want to make a positive impact on social inclusion.
The Ministry conducts numerous actions destined at the promotion of science, and expanded and diversified its communications department. Why the development and strengthening of scientific communication seems so important?
Scientific communication is a social responsibility of the investigator, who is financed by the society. The first thing the taxpayer receives is updated and rigorous information on different aspects of the reality that is being studied. Second, we are very interested in the valuation of S&T and also show its economic impact; we want to present success stories when there is a productive interaction between the science and the private sectors or state. And finally, we want to promote vocations. The country needs engineers, programmers, physicists and chemists and is not producing as many as it needs. Today we aim at a country requiring knowledge. If we don’t have science professionals, that future we are presenting in Technopolis will be hardly accessible. Not only do we have to show, but also publicize the science. We don’t have to just tell what there is, but also make it attractive. We have to convince teenagers that their chances of social mobility are higher with scientific and technological careers.