Up until recently, Paraguay had one of the lowest investment rates in scientific research and technological innovation of any Latin America and Caribbean country reaching to less that 0.1% of GDP. The country also lacked trained professionals to develop research activities and innovation projects.
That is rapidly changing, however, as innovation projects funded by the country’s Science, Technology and Innovation Development Support Program begin to bear fruit. The program was carried out between 2006 and 2013 by the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT), with support from the IDB.
Using the innovation funding, a team lead by Rodrigo Campos build the country’s first remote-controlled drone aircraft, which weighs about four pounds and can fly as high as 3,300 feet to perform tasks such as mapping of cities and monitoring and surveillance of cattle to prevent theft.
Campos called the CONACYT funding “a vote of confidence” in his team, which undertook two years of research and development to complete the drone project. “This is the beginning of something that can become much bigger,” he said.
The main goal of the CONACYT program was to increase the number of companies and universities capable of innovating and achieving technological breakthroughs. The new innovation system (SNIP by its acronym in Spanish) was designed to improve the competitiveness of key productive sectors and, as a result, foster greater economic and social development for the country as a whole.
In all, the pioneering program financed the development of 19 innovation projects in various areas to generate new products and jobs, as well as 37 research projects to improve public health and add value to natural resources. To help fill the country’s human resource gap in high-demand fields such as science, technology, and technology management, the program financed 11 new graduate and doctoral programs and awarded some 83 scholarships to undertake specialized training courses and post-graduation courses abroad.
The new master’s and doctoral programs include studies in Soil Science and Land Management, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Environmental Management, Computer, Biomedical Sciences, Statistics and Research Methodology among others.
The project is improving the national research capacity by funding projects in the knowledge frontier in the region, including those to stimulate experimental studies with stem cells for the treatment of osteoarthritis, develop computer models to optimize the design of roads and road works, analyze the possibility of using bovine bone to develop materials that purify water for toxic metals and improve the performance of solar photovoltaic panels to maximize the amount and quality of energy generated.
“We want to be a competitive country, and that means we need to produce better and more,” explained CONACYT President Héctor Dávalos. “To do that, we need to innovate, and to innovate we need to conduct research.”