updated 7/19/2007 5:08:07 PM ET 2007-07-19T21:08:07

The world's least developed countries need to invest heavily in science and technology if they want to catch up with richer nations, a U.N. report said Thursday.

To do so, poor countries must devote funds to promoting their "knowledge economy," and donors should increase the amount of aid they give to projects that improve a country's ability to develop its industrial and agricultural sectors, according to the report by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development.

It said current development programs place far more emphasis on fighting corruption than promoting the kind of innovation that has seen countries such as South Korea go from a poor country in 1950 to one of the world's most technologically advanced today.

Between 2003 and 2005, the 50 least developed countries _ known as LDCs _ received about $827 million (599 million euros) per year between them for research and professional training, of which $12 million (8.7 million euros) was to help extend their agricultural capacity. This compares with $1.3 billion (942 million euros) to improve governance, according to the 188-page report.

"There is a lack of balance between (aid spent on) governance and social issues, and the technological issues," the agency's secretary-general, Supachai Panitchpakdi, told reporters in Geneva.

According to a long-standing U.N. target, donor countries have pledged to increase development aid to 0.7 percent of their gross national income by 2015.

Supachai said the additional money could help redress the imbalance in funding for knowledge-based development.

He said the poorest countries also need to train more skilled workers and graduates in order to break out of a "poverty trap." At the moment, too many are emigrating to developed countries in search of better pay and working conditions, he said.

This brain drain is depriving LDCs, particularly in Africa, of about 1 million skilled workers, according to the report.

It said the shortage of doctors, nurses, scientists, engineers and IT professionals is holding back the development of business, agriculture and health care systems in poor countries.

Failing or nonexistent infrastructure, from roads to computer networks to reliable electricity supplies, also hamper progress, it said.

And while LDCs already enjoy a temporary reprieve from certain World Trade Organization agreements on intellectual property, the report argues that poor countries should be granted further exemptions because they lag far behind the developing world when it comes to registering patents and profiting from the latest technological innovations.

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