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International Foundation for Science (IFS)

Assistance to researchers tailored to their needs
Scientific isolation
IFS grants and the granting process
Funding and governance

J. Furberg and C. Arosenius

The authors can be contacted at the International Foundation for Science (IFS), Grevturegatan 19, Stockholm S-114 38, Sweden.

In the early 1970s, it became apparent that the young and fragile scientific communities in developing countries were losing their best scientists and students to the industrialized countries where often they had been trained. This "brain drain" was of paramount concern to developing countries and developed countries as well.

A-small group of concerned scientists envisaged an international organization/hat could help young researchers stay in their home countries and do research. They succeeded in 1972 in founding the International Foundation for Science (IFS), and based their vision on a strategy of providing young and promising scientists with small research grants. Since 1974, IFS has provided small research grants to more than 2 000 researchers in 92 developing countries (see Table).

This original vision is still the basic guideline for IFS's operations and will continue to be so for years to come. However, the global societal environment in which IFS was conceived and created in the early 1970s is, in many fundamental respects, different from that of the mid-1990s. For example, while developing countries were more "equal" in their relative poverty 25 years ago, today many of them are much poorer in absolute terms, particularly in Africa, while others, in East and Southeast Asia, for example, are considerably richer. This widening gap between "rich" and "poor" developing countries is also reflected in science infrastructure and resources and in the priorities given to research. For IFS this has meant increased pressure to introduce policies and methods through which limited funds maybe channelled to scientists in countries where the need is greatest in order to intensify efforts in the least-developed countries.

Researcher showing a rabbit hutch in the United Republic of Tanzania. Some fen projects on rabbit husbandry have been supported by IFS - Un chercheur devant des clapiers à lapins en République-Unie de Tanzanie. La FIS a apporté son soutien à une dizaine de projets - Una investigadora muestra una conejera en la República Unida de Tanzanía La FCI ha prestado apoyo a 10 proyectos sobre cunicultura

Researcher studying genetic diversity and racial admixture in Costa Rica's Africanized honey-bee population. IFS has funded approximately 20 bee research projects in Asia, Latin America and Africa - Un chercheur étudie la diversité génétique et les mélanges de races à l'intérieur d'une population d'abeilles du Costa Rica africanisée. La FIS a financé quelque 20 projets de recherche sur les abeilles en Asie, en Amérique latine et en Afrique - Un investigador estudia la diversidad genética y la mezcla de razas en la población de abejas africanizadas del país. La FCI ha financiado 20 proyectos de investigación sobre apicultura en Asia, América Latina y Africa

Another fundamental difference is that there are many more scientists in the developing world today than there were 25 years ago, also in the poorer countries. Whereas in the early days the small IFS grants provided the additional resources needed by young, promising scientists to encourage them to stay in their home countries to do research, the IFS grant is today very often their only source of operational funds. IFS's current mission is not so much to stop the brain drain, but rather to provide young, promising scientists with the modest support required to do any work at all. In effect, the objective of IFS has evolved to one of assisting developing countries to build their capacity in sciences related to the management, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, while the strategy used to identify young, talented scientists and to effectively support them in their early careers has changed very little over the years.

Assistance to researchers tailored to their needs

There are considerable difficulties facing scientists in developing countries in their attempt to carry out research. A major task for IFS has been to understand the constraints to successful research and how to use the acquired knowledge to provide an appropriate support package.

IFS support is primarily financial, often in the form of a grant for the purchase of equipment and supplies required for a specific scientific project proposed by the researcher. The fact that researchers themselves specify what they need enables them to choose what is most suitable under prevailing conditions, while complementing existing facilities. In cases where they do not have access to proper information, they can obtain assistance and advice from the IFS purchasing department, which has access to all major suppliers and is often able to arrange for discounts and the delivery of equipment free of import duty.

This strategy has a further advantage in that it avoids "tying" funds to a specific supplier or manufacturer where orders must be placed, which is not an uncommon practice in many organizations funding research in developing countries. This is the reason why different brands of the same equipment, frequently not being used, are often found in the laboratories of developing countries. Besides being an inefficient use of research funds, it compels researchers and their technicians to learn to operate and maintain a wide range of instruments rather than accumulate experience and expertise on a preferred type of equipment.

Scientific isolation

An almost universal problem faced by scientists in developing countries is that of isolation from mainstream, international research. IFS offers several solutions, including travel grants to attend scientific meetings or to visit relevant scientists and laboratories in order to learn specific techniques and establish important contacts. IFS also organizes workshops of its own on specific topics of common interest to grantees. Since 1974, some 80 such workshops or training courses have been arranged in many parts of the developing world. Grantees can also use their grants to acquire information relevant to their research, such as literature, specific articles or reprints and textbooks

IFS recently funded two reproduction studies of timber elephants in Myanmar - La FIS a récemment financé deux études sur la reproduction des éléphants utilisés pour l'exploitation du bois au Myanmar - La FCI ha financiado recientemente dos proyectos sobre estudios de reproducción de los elefantes madereros en Myanmar

Blood samples being taken in Morocco to evaluate the kinetics of antibodies and validate the serodiagnosis of diseases - Au Maroc, collecte d'échantillons de sang (évaluation de la cinétique des anticorps et validation du sérodiagnostic des maladies) - Obtención de muestras de sangre en Marruecos para evaluar la cinética de los anticuerpos y validar el serodiagnóstico de las enfermedades

IFS grants and the granting process

The IFS Granting Programme includes areas of research such as aquatic resources, animal production, crop science, forestry/agroforestry, food science and natural products (see Table). The Granting Programme is interpreted with great flexibility and is not in any way a narrow agricultural one. A recent external evaluation of the foundation described it as supporting research on bioresources, with socioeconomic, environmental and natural resources management implications, which is in fact the aim of the programme.

The maximum IFS grant is US$ 12 000, but this amount may be awarded a total of three times to the same recipient. The grants are made for the purchase of equipment, expendable supplies and literature, but they do not provide for salaries or honorariums. Every year, nearly 800 researchers apply to the foundation for support, and of these some 200 receive grants. Applications are evaluated by leading scientists from all over the world. In 1993 alone, some 800 men and women served IFS in the capacity of scientific advisers. These advisers help in the selection of candidates, and through correspondence and visits assist grantees in their research work, providing these services at no cost to the foundation. It is for this reason that IFS can keep its selection and evaluation costs to a minimum.

In order to be selected, a project must also fall within the IFS Granting Programme, as described above. It must be relevant to developing countries and aim at contributing to ecologically, socially and economically sustainable development. The criteria used by the scientific advisers when reviewing proposals are scientific quality, applicability of results and feasibility of the research proposed. The entire selection process is highly competitive and rigorous in order to ensure that the most qualified and deserving individuals are chosen.

The figures in the Table indicate the importance IFS has given to research in the area of animal production, where 468 scientists have received a total of 700 grants since 1974, in the amount of SKr 38 million. IFS's funding of research in this particular area has been influenced by the recent development in a number of key areas such as biotechnology, sustainability, environment and biodiversity. An assessment of on-going IFS projects shows that most deal with one or more of these subjects.

Animals are of great importance to the economies of Latin American countries. For many of them, animal products comprise a large part of export revenue. Most projects in Latin America deal with animal health and disease prevention, without which the countries in that region would not be able to export products to the North American and European markets. Surveys on disease occurrence, the development of new vaccines and subsequent attempts to eradicate disease are given high priority.

An example of the research supported by IFS in Latin America is that being carried out by Dr Alberto Nieto from Uruguay. He was awarded several IFS research grants over a period of six years to study the immunology of Echinococcosis granulosus, an intestinal parasite in dogs that has other animals such as sheep and cattle, as well as humans, as intermediate hosts. This research is of great importance, therefore, both because of its economic relevance and because this disease affects humans. The good working environment Dr Nieto created quickly attracted a group of young researchers who also applied for IFS funds. Within a few years, five more people from two universities were involved in this research with IFS support. In addition, IFS grants went to two other researchers in a third university who were working on Fasciola hepatica, another problematic animal parasite. The research methods being used are good examples of the latest biotechnology techniques, such as DNA probes, and IFS at the same time has helped to create a critical mass of researchers that IFS scientific advisers consider to be among the top groups in the world currently involved in work on these parasites.

There is strong support in the IFS programme for research targeted at small farmers and the use of local resources, both for feed and energy, rather than that concerned with large production units that depend on imported feed resources. A new trend has appeared in recent years of considering local genetic resources and trying to conserve genetic material from local breeds, not only cattle, goats, sheep and pigs, but also other species such as yaks, elephants and camels. Improving the productivity of indigenous animal breeds ranks high on the agenda of African grantees, including research on various sheep breeds.

In Asia, the proposals for support have been diverse, including research on animal health and feed production from local waste products or plants not used for human consumption. There have also been recent indications of the importance Asia is giving to research on preserving genetic resources through studying local animal species and their reproductive efficiency. Three current projects worthy of note are concerned with elephant reproduction in Myanmar and camels and yaks in Mongolia. In China, a number of grantees are doing top-quality research on yaks, camels and indigenous pigs.

Pioneering work on the Newcastle disease vaccine developed by Dr Latif Ibrahim in Malaysia was also supported by several IFS grants. In 1984, Dr Latif was given the Sven Brohult Award, which is the highest achievement an IFS grantee can attain. This US$ 10 000 award is given once every three years and coincides with the IFS General Assembly.

Animal production in the context of the IFS Granting Programme - La production animale dans le contexte du Programme de bourses FIS - Producción animal en el marco del programa de subvenciones de la FCI

Research areas


Asia & Pacific Region

Latin America & Caribbean


IFS grantees 1974-1994

Aquatic resources





Animal production





Crop science










Food science





Natural products





Rural technology *









2 120

Active IFS grantees

Animal production





* Rural technology was dropped from the IFS Granting Programme in 1991.

Funding and governance

IFS is financed by 12 countries -Australia, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland -with a number of national and international development agencies also contributing to the IFS granting and supporting programmes. The budget for 1994 is approximately US$ 5.5 million.

IFS is governed by an international Board of Trustees and has a membership of 92 scientific academies, three-quarters of which are located in the developing part of the world. The IFS Secretariat is located in Stockholm, Sweden.

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