Scientists: Costa Rica Needs Long-Term Plan

July 22, 2005

MICROBIOLOGISTS, electricalengineers, mathematicians and ecologistsfrom throughout the country met this weekto define a plan for science and technologythey hope will make Costa Rica adeveloped nation within 50 years.Participants, led by two former universityrectors and the country’s best-knownscientist, astronaut Franklin Chang, havetheir work cut out for them. Costa Ricalacks human resources, financial and governmentalsupport, cooperation betweeninvolved entities and a scientific culture tomake science and technology take offhere, according to those who spoke at theconference that took place Monday andTuesday outside San José. Still, they areoptimistic. The first step was identifyingthe problem, they said; now they will setout to do something about it.The conference was the end of the firstanalytical stage in creating the strategyHalf-Century Plan for Science andTechnology.“THIS is not just scientific developmentfor the sake of scientific development.Rather, it is for the development ofthe country,” said project leader GabrielMacaya, former rector of the University ofCosta RicaIt is essential for undeveloped countriesthat are on the cusp of development toinvest in science and establish a long-termstrategy based on concrete goals, Changadded.Costa Rica invested approximately0.39% of its Gross Domestic Product(GDP) in science and technology in 2000,less than the 0.58% average for LatinAmerica and the Caribbean, and far lessthan that of developed countries like Spain(0.94%) and the United States (2.68%).A fundamental step will be increasingthat investment, according to Chang. Heclosed the conference by setting an investmentgoal of 3% of the GDP for scientificresearch and development by 2015, thedaily La Nación reported.WHILE government support for scienceand technology has been limited,increased funds can also come from privateinitiatives. Costa Rica is far fromreaching its potential for interactionbetween private industry and the scientificcommunity, conference leaders said.For example, with fuel prices rising,and Costa Rica’s standard of living sufferingbecause of it, no national plan exists totake advantage of research on Africanpalm oil as a biofuel, explained AlejandroCruz, a former rector of the TechnologyInstitute of Costa Rica who is also leadingthe initiative.“Implementing the knowledge wehave could save resources,” he said.OTHER failures in the state of scienceand technology here include lack ofcoordination among scientists themselves,and of a national scientific culture.These conclusions are drawn fromsummaries and evaluations of the state ofscience in Costa Rica made by more than250 scientists, working in 20 work groups.In the second phase, scientists willanalyze the work-group reports to determinea strategic vision. The final phase ofdeveloping a half-century plan willinvolve defining concrete action plans forthe short and long term, according to Cruz.Development of the plan so far hasincluded limited government involvement.However, once a plan is made, it will bepresented to presidential candidates inDecember.“We want to make sure we have somethingthat transcends political administrations,”Chang said.

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