As the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) celebrated its 30th anniversary last Tuesday, I cannot help but overemphasize the importance of agriculture and fisheries research and development (R&D) in securing the country’s food needs, alleviating poverty in the countryside, and dealing with the effects of climate change.
My heading both BAR, 1987 to 1994, and the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), 1994-1998, provided me with good learning platforms that helped me lead the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) successfully from 2000 to 2014.
Under my term, the framework of BAR was established through Executive Order No. 116 series of 1987, and the first medium-term plan of the National Agriculture and Extension Agenda (NAREA) was institutionalized. Through Executive Order No. 116 series of 1987, I was able to operationalize the framework of BAR. Also, the first National Research Symposium was held in 1989, where information and knowledge exchange among researchers in agricultural R&D were facilitated toward promoting awareness on technological breakthroughs.
And in 1993, the DA Research and Monitoring System (DARMS) was completed to serve as a database of information for DA researches. Also, I attended in 1991 the first International Rubber Research Conference in Rome, Italy, and the DA undertook an R&D program for the rehabilitation of areas in Central Luzon affected by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.
The succeeding BAR directors were all mavericks in their own right, having made the organization more relevant to the changing times. Under the current leadership of Dr. Nicomedes P. Eleazar, BAR has made great strides since he headed the organization starting in 2004, or for an impressive 13 years so far!
On Tuesday, the BAR held its Agriculture and Fisheries Technology Forum and Product Exhibition (NTF), one of the major activities of its anniversary celebration. The NTF’s theme “Bringing Products of R&D to the Filipino Farmers, Fisherfolk, and Agripreneurs through Technology Transfer and Commercialization” is also very timely, because matured or developed farm and fisheries technologies amount to nothing if they are never commercialized or transferred into the hands of the intended beneficiaries, which are smallholder farmers and fisher folk.
In my past columns, I have overemphasized the importance of the science-based approach in making the agriculture sector more productive, more resilient and even more inclusive, especially in this era of climate change. The anchor of the science-based approach has always been R&D, which I believe is still inadequately funded in the Philippines.
Research conducted by InangLupa, which I founded and head, show tjat the country’s GERD (Gross Expenditure for R&D), as a percentage of gross domestic product, is only 0.11 percent of GDP in 2007 that is among the lowest among Southeast Asian countries. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommend a GERD of 1 percent of GDP. On the other hand, Thailand’s GERD was 0.39 percent of GDP in 2011 while Vietnam’s was 0.21 percent of GDP also in 2011.
Even if the country’s GERD would double to 0.22 percent of GDP from 2007 levels, that is still inadequate based on the recommendations of UNESCO.
One proof of the country badly needing more funds for R&D is its very poor Agriculture’s Total Productivity Factor score from the United States Department of Agriculture. The Philippines’ score is 1.19 while Indonesia got 1.32; Malaysia 2.64; Thailand 1.36; Myanmar 1.64; Vietnam 1.67; and China 2.23. Also the Philippines only has two farm commodities earning $1 billion in export receipts every year: coconut and banana. Meanwhile, our Southeast Asian neighbors Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have at least five farm commodities earning billions of dollars in export receipts annually.
So let me ask the usual question: what must be done?
Actually, the answer is a no-brainer—invest more, or double, triple, quadruple spending for farm and fisheries R&D. Immediately!
Also, modify or redesign technology commercialization and the extension approach, which under the traditional approach has actually failed to empower smallholders in agriculture.
Sad to say, the traditional extension approach simply trains farmers on the best and proven technologies, without even consulting them on what they really need or what is best for their locality. The traditional extension approach resulted in a “shotgun” or “one size fits all” approach that has proven ineffective in uplifting the lot of smallholder farmers and fisher folk, who in the first place are willing to be partners in undertaking R&D by giving inputs and testing technologies, and actively participating in the extension process.
Also, extension should also be anchored on commercialization and business incubation, of which the end-result are profitable rural-based enterprises that are also owned and operated by smallholder farmers and fisher folk.
Finally, all R&D efforts should result in making smallholder farmers and fisher folk a successful part of the agro-industrial value chain. This usually requires organizing them into cooperatives or enterprises, and equipping them with agripreneurial skills.
Although I am critical on the state of R&D and extension in the Philippines, that does not mean I do not see gains being made by agencies involved in research. And I can state that BAR is on the right track in making members of a community participate in its R&D and commercialization of technologies.
BAR considers its Community-based Participatory Action Research (CPAR) as one of its banner programs, and is a location-specific research and extension program for improved farming systems and technologies for specific micro agro-climatic environment within a locality. The program also includes an agribusiness development component and developing market linkages, where product quality is also addressed.
Complementing CPAR is the National Technology Commercialization Program (NTCP) that was launched in 2005. BAR claims the NTCP has resulted in the generation of technologies that improved the productivity of program beneficiaries, and served as a vital component for the development of micro-enterprises and agribusiness ventures through technical assistance.
A third major project of BAR is the Research and Development Facilities Development Program, which tackles the need to improve the country’s R&D infrastructure for the agri-fishery sector. The beneficiaries of the program are member-institutions of the National Research and Development System for Agriculture and Fisheries (NaRDSAF) that includes DA bureaus and attached agencies, Regional R&D centers, State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), and Provincial Technological Institutes for Agriculture and Fisheries.
BAR does face a daunting task given the challenges of climate change, population increase and worsening poverty in the Philippines. So if I can make several wishes for BAR, it would be these: that it gets more funds and top-tier talents, expands its R&D facilities and collaboration, and strengthens its technology commercialization program so it can make a greater impact on the country’s farming and fisheries sector.