I finally visited the grounds of Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in Bicutan area, a haven totaling over 20 hectares of old towering trees and lots of foliage. For a while, I thought I was at University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) Forestry area. It’s like a sanctuary amid the hustle and bustle of the busy intersection known as the Bicutan exit of the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX).
According to Science Secretary Mario Montejo, the grounds of DOST have been declared “untouchable” as an ecozone, eco here meaning ecological and not economic. This is good. I finally can see efforts in saving greenbelts and sanctuaries and not submitting to commercialization as most government properties have been subject to. We need places like this in the city. Government properties that can remain as green and eco-friendly as they were envisioned to be 50 years ago. I believe the DOST area has complied with a certain number of trees to qualify to be “untouched.”
My business partners and I met with the Food Processing division scientists headed by Director Pat Azanza, a food scientist who is also from the State University’s professorial group. Her Food Division team—Norbert, Elsa and Lourdes—walked us through the various equipment they have been developing to assist our MSMEs in adding value to ordinary vegetables like okra, squash, and even seafood like mussels. Mussels not sold within the day just go to waste. But they can be dry fried or vacuum fried to make a nice appetizer or snack.
I also saw a coffee and cacao roaster, a water retort machine, and many more that they will be putting up in Food Innovation Centers (FICs) around the country. These equip-ments are of international standards and will surely be of much help to our farming communities.
It is good to know that Secretary Montejo is keen on moving a lot of equipment out of the labs and into the hands of the users like farmers and micro entrepreneurs. For example, tomatoes or vegetables that may soon just go to waste can be dehydrated and become value-added vegetables like sundried tomatoes and vegetable chips. I finally saw the vacuum fryer they use to make fruit chips similar to what we buy in Thailand and Vietnam. Yes, they are here and we can make many different products from the same fruit or vegetable just with some processing, which preserves their nutrients and follow the “whole food” process. That means keeping as much of a fruit’s inherent nutritional value—sometimes, by just removing water!
It also makes one feel ecstatic when DOST gives itself a target of developing 2000 products a year like all kinds of vegetables chips, fruit puree snacks and even chocolate bars. Thailand I hear has a target of 4,000 a year for new products. We can get there , too, very soon with these passionate scientists.
I felt like a geek digging deep into my understanding of moisture, temperature, smoking points, and product yield when we were in discussion with these “agri saviors”—these scientists working quietly to provide our farmers with choices—to sell fresh or to dry it so it keeps its value. Cold chains, which transport fresh fruits and vegetables are still a pipedream for many. So what we need to do is bring these dryers and give our farmers a leg up by teaching them to dry, freeze dry or vacuum fry the excess produce from their farms.
“This is what we need to help farmers,” says Montejo. Well, he is an inventor himself, so he knows of what he is talking about. They can remain geeks or become saviors. “Most engineering graduates leave the country when they can help by designing our equipment for farmers, “says another director. I believe so. You can be a geek for some foreign company or be a savior or hero in the country.
I think Montejo and his team are on the right track. And this is just talk in the Food Processing Division. I know DOST has many projects in the ICT space, too. That’s a bit too high tech for me. I can understand drying vegetables better at this point.
So, let’s plant more greens and look forward to trying out these equipment from DOST which will give farmers like me and Senator Kiko Pangilinan something to do with our “about to perish” vegetables and fruits.
Thank God there are geeks who become saviors for agriculture.
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium, Centris QC mall, Davao, Cebu City, Antipolo and Iloilo City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates and NGOs on sustainability, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org