Brazil’s science sector undergoes worst crisis in 20 years

Herton Escobar – O Estado de S. Paulo, 8/30/2015

With no federal funds, agencies cancel notices and delay payment of projects

The economic crisis that is troubling Brazil has not only caused fiscal adjustments, but has also caused cuts to the budgets of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) and to the Ministry of Education (MEC), of 25% and 9%, respectively.

The sector also suffers with the losses of oil royalties and with the plunder of resources reserved for research, which were used as payment for scholarships of the Brazilian program “Science Without Borders” [Ciencia Sem Fronteiras]. In 2014 alone, the program drained R$2.5 billion out of the National Development Fund for Science and Technology (FNDCT).

The atmosphere is the worst it’s been in the past 20 years, according to the president of the Brazilian Society for Science Progress, Helena Nader. Without cash in stock, funding agencies are cancelling notices and delaying payment of thousands of projects.

The cause of the problem lies within the FNDCT, a huge sectorial funds portfolio, which is the main funding resource in the country designed for research. With the 2014 changes in oil royalties’ distribution, the pre-salt resources that nourished the Sectorial Fund for Petroleum (CT-Petro) began to flow to the Social Fund, which is not a part of FNDCT and is not dedicated to science. With this, the amount collected by CT-Petro fell from R$1.4 billion in 2013 to R$140 million in 2014 – and probably won’t even reach R$30 million this year.

FNDCT’s total amount collected therefore also fell from R$4.5 billion in 2013 to R$3.2 billion in 2014; and over R$1 billion of this amount was reserved for the “Science without Borders” program. This scenario is aggravated by the appreciation of the dollar against the Brazilian real, and by recession, which reduce tax collections and impact the budget of foundations that support research.

The National Counsel for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq)’s budget this year foresees a transfer of R$1,22 billion from FNDCT, but only one fourth of this (R$330 million) was received thus far. The Counsel is delaying notice payments approved last year and cancelling or postponing new openings. Only six notices were opened this year, compared to 51 in 2014 and 91 in 2013.

Many scientists are waiting for payments and financing for their approved projects. They remain in line, but having to pay these researches out of their own pockets. Thus, “the priority right now is to pay what is owed before launching new things,” says Olivia, former president of CNPq.

In the academic sphere, in order to refrain from canceling scholarships, a department of the MEC had to cut 100% of capital resources and 75% of the cost of funds for post-grad programs across the country. “We had to adjust to our new reality,” says the director of the Programs and Scholarships of the MEC, Marcio de Castro Silva.

Read article in Portuguese here

Switzerland’s EcoSolifer planning solar-panel factory in Brazil

Vanessa Dezem – Bloomberg Business, 7/22/2015

EcoSolifer AG, a Swiss solar company, is planning a panel plant in Brazil as the country seeks to develop a domestic supply chain for photovoltaic components.

The company is evaluating locations now for a facility that will assemble imported cells into about 80 megawatts of panels a year, said Bruno Zacharias, head of the company’s operations in Brazil.

Brazil has less than 35 megawatts of solar capacity, an insignificant part of its power supply. It’s seeking to promote wider use and has introduced policies encouraging manufacturers to open factories. Zacharias said his plant will also start producing cells within five years, the most important component, something none of his competitors is doing.

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Brazil’s vanishing business fliers wooed with rare onboard wi-fi

Christiana Sciaudone – Bloomberg Business, 7/22/2015

As Brazil’s deepening recession keeps many business fliers at home, discount airline Gol is trying to grab market share with a rare amenity in Latin America: Wi-Fi.

Taking a domestic flight in Brazil means having to forgo checking e-mail, long after Internet access became standard on all major U.S. carriers for most trips. For busy executives, even the 45-minute hop between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro can be excruciating when forced offline.

The technology upgrade is part of Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA’s effort to snag more of the country’s dwindling band of corporate passengers. Carriers prize those travelers because they tend to buy costly, last-minute tickets — and Gol’s average fare per kilometer flown is the lowest in Brazil.

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Oil spills from Petrobras pipeline into Brazil coastal area

Jeb Blount, Marta Nogueira and Rodrigo Viga Gaier – Yahoo News, 6/19/2015

Oil spilled from a pipeline linking a main Atlantic Ocean terminal with a refinery near Rio de Janeiro on Friday, Brazil’s state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA said.

The spill contaminated a coastal wetland area and leaked into the ocean, a spokesman for the union representing employees at the refinery said.

The narrow coastal region where the spill occurred is in Rio de Janeiro’s Costa Verde or “Green Coast” – one of Brazil’s most beloved tourist regions and home to one of the last stands of the endangered Atlantic-Forest ecosystem.

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U.S. and Russia vying to supply Brazil with commercial satellites in space partnership

Fox News Latino, 6/17/2015

The United States is vying with Russia to play a strategic role in helping Brazil launch commercial satellites from the Latin American nation’s base near the equator, setting up another potential area of dispute between Washington and Moscow.

With Brazil ending in February its decade-long partnership with the Ukraine to develop a launch vehicle at the Alcantara base, on its northern Atlantic coast, sources close to the government in Brasilia told Reuters that President Dilma Rousseff is expected to choose a partner in the coming months.

Rousseff is expected to factor in a number of issues in making her decision, including the quality of technology offered and Brazil’s diplomatic relations — a matter of importance as Rousseff visits the White House on June 30.

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Brazil’s cybercrime free-for-all: many scams and little punishment

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro – NPR, 6/15/2015

Brazil can boast many superlatives: the biggest country in South America, which is home to the the world’s biggest rain forest, which is home to the world’s biggest snake.

And now Brazil can claim to be a world leader in Internet fraud. It may not seem intuitive to associate Brazil with cybercrime, but the country was an early adapter of online banking and that helped create opportunities for online theft.

Most schemes have targeted other Brazilians but now they hit farther afield in places like the United States.

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Exclusive: Russia, U.S. competing for space partnership with Brazil

Anthony Boadle and Brian Winter – Reuters, 6/15/2015

The United States and Russia are competing for a strategic role in Brazil’s plan to launch commercial satellites from its base near the equator, opening up a new theater in their rivalry for allies and influence.

Brazil’s government expects to choose a partner to help provide technology in the coming months, three sources with knowledge of the deliberations told Reuters.

Brazil partnered with Ukraine over the past decade to develop a launch vehicle at the Alcantara base on its northern Atlantic coast. But Brazil ended the program in February, saying that Ukraine’s financial problems left it unable to provide rockets as promised.

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