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Great Leap Backwards

Technical co-operation between developing countries may take a step backward if proposed changes to Canada's International Development Research Centre( IDRC) go through. The Minister of International Development in the now threatened Conservative Government. Martial Asselin, has pledged $12 million towards a new programme to make the IDRC the focal point for financing Canadian research and development (R+D) into the problems of developing nations. The move is a radical re-direction of the Centre's original mandate.

The Third World's case for a greater share of the world's R+D is unassailable. The developing countries, with over two-thirds of the world's people, have only one-tenth o1- the global R+D budget. Even those figures are badly distorted since most of the money is concentrated in a handful of nations like India, Brazil and Mexico.

The IDRC was established in 1970 to help right the balance. It was to ,assist the developing nations to build up the research capabilities, the innovative skills and the institutions to solve their problems.' Much of the Centre's credibility and success are due to the fact that its projects are conceived, planned and executed by developing country scientists.

The IDRC's fundamental cornerstone, its willingness to support risky and often pioneering research by Third World scientists without the expectation of reciprocal economic benefits, may now be in jeopardy.

Mr. Asselin says the new role of the IDRC follows the wishes of poor nations 'to increase substantially the proportion of research and development expenditures devoted to specific problems of primary interest to developing countries.' But more important seems to be the 'tying' of the new IDRC funds to Canadian-based research.

But the real motive behind the move seems to be the Canadian business community's concern over declining industrial R+D expenditures in Canada itself. And the likely effect is a swerve away from the IDRC's original aims of funding research in, by and for the developing countries - and a watering down oft he Third World's own research priorities.

New Internationalist issue 085 magazine cover This article is from the March 1980 issue of New Internationalist.
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