BNRC Focus: Why is a National Research Council important?

Angel Cal

A discussion with Dr. Angel Cal.

Rationale

Most countries in the developed and developing world are fully conscious of the changes in the macro structures of the world economy, one based on knowledge and its applications. The human capital that moves this economy requires the generation of new know how including technology applied to natural resources to produce high quality goods and services that can compete in a globalized free trade economy. Until Belize gets into the business of producing its own research, this small country will continue to rely on expensive imported research that is quite often unsuitable for our own developmental needs. The consequence of importing genetically modified (GMO) seeds, for example that rely almost totally on imported carcinogenic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers have contributed in no small way to the significant increase in health related issues that are killing our people.

Belize is one of the few countries of the world that has not in any systemic or methodical manner taken on the task of rationalizing its national research potential, and directing its outputs in a purposeful manner towards the service of its productive sector that is facing very critical challenges in various levels of viability to compete in national, regional and international markets. By way of comparison, Jamaica established its Science and Technology Council in 1960 while CONACYT, the Mexican federal government’s National Council of Science and Technology is a huge and powerful agency that plays a major role in the development of scientific and technological research outputs vital to Mexico’s productive sector. Belize has to cut its cloth to suit but is it not time to begin with the establishment of a modest national research council with emphasis on science and technology to coordinate and help direct research outputs towards not only challenges but also opportunities in the efficient use of our human and natural resources for the benefit of our people?

Purpose of the National Research Council of Belize (NRCB)

The overall purpose of the body is to coordinate, rationalize and promote research in Belize as a necessary instrument for the development of knowledge and its applications especially in science and technology to support the sustained development of Belize. To begin with, the NRCB would refer to the installed research capacity of Belize in academia, government and in the productive sector. For example, by definition, every full time faculty member at the university level is a researcher whose outputs can be motivated, supported, directed and recognized to produce the quality of research that is most needed by our productive sector. The NRCB can develop the capacity to offer research services that in some instances can be subsidized to promote the development of small to medium sized entrepreneurs but in most cases can be bought by the productive sector. The linkages between the generators of the research, the users of its outputs and ultimately the beneficiaries can be dynamic, growing with the increasing sophistication of the agency as a partner in development.

Challenges and Opportunities of a NRCB

The capacity of an incipient agency to produce a high quality research product attractive because of its usefulness to Belize’s productive sector is the greatest challenge.  A research council has to quickly link up the producers of research outputs and prospective users of such outputs to ensure fitness for purpose, not only in the design but also in the application and evaluation of its usefulness in terms of values of efficiency, productivity, and high quality for improved competitiveness in the relevant market. The installed research capacity in government research units, commercial agriculture such as sugarcane, citrus and bananas, and in academia all suggest that there would be both a challenge and opportunity to develop research capacity in Belize so as to build incentives for researchers to engage more closely with the productive sector and other users of research outputs. Moreover, NRCB need not begin from scratch. The accumulated experience of science and technology councils huge, medium and small can be carefully studied to design Belize’s own so that we get good value for levels of investment.

What has been done so far?

            A core working team (CWT) from academia has been analyzing the prospects of taking on this vital initiative for Belize. In July 2017 the CWT conducted a first meeting of key players in the research field in Belize to brain storm the concept. From this exercise, we learned that there is ample interest in further developing the concept with representatives from government, the productive sector and from civil society organizations. Further thinking has led to the development of an outline of a national research council with its mission, goals, challenges and opportunities, management structure, policy making and financing. The CWT will soon be poised for a second major meeting with representatives from the four categories of stakeholders: productive sector, government, academia and civil society organizations. The aim would be to expand buy-in from stakeholders for decision on the establishment of the NRCB in the short term.