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A north star for the state of Amazonas

In only four years, the State sets up a state wide system of science and technology

Research in the State of Amazonas limited itself, until only a short time ago, to isolated initiatives of institutions such as the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), the National Amazonian Research Institute (Inpa) and the federal and state universities. This reality has changed. With the founding, during 2003, of the Secretariat of Science and Technology (Sect), the state of Amazonas State consolidated a structure that today supports 4,000 grant holders, a good many of them working in towns in the interior, is sponsoring dozens of research programs and is taking to the academic entities work on themes that are priorities for its regional development, such as the treatment of infectious diseases, the development of productivity chains of forestry products, ethnic knowledge, biotechnology, microelectronics, among others.

Who led this change was the sociologist Marilene Corrêa da Silva Freitas, 56 yeas of age, the State Secretary for Science and Technology. “Currently Amazonas is already participating in various programs that involve federal partnerships, which requires not only counterbalance financing but also the creation of an evaluation and accompaniment structure”, recognizes Jorge Bounassar, the president of the National Council of State Research Support Foundations (FAPs) and of the Araucaria Foundation for the Support of Scientific and Technological Development in the State of Paraná.

It was her work in the field of public policies, consolidated in her post doctorate work in sociology at the University of Caen, in France, and in the division of tertiary level teaching and research of Unesco, in Paris, that made possible the forwarding of her name to lead the Sect. “If there’s not an understanding of the regional priorities by public management, the initiatives tend to weaken or remain restricted to the experiences of the disciplinary fields, without any connection to the realities of the Amazon”, says the secretary. In October, Marilene Corrêa was one of the three finalists in the category of Public Policies for the Claudia Award, given out by the publishing house Editora Abril.

Strategic reinforcement
As well as forming human resources and placing research into the interior of the State, government action is looking to strengthen the infrastructure of the academic institutions and to give coverage to companies within the industrial center in city of Manaus. One of the main tools of change was the implantation, also at the start of 2003, of the Amazonas State Research Support Foundation (Fapeam). The budget was R$ 53 million in 2006, R$ 5 million higher than that of 2005, equivalent to 1% of the State’s collected taxes and a further 1% that Amazonas receives from the sectorial funds. With such resources, Fapeam has already launched 28 tenders that deal with key questions such as programs for the financing of human resources training, mainly masters and doctorate degrees, and of science and technology for green Amazonas having as the goal the sustainability of the regional economy and environment. It is in this area that the Sect, in an agreement with the federal government, formulated a support program for the implementation of a Biotechnology Center in Amazonas.

Another dimension of the same proposal is the in-company programs that develop products from the natural resources of Amazonia and that consolidate the local technology base. The formation of indigenous and mixed race researchers is moving in the same direction as the inclusion of Amazonian populations in the seats of knowledge of the research institutions. “The founding of Fapeam had been forecast since the end of the decade of the 1980s, with a budget of 3% of the States income from taxes, but it did not get off the ground. Later the percentage was changed to 0.3% and not even at that did it begin to function”, points out Marilene.

With the functioning of the Foundation, Amazonas is investing in various fronts. Today it sponsors around 4,000 grant holders, 500 taking their masters and doctorate degrees, and as well supports, with direct financing, the coordination of post-graduate courses. In order to reinforce the critical mass of the research institutions, the Young Amazon Doctor Program was established, which looks to fix doctors in research lines in the interior of Amazonas. And the Young Amazon Scientist, for undergraduate scientists, which today can count upon more than 350 Indian and mixed race grant holders, with high school and primary school diplomas, developing projects in indigenous or isolated localities. Another program is looking to attract doctorate professors from other states, offering a monthly “trousseau” of up to R$ 50,000, in the case of researchers with at least 25 years of career, in order to attend to the demands of cutting edge research already implanted in the laboratories of the Biotechnology Center and at other institutions. This value includes the researcher’s salary, from R$ 8,000 to R$ 10,000, grants for doctorate and masters students and research expenses. The objective is that they remain in Amazonas when the grant terminates.

There is concern about inducing research into the sustainability of forestry exploration or of infectious illnesses, but the public policies are looking to exorcise the myth that it is only this that the state’s researchers and institutions have to offer. “In the definition of Brazilian industrial policy there are three major sectors that hold potential for local development: semiconductors, phytopharmacology products and software, but all of the national public opinion thinks about Amazonas merely as extractive products”, explains Marilene Corrêa. She was referring to the government support to the activity of eight research and development institutions in the private sector, linked to companies in the Free Zone of Manaus. “Just the Genius Institute of Gradiente, which on its own has around 15 top class research projects under development. Other companies, such as Nokia, Samsung and Honda, also maintain their research institutes here.”