LATIN AMERICAN PLANT SCIENCES NETWORK (RLB)

Activities of the RLB


The specific activities supported by the RLB adhere to the following basic principles: (a) maximization of the transfer of plant-science knowledge from well-trained individuals from one Latin American country to the citizens of another, particularly to younger individuals (horizontal connections); (b) necessity of greater comprehension of environmental and developmental problems at a regional level; (c) necessity to offer incentives for research relevant to local problems; (d) necessity to encourage young Latin Americans to remain in the region once trained; (e) maintenance of diversity rather than a standardized curriculum; and (f) necessity for vertical connections by which activities are temporally linked with new initiatives building on previous one.

Within this general framework, training is the focal activity of the RLB. Through the training program the RLB supports students at the Doctoral, Masters, and short-term training levels to undertake their studies in collaborative institutions. In order to increase dissemination of knowledge about plant sciences, RLB does not support students to study in their own countries. Students are awarded travel, monthly stipend, tuition fees, and research help to study within Latin America.

Another important activity organized by the RLB are regional graduate courses, most of which are related to the conservation of biodiversity. These are designed to supplement deficiencies and develop more integral approaches. Emphasis is on theory and analytical skills. The RLB, through consultation with key scientists in the region, searches for topics where knowledge is changing very quickly and requires a coordinated effort. Once the topic has been identified, the RLB appoints a coordinator to organize the course covering everything from thematic contents to logistics. Courses are usually two weeks long, rotating from country to country, and are generally attended by 15 to 20 Latin American students.

Equally important is the organization of major symposia on topics relevant to the region, and to help define regional opinions about particular issues related with plant sciences. After consulting with experts to define the topic, the RLB appoints a coordinator and a steering committee that identify the list of participants, and organize the meeting from the scientific structure to the logistics. The purpose of all these meetings is to identify research priorities and opportunities for collaboration, yielding published products as scientific papers, articles, books, and other documents that will be distributed widely in the region using our Web site as well as the traditional method of distributing hard copies.

Partial support, on a competitive basis, is also offered to facilitate the transfer of foreign students and university lecturers to attend already existing graduate courses in other Latin American countries. As well as, RLB also provides partial support to Latin American scientists to attend national and international scientific meetings in other countries of the region.

In its first years, the RLB tried to stimulate collaborative research by supporting bilateral research projects in which researchers from two or three countries worked on a common problem. The amount of funds that could be offered was limited, and this affected program performance and continuity. In more recent years, available research funds were channeled to support thesis research of graduate students and to assist them with relocating to their home countries after completion of their training.

Other role that the RLB has wanted to play more recently is to lead and coordinate botanical and ecological research in the region. There is a major gap in the coordination of research between the international and national levels. At the national levels, countries and national governments have plans that govern funding strategies. The RLB is ideally positioned to play this coordination role and to articulate the needs of the countries and those of the international organization. The implementation of this role of the RLB would occur mainly through the organization of symposia, as it was described above. Scientists coordinate their effort enabling them to tackle broader and more complex questions. Research in the region can gain in impact when it is incorporated into a larger framework. Incorporating regional research into a global framework enable scientists from the region to access new international sources of funding. Institutions gain as their resources are being used more effectively and have an explicit version of the research priorities as seen from the point of view of the scientists of the region.

Other activity developed by the RLB is the expansion and improvement of the interchange of information within Latin American scientific community. To cope with increased need for advertisement and communications, the quarterly electronic newsletter "RLB Boletín Informativo" has been published from 1994. This bulletin covers RLB news, and serves for disseminating copious information arriving at the RLB headquarters to the Latin American botanical community at large. The site “http://www.rlb-botanica.org”, that added a new dimension to the RLB information system in 1996, contains links to the information on the RLB’s collaborating institutions, and on Latin American researchers and academic staff in plant sciences and any other information relevant to the botanical community in Latin America.

Opportunities of RLB are offered on a competitive basis, with academic excellence and the needs of individual countries being the principal selection criteria. Discrimination on the basis of political or religious affiliation, race, sex or physical condition is not acceptable. Advertising material above RLB program of activities and opportunities is sent to the RLB data basis comprised of thousands of electronic mails from Latin American individuals and institutions. It is also published in the RLB web site as well as in others related sites within the region. RLB Scientific Committee that meets once a year makes the selection of applicants.  After selection, the RLB office takes the responsibility of developing contracts to be signed by beneficiaries, sending funds, monitoring progress, to evaluate activities, etc.

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Susana Maldonado;  October 28th, 2004.