Dr. Óscar Cóbar | Words in opening ceremony, Session Science, CUMIPAZ 2018
Oscar Cóbar representante SENACYT

Dr. Óscar Cóbar | Words in opening ceremony, Session Science, CUMIPAZ 2018

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Dr. Óscar Cóbar

National Secretary of Science and Technology of the Republic of Guatemala


Well, not to bore you, I am going to speak very quickly, so that our honorable guests may see a little bit of the city, before anything, then go to rest, to continue with the activities of this great event tomorrow.

The idea of ​​my talk (very brief, it will not take me more than 15 minutes, at the most) is to give you a vision of what is the panorama of science and technology in Guatemala and in the world, and how we can really guide and structure the national systems of science and technology so that they really are fundamental axes of the development of the countries and are instruments of consolidation of the peace of our peoples. That is basically the idea of ​​today.

How will I focus this? First, the state of science and technology in the country: What challenges do the situation that presents themselves give us? And what have we done to face these challenges and the dilemmas that the current situation of science and technology in the world brings us?

Generally, the national science and technology systems are with a local structure, as a national legislation. First, Guatemala is one of the privileged countries, because science and technology are at the constitutional level; the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, in its Article 80, establishes that science and technology are fundamental axes for national development.

Additionally, there are laws issued by the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala – and their respective regulations by the executive body – in which, then, it gives the structure and guidelines to finance science and technology in the country.

Here I want to highlight only that Guatemala has a specific law, which is the Law for the Creation of the National Science and Technology Fund, in which an amount from the national budget is set (small, by the way, but an amount is established), already from the law of the Congress of the Republic (which is described as a definite amount), to annually support and to aid science and technology in the country. We do not depend then on whether they want to give us a little bit or not, or more, but it is already a law that they give us an amount; that is a step forward.

Additionally, we rely on a National Policy on Science and Technology 2015-2032 and a National Plan for Scientific and Technological Development (recent) 2018-2025.

At the international level, all national science and technology organizations have representation in science and technology organizations in the Americas: The Meeting of Ministers of Science and Technology in the OAS, the Meeting of Ministers of the Ibero-American General Secretariat (of the Community of States Latin American and the Caribbean), the Commission of Scientific and Technological Development (of the countries of the Central American Integration System), etcetera, etcetera.

And a reflection: To these forums, 90% of the same of us always go, to discuss relatively scattered agendas between the different instances. What do we have to do? Unify the Ibero-American agendas – talking about our region – to make bilateral and multilateral cooperation much more effective, and that science and technology really have resources focused on meeting the social needs of our time.

How are we really with the investment of research and development in relation to the gross domestic product? (That is, how they measure us in relation to support for science and technology).

There we see that the countries that invest the most –such as Israel, South Korea and Japan– are around 4% of their gross domestic product. Guatemala, that in these indicators of the RICYT (of the Network of Indicators of Science and Technology, of Latin America) we appear with the 0.03% of investment (it made me happy, because at least we appeared in the graphs; we didn’t even appear there.) But we are quite low; however we have to invest more in science and technology.

The developed countries, the Asian emerging economies, are like this because they have invested in science, technology, and innovation as fundamental axes of their development.

I will pass very quickly. I want to thank UNESCO because in Guatemala the 6th GO-SPIN Global Report was made, which is a survey of the information about the research and innovation situation that they do in places of the world. The sixth was here in Guatemala, the first in America and the first in Spanish, and served it as the basis to delineate the entire National Plan for Science, Technology and Innovation 2018-2025. I reiterate my gratitude to UNESCO for this support that was given to us.

Some statistics, very quickly. We had 411 full-time researchers and scientists in 2012; we had 84 in 1976. These numbers are cold, but they represent 16 times less researchers and scientists than the average in Latin America, and 262 times less than in developed countries. What is this telling us? We have to invest in high level human resources.

In education: Our investment in education is 2.8% of the gross domestic product and 20.6% of the national budget. The people of UNESCO told me: "Congratulations as a country. Few countries from their general budget have more than 20% to invest in education." However, as we will see later, because our resources are scarce as a country, derived from the low tax collection and our investments may not have been the best, this investment has not been efficient enough and has not really been impactful in our educational system. Evidently, we did not pass the TERCE tests of UNESCO, both in language and in mathematics; we have very low numbers.

Our scientific production: 180 articles were published by Guatemalan scientists in journals indexed with impact index in 2015. Switzerland, for example, publishes 2400 per million inhabitants; that means 22,000% more than Guatemala. "Well, it's Switzerland," you may tell me.

How do we measure ourselves in the region? Out of 35 countries, Guatemala ranks 16th in scientific production. Let's say that we are at the mid-point of the Latin American and Caribbean region in scientific production.

However, something important in this scientific production (and that's why I wanted to do this by gender distribution). Of the proposals entered on projects of scientific research for financing to the National Secretary of Science and Technology, the best points, the best qualified proposals were elaborated by women; that is, women, in that sense, their proposals were of better quality than those proposed by men. Good news.

It means that the woman really has a lot of capacity, no doubt, and there are numbers that are showing this. Very interesting that data taken by UNESCO.

In the end, in this table, a bit big, I have several indicators that have to do with innovation, such as the global competitiveness index, the knowledge economy, internet users, etc., etc.

There are countries of the world, in the first column; the next two columns are the ranking we occupy and the value. The ranking is important, and there we see that Guatemala, for example, occupies (in the first competitiveness index) 78th place among 178 countries, 99th among 145 in the other indicator, 130th of 179, 93rd of 139, etc., etc. That is, by comparing ourselves... and there we can gradually compare ourselves with other countries that are really in a low position with respect to science and technology indicators in the country.

And this last one is… very well, we need resources then to invest in all the needs of the country; but if you see this graph (taken in the year 2018) in relation to the gross domestic product, fiscal collection, Guatemala is the country in Latin America that has the least tax collection. That is, how are we going to want to finance education, health, infrastructure, food security, nutrition, and so much troubles, right? We could say, support science and technology as a luxury, we could say, that they can think, with those resources, right?

I am not suggesting we increase taxes, but we do have to be smart in a better tax collection, because the State needs resources to finance all the service that is given to society. These are interesting numbers; and incredibly the country that has the most taxes (as you can see in this table, in relation to the gross domestic product) is Cuba, when one would expect that there they did not have it.

We then have challenges, challenges in the formation of high-level human capital, challenges in how to guide research and generation of scientific knowledge, challenges in entrepreneurship, transfer and technology, and innovation, and challenges in popularizing science and technology to create a scientific culture in our societies. That is key in countries like ours, that society demands that science and technology be the fundamental axis of its development.

We have challenges, as we have already seen; we are in the knowledge of society, there is a scientific and technological production that I call a mutation (it does not evolve, it mutates). And countries are not able to adapt to these mutations, as viruses adapt, right? Easily to vaccines; they mutate and they no longer are susceptible to antivirals. In the same way science and technology is impacting, and we as countries are not able to adapt to these things.

Important: If we want to create scientific culture, we educate our children and our youth, from a young age, from home, and during the first levels of public education; but for that, what do we have to do first? Train the teachers. Train teachers in what? The knowledge of sciences, because they are deficient in a certain way in the knowledge of sciences, and even more so in a modern scientific methodology that helps us to teach science careers well; and so that the child and the youth do not say: "I am never going to study a science degree because it is boring, difficult, and I lose." They should see that science is fun and that it can be learned by doing.

Our policy then, and the policies of the countries, should be focused, for me, on four principles: It must build high-level human capital; it's key; scientific research and the generation of knowledge must be oriented to social and productive needs; much momentum in the processes of entrepreneurship and technological innovation to seek to transform of our industries, our productive apparatus, from a craft base to a technological base; that is key (and innovation and entrepreneurship must be transversal axes of that); and create a scientific culture in the country, permeate societies that science and technology is what will take us out of the underdevelopment in which we are.

We are also oriented and linked to the Sustainable Development Goals; we should not forget that. Both in our National System of Science and Technology as in our National Innovation System, they are oriented to seek to contribute to the fulfillment of those Sustainable Development Goals of the UN.

How are we structured? We are structured based on the conception of the fivefold helix. What do I mean by that conception of the fivefold helix and the theory of systems? The three initial helices are the linkage of the public sector, academic sector, and the private sector, the synergy between the three sectors of society; t fourth helix, to be of social benefit, and the fifth helix, which to be friendly to the environment and seeking protection of the environment. They are the five helices in which we must orient our entire system of science and technology.

Which in my opinion is well structured: Vice President of the Republic, Deputy Ovidio Monzón (here present) as president of the Commission on Education, Science and Technology of the Congress of the Republic (which, by the way, thank you very much for all your support in the council, in science and technology activities); the Minister of Economy for the processes of entrepreneurship and innovation, the presidents of the three main chambers of the country; and the rector of the University of San Carlos, a rector for all the private ones, the private universities of the country (which are around 14 or 15), and the president of the Academy of Medical, Physical and Natural Sciences of Guatemala. That is, the three sectors working together to generate science and technology public policy, based on science.

We also created a National Innovation System, seeking to create an innovation ecosystem in the country, and here we approved it in 2017; it has not been a year since its approval; and there we seek that all public, private, and academic institutions converge to create an ecosystem of innovation in the country, encourage entrepreneurship and, as I said before, seek to transcend from a craft production system (in a certain way) to a technology-based one.

How are we doing? We created four programs based, each, on the axes of our national policy.

We encourage financial support so that [students] go to study doctorate and master's degrees abroad; and then a repatriation program, which is integrated into the CTI, so that those that form may stay working in the country. If we form them, it is fine, they are formed, but the great majority stay outside; then we have to have strategies to bring them back to Guatemala.

The second of the four programs is the generation of knowledge; which we call the "Knowledge Management,” that we have from basic research, which is the generation of knowledge, its application and transfer of technology. We promote, funding by priority, joint projects between academia, industry, and private initiative. We support projects with international consortiums between people who have gone to participate in projects of the European community and from other places with success; we finance their projects in Guatemala.

Dr. Rachel is an example of what can be done, and the team she presented here have been pioneers in participating in international consortiums of scientific research and technological development.

Emergency lines, social research lines, because we cannot separate science/technology from society, because that is the direction in which we are going. It is a new line that was created, that had not been created before. Let's not forget that we have to go solve social problems based on science and technology.

The third program is: "Technological development and innovation,” seeking to promote entrepreneurship in our youth. See, our countries have incredible talent; our youths, our children are talented. Let's foment them, there they are, let's support them.

So those are funds to support entrepreneurship, mainly of young people; and seek to support small and medium enterprises in improving their production processes, seeking technology transfer, or improvement of the technologies currently develop their products.

And in the fourth and final program, which is the program of "Popularization of science,” what we are looking for is all those activities: We finance conferences, seminars, mobilization of scientists, experts that go, that come, that youths compete in international science, robotics, mathematics, physics, and chemistry olympics; and an aggressive program of popularization of science, seeking (I repeat) to create a scientific culture in the country.

If society does not grasp that science is really important, who is going to demand something of science? Who is going to demand of political decision-makers, if not society? But science has to show them that science is useful to them in solving their social problems.

Very well. And finally, we are also involved in other things, seeking to support the State in its modernization: That the State provide a modern service to societies, open government processes, electronic government processes. Believe me, it is difficult, but that culture must be created in the governments and must be promoted; and we must be, as science and technology, those who seek to promote these initiatives for transparency, better execution of government funds, and provide better services to society.

The final example that I want to give you… the final example is nothing more than an example of how, through scientific research, traditions of our Mayan nations have been rescued. And we have several projects focused on one, which is called "Mayan Superfoods," that's what it's called (Mayan superfoods in English, how the brand is sold, let's put it that way, abroad, right?). And it's nothing more than results of scientific research projects, of knowledge generation of our flora: Leaves, roots, seeds. Not only has knowledge been rescued, but have also been scientifically validated, and somehow have already achieved commercial food. There are fairs that have been made here and activities where food cooked by people from the region is offered, with the different grains, Mayan seeds of Guatemalan tradition.

There are flowers, there are leaves, and here on the other side is the investigation project, which generated that research.

Scientific research has also been done where properties of each of them have been validated; minerals, for example, trace elements, etc., etc. That is, not only have they become food properties, but they have tried to scientifically validate their capacity, both nutritionally and medicinally.

Here I want to give in these transparencies a recognition to Dr. Armando Cáceres, Guatemalan researcher and scientist, who is the one who has coordinated the research projects that have led to the development of these Mayan superfoods, and how successful they have been; and even, parallel to this session, on day 4, on Thursday, a congress on these supermayas foods is to be inaugurated at the level of studies in several universities of the country. I have to be there on the 4th, then, inaugurating this event; they gave me the honor of doing it as they gave it to me today.

There are also minerals, trace elements; its antioxidant composition has been scientifically validated, what it has, et cetera, etcetera; and work is being done on chemical composition: what type of flavonoids they have, for example, what kind of cardiotonic glycosides are there. It is working on that.

It is a little more meticulous work that little by little is advancing in the scientific validation of our Guatemalan medicinal flora.

The dishes that have generally been produced and which are actually marketed: There are soups, most soups, pancakes, herbs, tamales, arrocitos, pastas. There is everything, and all made with Mayan foods, with foods that were studied and analyzed from the culture of the Mayan ancestral peoples; and convert them, not only validating their nutritional value, but turning them into food, because really what is going... That is, it is an example of how science and technology (and basic scientific research, which generates knowledge) can reach an application in the rescue and valorization of our ancestral values.

And, to conclude, I just want to do so with a phrase from Louis Pasteur, who in 1857 said: Science is the soul of the prosperity of nations and the source of life of all progress.

Thank you.



…Paris climate change as we promised, I would also like to congratulate all the team that coordinated this session: Dayana Pérez, Daniela Pérez, Carmen Salzano, the others who are coordinators and those of the work team, as well as all the volunteers of the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace and the people of the GEAP of Guatemala.

To close, remember that tomorrow we continue. Today is the beginning of five sessions, and tomorrow it will be the Corporate Social Responsibility Session, which will be in the Convention Hall of the Western Camino Real Hotel at the appointed time.

Without further ado, who has been the driving force here has been keeping an eye of each of the conferences, for every detail, as always is her style, our general director of the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace, Dr. Gabriela Lara.