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Latin America and the Caribbean

Despite recent progress, more than one-quarter of Latin America’s population lives in poverty. The region has some of the highest homicide rates in the world. Challenges also include social and economic inequality, degraded coastal ecosystems, disease, and natural disasters.

Research focus

We believe that research and innovation hold the keys to progress. Since the early 1970s, we have supported practical solutions through the skillful interaction of ideas, people, and funding for development research and policies.

At times, the projects we support cross borders and boundaries, bringing together development practitioners in several countries. Our projects that capitalize on local and global knowledge bring strength to our quest for lasting solutions.

Our aim? Long-term sustainability of development in Latin America and the Caribbean through economic growth, equitable access to health and social services, sustainable natural resources, and civil security. And we are making important progress.









Costa Rica



El Salvador











Dominican Republic



Country Profile

Since 1972, our funding in Argentina has helped build strong research capabilities and encourage sound government policies in areas such as trade, the economy, industrial development, social services, and health care.

For example, researchers in the Latin American Trade Network helped Argentinean negotiators pursue international trade agreements to sustain growth and reduce poverty.

In another successful project, the municipal government in Buenos Aires improved its ability to control the spread of mosquito-borne dengue fever. Our research revealed factors that increased the spread of the disease, and helped the city generate better public health education tools.

Our support also helped the Mapuche — an Indigenous people — improve their computer skills. The research has created the conditions for future economic activity and jobs, especially for youth in rural communities.

Research for democracy

Our funding has helped move the country toward democracy. Our support for Argentinean research institutions during the country’s military dictatorship in the late 1970s and early 1980s allowed social scientists to continue their work, despite repression by the then military government. We proved instrumental during Argentina’s transition to democracy by laying the groundwork for many new institutions and policies. When democracy was restored, IDRC-supported researchers took up key leadership posts — including in foreign affairs, international cooperation, and planning.

Primary health care success

In less than 15 years, the city of Rosario, Argentina, successfully transformed a highly fragmented, under-resourced hospital system into one strongly organized around primary health care. How did this happen?  

Researchers found the successful shift resulted from a social movement empowering young professionals, public health experts, and politicians to improve health care access. The trend also raised rewards for health professionals. Their increased participation in management helped redefine the municipal health system’s norms and values. Ultimately, a shared vision among the players strengthened coordination between primary health centres and health-care providers.

Rosario has become a model for other health systems in Argentina and beyond. It provides important insights into how to strengthen health systems by using a primary health-care strategy.  

Total IDRC Support

250 activities worth CAD31 million since 1972

IDRC support is helping to:

  • increase quality maternal health care for indigenous women
  • promote healthy habits to reduce cardiovascular disease
  • address water scarcity due to climate change
  • improve local scientific research capabilities for development

Country Profile

The Bolivian government’s major challenge is to achieve economic growth, including for its indigenous people who form more than half of the population. Our assistance has focused on research to advance this goal.

As a result, we’ve helped strengthen Bolivia’s capacity to conduct research on issues such as healthcare systems, mining policies, natural resource management, labour force development, waste management, and land use reforms.

Water conflicts resolved

Control of natural resources has long been at the forefront of Bolivian political conflicts. Access to water has been an especially divisive issue. Rural users often compete for irrigation and household water with private companies and large mining and hydroelectric plants.

IDRC-supported studies have helped resolve water disputes. Using a mathematical simulation model, researchers produced a water distribution proposal acceptable to all users that legitimized the traditional water rights of rural people. These rights were included in an irrigation law passed in 2004 — a remarkable achievement, given the failure of 32 previous attempts to reach such agreement. In 2009, water rights were incorporated into Bolivia’s new constitution.

Improved economic development planning

Decentralization in Bolivia has given municipalities greater responsibility for economic development. From 2002 to 2007, we supported a Canadian-Bolivian collaboration that developed and tested a participatory method to map local assets — such as cattle, crop yields, and small businesses — and potential labour supplies for economic development.

Hundreds of Bolivian communities used the method to design local economic development plans based on the new, comprehensive, and reliable data. The method also helped the Government of Bolivia draft the country’s Development Plan for 2010–2015.

Total IDRC Support

162 activities worth CAD37.2 million since 1974

Farmer harvesting crops in Bolivia.

Our support is helping

  • stimulate high-quality, policy-relevant research by Bolivians
  • test climate change strategies to improve ecosystems and human health
  • create healthier, more environmentally-sustainable rural communities
  • use fish consumption to increase productivity and income in the Bolivian Amazon

Country Profile

IDRC-supported research in Brazil has informed policy debates on a variety of issues, including democracy, economic growth, health, social services, innovation, forestry, and water.

During the military dictatorship that ended in 1985, IDRC supported democratically minded intellectuals to help keep relevant social science research alive. One of our funded researchers, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, served as Brazil’s president from 1995 to 2003.

Deepening democracy

In the 2000s, as part of a move to entrench democracy, Brazil set out to harness the energy of its 34 million young people. IDRC-supported researchers organized innovative dialogues that led to the creation of the National Council for Youth, where young people discuss policies with politicians and officials.

When Brazil began to lead the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti and support sustainable and democratic development in that country, Brazilian researchers sought to guide the effort with evidence. IDRC support enabled them to research Haitian development and collaborate with counterparts in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay, as each country team strengthened their governments’ activities in Haiti.

Each team has become a national centre of excellence, informing policies regarding Haiti on reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake, including food security and public-private sector partnerships.

Addressing key health issues 

In response to dramatic increases in obesity among Brazilian adults, IDRC-supported researchers have been analyzing policies to promote healthy eating habits, and barriers to their adoption.

Health research in the state of São Paulo helped to implement reforms in the early 2000s to transfer responsibility for health care to local governments. A model to regulate public and private health care emerged, later adopted by other states.

When mercury contamination in the Amazon water system became a concern, Brazilian and Canadian researchers discovered that slash-and-burn agriculture was the primary cause. Working with local farmers, particularly women, researchers identified fish with the least amount of contamination, as well as a tree whose fruit could reduce mercury levels in humans.

Total IDRC Support

316 activities worth CAD43.9 million since 1974

People in the streets of Brazil.

Our support is helping

  • counter urban violence and create safer cities
  • promote justice
  • address the high cost of armed violence in non-conflict settings
  • promote healthy diets that are lower in sodium
  • increase governments’ understanding of intellectual property issues and impacts

Country Profile

Our research grantees in Chile have contributed to policymakers’ understanding of the economy, labour markets, social services, and key resource sectors such as forestry, fisheries, and mining.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, support from IDRC enabled researchers to remain in the country and work despite the military dictatorship’s suppression of social science research. Driven out of universities and other publicly funded institutions, several researchers founded private research entities, whose work we funded. Later, the work of these institutions and the direct participation of many of their researchers in Chile’s political leadership contributed to re-establishing democratic institutions.

Rural development

We funded the region’s first research program on rural development in the late 1970s. Twenty years later, this program became the Latin American Centre for Rural Development. Based in Chile, it investigates successful and failed development efforts in rural Latin America.

A five-year grant has enabled the organization to identify the factors at work when a region prospers, poverty diminishes, and the gap between rich and poor narrows. The research, which involved 19 regions in 10 countries, has helped policymakers improve how they promote rural development. For example, lessons from the research have made their way into the Mexican government’s 2014 poverty reduction program, and a 2013 Colombian law on land and rural development.

Strong industry

From 1980 to 1995, we supported Chilean research on policies and practices to promote technological innovation. Researchers laid the groundwork for universities to analyze labour market trends and align educational programs with the skills industry needed.

Researchers also studied residential energy use, the need to use wood fuel efficiently, and the potential for small and medium-scale hydroelectric power generation. Chile’s energy management policies drew on this research.

Medical research

New collaborations between Chilean, Canadian, and Israeli researchers supported by the Joint Canada-Israel Health Research Program — a partnership with the Azrieli Foundation, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Israel Science Foundation — focus on cutting-edge medical research. One team is examining how the disruptive effects of antibiotics on gut bacteria may affect brain function in children. Another team seeks to understand the molecular mechanisms that can impact brain wiring and hinder proper brain development.

Total IDRC Support

287* activities worth CAD39.5 million* since 1974

Researchers studying water in Chile.

* These figures reflect IDRC’s investment up to 2018.

Our support is helping to

  • increase the role of women in civic life;
  • ensure that women and youth benefit from economic growth;
  • test the effectiveness of regulations intended to improve nutrition;
  • understand the connection between antibiotics and mental health; and
  • improve the well-being of people in rural-urban territories.

Country Profile

After 50 years of civil war, Colombians are beginning to contemplate a peaceful future. Our research support in the country has contributed to the peace process in several ways, notably in understanding key issues such as land restitution, avenues for rural development, and access to justice for victims of violence. IDRC has also made a positive impact on Colombia’s agriculture, economic growth, gender equality, and health care.

Healing social wounds

IDRC has offered long-term support for research activities promoting reconciliation. One study encouraged the Colombian National Commission on Reconciliation and Reparation to create a permanent working group that studies the experiences of disadvantaged groups, such as indigenous communities. Another study contributed to provisions in the 2011 law on victims and land restitution to include measures ensuring that women — often excluded from formal procedures —  can access the land they lost during the conflict.

In a post-conflict Colombia, policies to promote social and economic inclusion will be key to the country’s future. Current IDRC-funded research is providing the crucial knowledge needed to foster citizens’ involvement, provide more opportunities for smallholder farmers, and create more jobs for women and youth.

Meeting needs in rural areas

Research in agriculture, food security, and rural development has generated significant results. For example, a Canadian-Colombian research collaboration increased disease resistance in potatoes. Families in Nariño, in southwestern Colombia, are obtaining higher yields and more nutrition from new varieties of this staple crop.

IDRC-supported research on rural development is inspiring change. Based on these studies about poverty reduction and the promotion of economic growth and equality in rural areas, a group of Colombian researchers, business leaders, and civil society representatives is advising government policy to enhance territorial development. The group helped to develop a new land and rural development law that addresses the needs of people who were displaced by the country’s internal conflict.

Total IDRC Support

331 activities worth CAD59.2 million since 1971

Our support is helping to: 

  • improve coffee growers’ efficiency and international competitiveness
  • support students with the integration of information and communication technologies
  • improve crops, increase food security, and alleviate malnutrition
  • address urban violence, poverty, and inequities
  • enhance the well-being of 900,000 people in rural-urban territories

Country Profile

We began to support research in Cuba in 1974, and have engaged with Cuban researchers since then, focusing primarily on health and agriculture, but more recently on climate change and water management. 

Improving food security

We provided funds to various research projects that successfully contributed to improving agriculture methods and fight food insecurity.

For example, the country’s shortages of food and medicine that began in the 1990s spurred researchers to explore non-traditional approaches to these issues, including urban agriculture and the use of medicinal plants. Drawing on research findings, Cuba’s Ministry of Health recognized a basic list of medicinal plants for use in primary health care.

In the early 2000s, Cuban researchers improved crops by putting farmers at the heart of the plant-breeding process. Local farmers worked with researchers and government to develop new bean varieties that increased yields by 15 to 36% in test areas. Some 7,000 farmers in 51 communities in Cuba benefited from these and other innovations. In 2007, the research team received Cuba's highest scientific award for its achievements.

Knowledge to fight disease

IDRC-supported research also contributed to identify risk factors for contracting dengue fever in Havana. Researchers developed a way for community members to track mosquito infestations and share this information systematically with health bureaus and local community organizations.

At the turn of the century, researchers have analyzed public-private partnerships to deliver essential services. In Cuba, they studied the country’s health system, which operates with high levels of community participation, and the private organizations’ role in managing Havana’s water supply. This worldwide research provided policymakers with solutions that can help more people receive essential services.

Advancing knowledge, spurring innovations

We build the leaders of today and tomorrow. By enabling Cuban leaders in research, government, and business, they bring concrete and innovative development ideas to address some of the pressing challenges of the country, and beyond.

Cuba is renowned for its contribution to advance knowledge in areas such as maternal and child health, and sustainable water management. Deepening collaboration with Cuban researchers can bring locally adapted solutions in these areas of expertise and others, such as sustainable economic growth, and improve the lives of large populations in the region.

Total IDRC Support

40 activities worth CAD8.6 million since 1974

Supported research helps to reduce food insecurity by improving agricultural methods.

IDRC support is helping:

  • local leaders develop home grown solutions
  • small island states adapt to climate change
  • To harness the power of open data to fuel economic growth

Country Profile

Our early work in Guatemala targeted farming efficiency, access to water, sanitation, and health care. One study found that basic health education could help avert diarrhea epidemics in children under age five. Researchers also developed a low-cost coffee drying machine powered by coffee waste instead of diesel.

In 1996, IDRC-funded peace and reconciliation initiatives contributed to the Guatemalan peace accords, which ended 36 years of civil war. Since prejudice against indigenous people was a root cause of the war, we continue to support initiatives like the National Campaign for Inter-ethnic Dialogue, a public education campaign that reached about 120,000 Guatemalans between 2004 and 2006.

Fighting Chagas disease

Chagas disease, transmitted by insects, affects between 10 and 15 million people in Latin America — a greater burden of illness than all other tropical diseases combined. Left untreated, the disease produces irreversible organ damage and even death. Insecticide spraying, the traditional control strategy, must be repeated several times per year to be effective.

In 2004, IDRC-funded researchers pioneered an “ecohealth” approach to Chagas prevention that focused on the environment and its link to human health. Researchers garnered community support for improved hygiene and housekeeping practices — encouraging people to cover their mud walls with plaster, for example, to eliminate a common insect hideout. The results were dramatic: the average intervention eliminated infected insects for five years. Policymakers in Guatemala and six other Latin American countries have committed to use this approach.

Fairer taxes and benefits

Despite the fiscal reforms introduced by Latin American governments since the 1980s, a large gap remains between rich and poor. Together with the United Nations Development Programme, Guatemalan researchers have been coordinating studies on tax and benefit plans in Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay. Emerging results of this research continue to inform policy discussions in the region, including those between the governments of Guatemala and Canada.

Total IDRC Support

148 activities worth CAD25.4 million since 1973

Guatemala produce market.
World Bank / M.Fleischmann

Our support is helping

  • ensure enough drinkable water to offset climate change
  • reduce premature death and disability in Latin America
  • protect migrant women from gender violence
  • encourage students to drink healthier beverages
  • strengthen high-quality, influential policy research in Guatemala
  • eliminate Chagas disease, the most significant vector-borne disease in Latin America

Country Profile

A devastating earthquake struck Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area on January 12, 2010. We are supporting critical research to help the country rebuild and prosper.

We have been supporting Haiti since 1975 by helping to lay the foundation for long-term peace and development with support for research that tackles poverty, increases food security, and ensures a better future for children and youth.

Growing food, improving livelihoods

Despite a climate and topography well-suited to the cultivation of fruits and vegetables, access to healthy, affordable food has long been a challenge in Haiti. With our funding, local organizations taught 1,100 Port-au-Prince residents how to grow food in small spaces. The outcome is impressive: improved diets and health, greater concern for the environment, reduced spending on food, increased self-esteem, and stronger neighbourhood bonds.

We also supported applied research in agriculture and food security with the creation of a national research consortium. The consortium acts as a knowledge centre and explores communication mechanisms that effectively share research results with local populations, key institutions, and market actors.

Investing in Haiti’s future

Haiti has one of the highest child mortality rates in the Americas — and one of the lowest inoculation rates. A five-year multi-funder initiative brought Haitian researchers, decision-makers and international collaborators together to improve vaccination rates. Researchers found that a number of factors influenced higher rates of vaccination, including greater parental awareness, increasing resources to offer improved services, and involving religious and community leaders in the dissemination of information about vaccination campaigns. With these findings, Haiti is now implementing new vaccination strategies and running a pilot program to improve immunization coverage.

Women and youth are also the focus of a multi-country research initiative in Latin America and the Caribbean. Research is examining whether social protection policies can foster economic empowerment when vulnerable women and youth use financial services such as deposits, credit, and micro-insurance.

Total IDRC Support

52 activities worth CAD16 million since 1975

Woman typing at a computer.

Our support is helping to:

  • train teachers and researchers in high-quality science and technology skills
  • equip Haitians to reduce toxins in the food supply
  • prepare Haitian youth for digital job
  • develop financial services for vulnerable women and youth

Country Profile

IDRC support for Honduran researchers began in 1978. Early research focused on improving crops and cropping systems. Resulting technologies increased the yields of staple and cash crops, and farmers quickly adopted them. Notable is our 10-year support for the banana breeding program at the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research. Their productive, disease resistant banana hybrids are now grown around the world.

In the wake of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, IDRC launched a five-year initiative to help Honduran universities and organizations improve how they plan and implement development programs. As a result, foundations to support innovation were established, along with research competitions on water and energy.

Putting remittances to work

IDRC-funded research found that Hondurans working abroad in 2006 sent home $2.4 billion in remittances. These funds ensured the survival of rural families and communities. Their recommended use was to create more sustainable sources of revenue.

As a result, municipal authorities in Catacamas factored in remittances as an asset to their local economic development plans. Communities also identified other initiatives such as youth employment training, management and investment counselling, and a telecentre to connect migrants with their families.

A weapon against Chagas

The best way to treat Chagas disease — an insect-borne illness that can be fatal late in life — is to treat children at the time of infection. In Honduras, early diagnosis and prompt treatment among children in remote areas is difficult.

With IDRC support, World Vision Honduras tested a diagnosis and treatment package that successfully treated approximately 400 rural children. The national Chagas control program has drawn on the experience to extend treatment to more Honduran children.

Total IDRC Support

126 activities worth CAD22.3 million since 1978

Honduras maize farmer.

Our research is helping

  • improve the quality of Honduran researchers’ skills
  • ensure residents have enough to eat
  • reduce violent crime that threatens political and social stability
  • prevent vulnerable youth from falling into violence
  • test an insect control program to reduce Chagas disease

Country Profile

IDRC has supported Mexican researchers since 1974. A strong focus on agricultural research has helped to improve corn farmed in poor areas and to preserve hundreds of local corn varieties.

IDRC-funded researchers have also studied health problems that disproportionally affect the poor, such as infant and child mortality, dengue fever, malaria, and, more recently, Zika. IDRC collaborates with Mexican researchers to address these and other challenges such as fighting inequalities in education, employment, and social inclusion.

Tackling health issues

When Mexico committed to eliminating the use of DDT — a pesticide largely used to control malaria — the National Institute of Public Health designed an alternative mosquito control strategy and virtually eliminated malaria from Mexico. Developed with IDRC support, the mosquito control strategy became policy in Mexico, and it has been replicated in Central American countries.

Several IDRC grants also enabled the Institute to uncover the link between manganese exposure and motor and intellectual deficiencies in children living in central Mexican mining communities. The findings contributed to the implementation of an environmental management plan to decrease manganese levels in the air. Ten years later, results indicated a 50% reduction of the concentration of manganese in the air and significant improvement in motor neurological tests. 

Promoting digital technologies

IDRC was one of the first development agencies to embrace digital technologies to foster development and reduce poverty. The Centre helped establish Diálogo Regional sobre la Sociedad de la Información (DIRSI), a research network focused on telecommunications policy that plays a significant role in influencing pro-poor policies in Latin America. Following an analysis of the Mexican government’s proposal to increase taxes on all telecommunication services, DIRSI identified how the reform would threaten internet affordability for low-income people. As a result of their study, no tax increase was imposed on telecommunication services.

Total IDRC Support

224 activities worth CAD33.7 million since 1974

Research is enabling women to benefit from mobile e-banking.
IDRC / James Rodriguez

Our support is helping to:

  • reduce illegal activities and violence in border regions
  • improve economic growth in rural-urban territories
  • increase quality maternal health care for indigenous women
  • enhance economic opportunities in Latin America, especially for women
  • create healthy food environments to lessen obesity and reduce disease
  • open up mobile banking for seven million families — especially women

Country Profile

Working with small farmers in the highlands, IDRC-funded researchers developed early maturing frost-tolerant potatoes. In Lima and other Latin American cities, research helped to integrate urban agriculture into municipal development plans, boosting food security.

Our support has also focused on the link between agriculture and health. Tests in rice paddies in Northern Peru have shown that intermittent irrigation reduces the number of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Not only did the number of mosquito larvae decrease by 80–85%, farmers also conserved water and increased rice yields by up to 25%.

Following this success, we funded research on how to spread this safer and more profitable farming technique. In July 2014, the Government of Peru endorsed the project’s broader implementation through a presidential decree.

Evidence-based policy

Peruvians are reaping the benefits of IDRC support to the Economic and Social Research Consortium, including improved labour laws and unemployment insurance, and stronger consumer protection. Peru’s leaders rely on the Consortium’s expert advice when setting policy to promote micro and small business development, to manage natural resources, and to keep citizens safe.

The Consortium has grown from a handful of institutes in Lima to astrong national network of 48 members, including Peru’s most prestigious universities. IDRC and Global Affairs Canada have supported many of their research activities.

Protecting indigenous knowledge

IDRC-supported research has also focused on the Amazon rainforest, which covers half of Peru. For example, researchers addressed the need to protect indigenous knowledge from unlawful use, and ensure continued access to useful plants. The group worked with the patent office to establish procedures that biotech companies follow to patent genetic material found in plants and crops, and related traditional knowledge.

Total IDRC Support

348 activities worth CAD88.3 million since 1974

A farmer holds up chiles.

Our support is helping to: 

  • give vulnerable women and youth access to financial institutions
  • address the lack of public health services
  • establish local scientific research capabilities for development
  • promote innovative irrigation techniques to limit malaria outbreaks

Country Profile

IDRC support of research in Uruguay began in 1976. Much of our early work generated knowledge for industry and agriculture to respond to technological change. Research in health has led to new knowledge about diseases such as mosquito-borne dengue fever.

Our assistance supported independent thought during the dictatorship of the 1970s and early 1980s. With our support, researchers informed policy discussions in multi-party consultations, as the country transitioned to democracy in the mid-1980s. It also helped shape the newly-elected government’s policy agenda by consulting key actors, including political parties, academics, industry, and unions.

Trade and economic growth

Since 1998, our support has enabled the South American Network on Applied Economics (Red Sur) to generate reliable, timely information for policymakers. Member institutions have informed government policies to compete in the global economy, stimulate economic activity through foreign direct investment, and foster growth that benefits the poor.

Based in Montevideo, the network supports past government efforts to harmonize economies in member and associate member countries. It has expanded throughout South America and focuses on the challenges and opportunities presented by the region’s natural resources export boom.

Improved coastal management

Since 1992, IDRC has supported EcoPlata, an initiative that addresses human activity and erosion on the Rio de la Plata, South America’s largest estuary. Canadian and Uruguayan researchers have enhanced understanding of how environmental factors and human activities affect the important spawning and nursery grounds of the corvina, a fish species. Among other achievements, EcoPlata developed an integrated coastal zone management system, which the government has adopted as policy. 

Total IDRC Support

156* activities worth CAD17.6 million* since 1976

Rice farmer scientists walk in Uruguay.

* These figures reflect IDRC’s investment up to 2018.

Our support is

  • helping Latin American countries meet their climate change obligations;
  • improving women’s economic outlook;
  • finding digital solutions to pressing social problems;
  • slowing the spread of leishmaniasis in bordering regions; and
  • increasing government transparency and improving service delivery.

Regional office

Montevideo, Uruguay

Juncal 1385, Piso 14
11000 Montevideo, Uruguay
Phone: (+598) 2915-0492

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