Posted: 26.10.2022 15:20:00

Onward to science


Belarus is doomed to increase the science intensity of GDP and the widespread development of research and design work

The economic war, which many Western politicians have actually declared to us, for all its destructiveness for Belarus, can become a powerful development factor. The answer to external challenges lies in the scientific and innovative spheres. It cannot be said that we have paid little attention to them in the past. But the global market and technology transfer created the illusion of well-being. Belarusian enterprises were quite receptive to innovations. Indeed, they often used imported developments. Despite the rather high complexity of the country’s economy (31st place out of 139 countries), the science intensity of our GDP is far from optimal indicators and has recently fluctuated at the level of 0.55–0.6 percent. The state has constantly sought to deepen the innovativeness of the economy with various systems of incentives, preferences, and sometimes with direct administrative resources. Nevertheless, today, the attempt of Western politicians to introduce technological isolation is the best incentive for an innovative development track.

The President of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko,
“The Belarusian nuclear power plant is coming on stream, Belarusian National Biotechnology Corporation (BNBC) is being built. We are engaged in rocket engineering and the production of space satellites, and we are creating a biological cluster in Vitebsk Region, where they will produce antiviral drugs. Why am I talking about this? These are super-new technologies that can only be made by advanced and very rich countries.”
At a security meeting, October 10th, 2022

Prospects are more than a result

Things were going well in the scientific and innovation direction in Belarus. Nevertheless, they are far from brilliant, if we analyse the dynamics of some indicators. In recent years, the number of researchers per thousand inhabitants in Belarus has been declining, although not critically (today it is 3.9 people). The share of knowledge intensity decreased to 0.47 percent of GDP in 2021. The process is not left unattended.
There is the task to launch a new investment cycle, improve the technological base, and increase the volume of production of science-intensive products in the current five-year plan. Among other things, the task was set to increase spending on research and development (R&D) to 1 percent of GDP. It is a relatively good indicator for medium-sized economies. But it is still far from breakthrough.
The most intelligent countries in the world spend much more on R&D. Israel — about 4.94 percent, South Korea — 4.53, Taiwan — 3.46 and Switzerland — 3.37 percent. A more powerful financial flow is also generated by the proposal of developments. The number of researchers per thousand inhabitants in the same Israel is 17.4 people, South Korea — 15.3. In fact, four times higher than in our native Belarus.
Why did the intellectual sphere gradually shrink in the country? After all, we have world-famous scientists and international-level developments... The state has stimulated and continues to stimulate innovative development in every possible way through a mix of carrots and sticks, when the government decree even introduced for state enterprises and, accordingly, sectoral ministries and departments, the standard for R&D expenditures — a percentage of revenue. True, it was by no means always fulfilled by all sectors of the economy. The reason is the dominance of imports in the innovation sphere.
Let’s be honest, for the time being there were serious hopes that the country would become a technological bridge for the West to the markets of the EAEU, on the one hand, China and the South-Eastern region as a whole to the EU, on the other hand. Our geographical position opened up broad prospects for technology transfer in the global configuration of the world.

Convenient platform

Moreover, considerable political efforts were made to this by the leadership of the state. One example is the China-Belarus Great Stone Industrial Park, which aroused burning interest among European investors before the pandemic. In 2018–2019, delegations of business circles from Germany, France and Italy flew to Belarus in squadrons. They tried on the application of investment efforts. Representatives of Germany were especially active.
The idea was as follows: Berlin is carrying out the famous Fourth Industrial Revolution on its territory, and taking the high-tech production of the previous generation to other European countries. Including Belarus. We were considered as one of the most promising sites.
There was already a shortage of industrial labour In Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Bulgaria, Romania (with all due respect to these states) still had an agricultural economy. Belarus, which has a fairly strong industrial potential and qualified industrial personnel, was considered a worthy partner by European industrial concerns.
Accordingly, technology transfer to the country also revived. True, there were questions from the position of strengthening national security...

Self comes first

Many projects in the country were implemented on an import basis: scientific, technological and raw materials. Not only commercial structures, but also state-owned enterprises were not averse to using ready-made developments. It has become a trend of our economy. 
Domestic developments were simply not always in demand under the pressure of these systemic factors. If one take a closer look, it is clear that the country has many developments in various areas that replace imports, mostly on the national raw material base. 

  For example, the Institute of Microbiology of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus has developed a product line for both plant protection and feed value enhancement. The technologies have been worked out, their effectiveness has been proven. Small pilot plants have been set up based on demand. By the way, it was not too big, because there are many imported, more familiar analogues on the market. Today, the number of requests has increased significantly. It turned out that a lot of traditional herbicides in Belarus are produced from imported components. Thus, serious problems arose due to the break in production, logistics and financial chains with the supply of raw materials.This is bad, as it creates certain shocks for both domestic producers and consumers. On the other hand, it creates an incentive to develop its own scientific base, increase investment in R&D, and increase the commercialisation of domestic scientific developments.
The Belarusian economy is simply doomed to become more knowledge-intensive. It is possible that by the end of the five-year period we will significantly exceed the set target. A steady demand is formed for scientific developments and research from the enterprises of the real sector.
Sceptics have a question: where does the money come from? It will simply happen (and is already happening) the redistribution of resources that we spent on high-tech exports (and these are billions of dollars) to the domestic market of innovations. In addition, the problem of underfunding of domestic science will be gradually solved. Accordingly, there will be real ground for reducing (or stopping, ideally) the outflow of specialists from the research sector to other sectors of the economy and foreign companies.
Undoubtedly, a lot of effort will be required to achieve sustainable innovative development based on the principles of technological security (more precisely, minimising dependence on external influence). As well as from the research community, society and the state.
By Vladimir Volchkov