Science and agri productivity

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

We have bright technocrats and scientists, and many international organizations benefit from their services. In agriculture, the scientists at UP Los Baños are among the world’s best.

The Thais, among other nationalities in the region, go to Los Baños to learn how to use science to make their agricultural sector productive. Yet, here we are with an agricultural sector stuck decades behind and unable to feed our people.

As is the case in other areas of government, we also have an execution problem in agriculture. We have a lot of good ideas, but we can’t implement them.

Dr. Emil Javier led research that helped develop Taiwan’s vegetable industry. Now we import or smuggle Taiwanese vegetables into the country.

UP Los Baños scientists, together with experts from the International Rice Research Institute, have long developed hybrid rice varieties that should have helped us significantly increase our production. But here we are still a major rice importer.

Former Agriculture Usec Fermin Adriano, in a column last week, diagnosed what is wrong:

“The major problems of our agricultural sector are institutional in nature. It is not the lack of ideas or proposals that is missing; it is the inability to operationalize those good ideas or proposals.”

Dr. Adriano observed: “There is this presumption that the government, in this case the DA, is efficient, and the state can do and provide everything for its citizens. These are far from the truth.”

There is also the problem of budgets. The DA is competing with agencies (i.e., health, education, social protection for disasters, among others), and justifiably so, for more funds from a limited government budget pool.

He pointed out that more than 50 percent of the DA’s budget already goes to financing rice-productivity enhancing projects, leaving little to the development of other important agricultural commodities such as corn, fish, pork, poultry, sugar, vegetables, among others.

Then there is the issue of who will be responsible for ensuring that the rice-productivity programs (and even those of other crops) are successful. Agricultural extension workers are already devolved to the local government units (LGUs). This means, the LGUs should lead the productivity-enhancing programs.

“What if the priority of the LGUs is somewhere else, like building sports complexes or constructing hospitals or establishing a school for tertiary education despite having inadequate funds to hire medical doctors and personnel, or faculty members for their college or university?”

How do we get the LGUs to assume greater accountability in terms of supporting our food security goal? Many are non-committal or hesitant to earmark their additional funds from the Mandanas ruling for agricultural development.

Dr. Adriano then questions the capacity of the DA staff, particularly at its regional field offices (RFOs). “If the scheme is to operate, the appointed DA regional directors should be managerially and technically competent…

“Unfortunately, past experiences show that their appointments are not due to their glowing credentials, but the sponsorship of political patrons in the region, legislators or key policy makers. Expectedly, their loyalty lies more on the patrons who endorsed them rather than on achieving productivity goals set up for the sector to improve its situation.”

This is why partnerships between farmers and private conglomerates are important. Let companies contract rice growing for their employees needs and make farmers part of their supply chain.

UP Los Baños

Speaking of UP Los Baños, I received this email from Dr. Cristino Collado, president of the College of Agriculture and Food Science Alumni Association and the Los Baños Alumni Agro-Biotechnology Corporation. It is good to know that UPLB scientists are bringing the products of their research beyond the laboratory and into our farms.

“I am happy to know that URC is now taking the lead in elevating the art of potato cultivation locally. I would suppose that Mr. Lance would employ the backward integration model. This bears watching. It can be a good template for other high-value crops, too.

“Perhaps we could inform Mr. Gokongwei that the G-3 potato seedlings can be multiplied faster, and their genetic integrity preserved through tissue culturing. This technology is readily available here at UPLB.

“I was once a usec at DA and at that time, we attempted a similar potato improvement project. It did not go far.  The DA could not sustain the supply of the planting materials.

“Presently, one serious challenge to rice agriculture is urea.  Supply is short and its price has more than doubled.

“Before, rice farmers would spend only around P2,500 for the three bags per hectare needed for the basal application and subsequent side-dressing. These days, for the same fertilization protocol, a farmer would need no less than P6,400.

“May we mention that UPLB’s Institute of Biotechnology has developed several bio-fertilizers that are unique because they are organic and are made of fungi-based microorganisms that have the ability to capture atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into organic nitrogen…”

Dr. Collado said UPLB’s numerous field trials showed that their bio fertilizer could substitute for up to 60 percent of the inorganic urea traditionally supplied by chemical NPK fertilizers. What’s more, the resulting yields per hectare were comparative or even slightly higher than the yields of those fertilized totally by commercial fertilizers.

Hopefully, more of the work of our Los Baños scientists will help boost the productivity of our agricultural sector.

There are other emerging technologies that can help farmers. Former agriculture secretary William Dar had mentioned the use of drones, for instance.

“I was at the Philippine Rice Research Institute headquarters in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija on July 29, where I witnessed how drones were utilized to spread rice seeds with a cost pegged at about P600 per hectare.

“The cost of transplanting rice seedlings is around P6,500 per hectare, which translates to a more than 90-percent reduction in costs if drones are utilized.”

There are other exciting things. Internet technology can link farmers directly to retailers or consumers, allowing them to maximize their earnings and be freed from traders in getting their produce to the markets.

We can do wonderful things in agriculture... even bring the retail price of rice to P21/kg. But not with institutional hindrances that plague us.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco


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