General Description of the RLB

 The RLB is a consortium of a select number of academically prestigious institutions located in Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, with headquarters at the University of Chile, Santiago, Chile. Internationally recognized academics of these Institutions collaborate to offer courses and work with graduate students from different countries to carry out research programs leading to their degrees. These Institutions (27 currently participating) also are foci to organize regional specialized courses and scientific meetings, as well as to execute bi- and multi-national research projects. All RLB activities revolve around different fields of plant sciences. 

The specific aims of the RLB are to: 

i) increase the number of trained plant scientists in a region harboring one-third of the world's plant species, within an indigenous framework in which greater sensitivity and research relevancy to the needs of conserving biodiversity are the guiding principles; 

ii) promote the development of new centers of botanical excellence throughout the region;

iii) reduce critical isolation between scientists of Latin America, that has long impeded the development of a regional voice to the problems of conservation and resource management;

iv) promote regional pride, self-sufficiency and stronger and healthier international relations between the countries of Latin America. 

Funding of the RLB is mostly dependent on external donors. Eighteen grants were awarded to the RLB until now by 8 foundations: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, AID- USA, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation; Compton Foundation, W. Alton Jones Foundation, and William & Flora Hewlett Foundation. Besides aids from private foundations, matching funds are also raised in Latin America by organizers of specific events. It is necessary to emphasize how important has been the increasing financial support granted by the RLB collaborating institutions. They have contributed with an important amount of funds, not quantified, towards the support of diverse activities that the RLB has carried out: air tickets to Scientific Committee members, lodging facilities for participants in courses or Scientific Committee meetings, infrastructure and equipment for courses, scientific events and meetings, salaries for teachers of regional graduate courses, partial support of the tuition fees for some scholarship holders, etc.

A brief summary of the results achieved until now is showed in a summary table. These results have been achieved with what can be considered without exaggeration, as an extremely modest budget. Funds invested reach just over US$ 3.5 million, of which 80% have been used to support the substantive actions of the RLB, the rest being utilized for the core operation of the programs. In spite of the outstanding results obtained so far, some countries have not benefited sufficiently from the opportunities offered by the RLB’s programs. This could be in part due to the scarce development of plant sciences in these countries and therefore insufficient interest on the part of the students to apply to institutions offering opportunities to improve their training in this scientific area. This situation has generated a sort of vicious cycle that needs to be looked into and corrected. Our main concern is to raise new funds in order to continue our current programs, but mostly in those Latin American countries where the opportunities offered by the RLB have not been used adequately.

By any standards, RLB is a relatively modest enterprise. However, it provides a good example of what can be accomplished with a relatively small budget when there is strong commitment to the cause. The economically modest but cost-effective work of the RLB is a worthwhile investment in a region in which knowledge and its policy application will be increasingly important elements in the face of the present pressures for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and where national investment in science and technology must be stimulated.

Latin America is a region whose hopes of a better, more egalitarian and socially just future depends totally on their having a growing number of better-trained women and men. The contribution that the RLB has made in this sense, however modest, has centered in areas of the utmost importance for the future of the region as well as globally. These are: the training in the field of the biology, particularly focused in the area of ecology, food production and conservation of natural resources; and generating the scientific knowledge needed in order to have a major impact on ecological policy and decision making for conservation, that is the maintenance, recovery and sustainable use of biodiversity throughout Latin America.

[1] Kalin de Arroyo M., S. Dietrich, E. Forero, and S. Maldonado (1994). The Latin American Plant Sciences Network: a collaborative regional effort in science training. In Agroforestry Education and Training: The Latin American Perspective (Krishnamurty, L., P.K.R. Nair, and C.R. Latt, eds.). Agroforestry Systems 28, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht.


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Susana Maldonado;  September 9th, 2004.