Arturo Luna, Colombian Minister of Science: “We must build a dialogue with indigenous knowledge”

Arturo Luna, Colombian Minister of Science: “We must build a dialogue with indigenous knowledge”

Arturo Luna Colombian Minister of Science We must build a

The new Colombian Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Arturo Luna, defines himself as “a man of indigenous origin trained in modern science and scientific methods”. Luna (Flor del Monte, Sucre, 38 years old) was born and raised in a small rural town in Montes de María, one of the areas of the country most affected by poverty and armed conflict. “For many years, my family and I suffered the effects of violence, we saw many people die and many displaced people fleeing the war.” Luna studied at her town’s school, entered the only public university in the department, to in biology and received his PhD in microbiology, immunology and parasitology from the Center for Health Sciences at the University of Louisiana, United States, thanks to a Fulbright scholarship.

Born to a farming father and an illiterate mother, one of seven children, Luna learned English by reading, watching TV with no subtitles, listening to music and translating articles with a dictionary in hand to earn some money. Before traveling abroad, he sold cell phone minutes in the university cafeteria, under a guadua tree, where he met his wife. He was also a science teacher at a small school in the village of Don Gabriel, Sucre, which is sadly notorious for the presence of guerrilla and paramilitary groups. “A lot of misfortune happened there. I remember it was difficult to get to class, we had to go by motorbike, there was no road, the road was always full of mud.”

Luna welcomes EL PAÍS to his office just hours after President Gustavo Petro took office. Arriving at the office, the new minister greets the guards and receptionists with a hug. He appreciates her and has known her for a long time, having served at the ministry as Science and Technology manager and head of the Biotechnology and Colombia Bio programs. “We have to get resources from international cooperation to achieve our research budget goals, the money from the development plan is not enough,” says Luna hopefully. And he adds: “We will reactivate the immediate dialogue with Ecopetrol to work together on the energy transition.”

Questions. President Gustavo Petro took more than a week to elect the science minister, a position disputed by political parties. His appointment came as a surprise. Why do you think he chose to do this?

Answer. I retired from the service in June of this year. I didn’t expect this date. It was quite a shock when it was offered to me. I am convinced that the decision has to do with the fact that I am a humble man who has advanced, first with public education and then with science as a channel to achieve a goal. I think all of the difficulties I experienced growing up, as well as my college and doctorate education, the research experience I gained in the United States, and the earlier years of service at the Department helped the President elect me .

P What will be your main goal at the top of the MinCiencias?

R I believe that the biggest problem facing science in Colombia is the lack of funding. I want to change that. I am aware that as a new and small ministry, the resources of the National Development Plan are less, but that cannot be a limitation. We will manage international cooperation resources to increase our budget.

P As?

R Part of my time at Colciencias has been dedicated to this work and I know how to inspire trust in allies so that they see that their contributions are having an impact on society. In this way we can help to achieve the budget targets we have for research and development. Another thing I want to do is work with the other ministries, with other government departments, with the universities, with the productive sector, make joint commitments to take science out of the ministry.

P Science has recently made headlines in the national media over a debate between “ancestral” knowledge and the “hegemonic” scientific method. What direction will the Ministry take in this dilemma?

R This debate sparked many interesting conversations. I am a person of indigenous descent trained in modern science and scientific method. I am aware that a dialogue needs to be established between this indigenous, Afro and peasant knowledge and modern western science. Many solutions to the daily problems of today’s society can be found in the knowledge of indigenous communities.

P As such?

R For example, healing diseases with plants or more sustainable agricultural production. In this tradition there are tools to solve problems of public health, nutrition and even climate change. You must learn to use all this knowledge. There are centuries of wisdom for society to use, but we must give back to these communities for their teachings.

P The President has stressed the importance of science to mitigate climate change, saying in his inaugural address that it will be a fundamental pillar for the government, how is he taking on this challenge?

R Science must provide concrete solutions to climate change. Develop better solar panels, advance the production of hydrogen from water for the energy transition, help a farmer produce his food more cheaply and with less impact on the environment. One of the most serious problems in agriculture, to name just one, is fertilizer contamination. From science we can develop new technologies that reduce this damage. It is important that we start developing them in Colombia.

P An hour after taking office, what will you do first, your first order?

R Sit down with my team, talk to the people of the entity, express my trust, my support. They know my working style and like it. Then you have to start remodeling the house to make people feel calm and happy to work here.

P That in the method, but tell me a specific action you want to start immediately

R I will reactivate the dialogues with organizations like Ecopetrol and SENA. We want to make agreements that will allow us to move forward in conducting science, technology and innovation activities. With Ecopetrol, for example, we will bring in all the technical capacities of the ministry to help with the energy transition.

P Now that you’re talking about meeting your team, who will your deputy ministers and heads of department be?

R It’s a decision to be consulted with the President, I can’t give you any names for now.

P In Colombia there is a broken bridge between the knowledge produced in the universities and the problems of society, how to rebuild it?

R I would like to have allies like the media to help me spread the science being done at the academy so that ordinary people can see the importance it has in their daily lives. We need people who understand that science makes computers, television and cell phones possible.

P What do you intend to do with the Mission of Wise Men?

R They gave very good recommendations for the long-term development of science in Colombia. I will speak to them. I will have her very close. We will also collect suggestions from the splicing team.