Innovation and agriculture

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DR. WILLIAM DAR

(Second of two parts)
When it comes to spending for research and development (R&D), the Philippines is actually a laggard. Sorry to say that but statistics prove that based on InangLupa’s research.

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Our research shows that the country’s GERD (Gross Expenditure for R&D), as a percentage of gross domestic product among Southeast Asian countries, is very low at 0.11 percent of GDP in 2007. 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.

The 2016 Global Innovation Index compiled by Cornell University, INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organization also showed the Philippines ranked No. 74 with a score of 31.83 worldwide. Singapore was ranked No. 6 with a score of 59.16; Malaysia No. 35 with 43.36; Thailand No. 52 with 35.51; Vietnam No. 59 with 35.37; Indonesia No. 88 with 29.07; and Cambodia No. 95 with 27.94.

The Philippines also had a score of 1.19 in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Total Productivity Factor, while Indonesia got 1.32; Malaysia 2.64; Thailand 1.36; Myanmar 1.64; Vietnam 1.67; and China 2.23.

So what does all those statistics tell us? Very simple: the Philippines must catch up on research, technology and innovation. Also, innovation should always lead to competitiveness that in turn leads to the creation of new industries and businesses, expansion of existing businesses, good jobs that pay excellent wages, and (the most important) increase in the income of small holder farmers.

But there should be an agency in the Philippines or strengthen one that should act as a bridge, catalyst and broker of innovation, and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) from the time I started leading the agency in 2000 undertook those roles very actively.

The institutional innovation systems that ICRISAT undertook had the following components: Agricultural research increasingly done through public-private-farmer alliances; new partnerships formed to ensure all stakeholders, especially the poor, gain; ensuring access to propriety technologies and processes; and maximizing the benefits of innovations jointly owned with the private sector.

Also the “innovation road map” that ICRISAT put into place made sure that R&D efforts were commercialized and tied up with entrepreneurship to generate an impact on the countryside and the lives of small holder farmers.

The innovation road map had the following steps and components: Proof of concept; R&D of a new technology; assessment of the technology; assessing market potential; identifying the design strategy; and implementation or commercialization. Although all of them are self-explanatory, let me emphasize that market and environment considerations are drivers of the innovation process.

ICRISAT then employed a number of Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) to commercialize innovations with various types of partnerships or collaborations. In other words, AIP’s aim is to enhance its public-private partnerships (PPP) as a model for fostering agro-business activities to bring R&D innovations of the agency and its partners to the market for faster, wider-scale impact. AIP also provides prototype innovations, knowledge and expertise, training and co-location with researchers for close interaction; while the entrepreneurs fine-tune the prototypes and take them to market, including bearing the risks and reaping the rewards involved.

The achievements made under AIP so far are: 1,218 agribusiness ventures incubated; 2,300 entrepreneurs trained; $14.85 million in funding facilitated to 23 ventures so far; 331 agro-technologies commercialized; and 129,000 direct employment created in the rural areas.

One of the platforms ICRISAT pushed under AIP is Agribusiness Incubation (ABI), which is a derivative of Technology Business Incubation (TBI). As I stated in my column last week, ABI is more than just forming a business enterprise—it is about generating technology for businesses that should become profitable with a growing capital base that eventually could push for more innovations in the form of new products with more value-added.

Another viable platform of ICRISAT to take innovations to the agriculture sector is Innovation and Partnership (INP), where large and established agri-companies collaborated with us. INP’s aim is to develop strong collaborative R&D partnerships with public, private and allied sectors to benefit small holder farmers of dry land tropics across the agricultural and agribusiness value chains through the following: Strategic partnerships for enhancing Inclusive Market-Oriented Development or IMOD; co-creation of institutional innovation models; value chain innovations; collaborative research and Public-Private Partnerships projects; and common infrastructure and facilities creation.

Then there’s Nutriplus Knowledge (NPK), which promotes “growth through value addition” and commercialization of innovative food products and efficient food processing technologies through PPP.

Looking at ABI, INP and NPK platforms, the overall aim is to get innovations into the hands of small holder farmers, or from lab-to-land.

One component that cannot be overlooked when getting innovations to small holder farmers is to show them what are the best technologies, and to continuously train them to be entrepreneurs and innovators themselves.

During my stint as Agriculture Secretary under the Estrada Administration, one of the major programs I put into place was for each district in the countryside to have 20 hectares of land devoted to technology demonstration for rice farming. And it had an impact: the country’s agriculture sector grew by 9.6 percent in 1998-1999, which is still unequalled or unprecedented up to now.

Fortunately, the Rice Board, an association of private seed companies, conducted over the last four cropping seasons their latest hybrid rice technologies in 20 hectares of land in Digos City, Davao Del Sur; Pototan, Iloilo; Polangui, Albay; and M’lang, North Cotabato. The technology demonstrations done over one cropping is usually followed by a forum where farmers and other stakeholders get to know the latest in rice farming.

The success of the Rice Board’s techno demo should prompt the Department of Agriculture to partner with the organization, local government units and state colleges and universities in upscaling the technology demonstration of hybrid technologies to more localities in the country.

And now that we are in the cyberspace age, the power of Information and Communications Technology must be used to also improve information management and delivery to farmers as well as extension officers.

What I have discussed in this two-part column series also points to the need to overhaul the current agricultural extension system, where research is done without interacting with farmers, farmers are merely seen as recipients of technologies, businesses are merely buyers of raw farm produce for processing, and farmers were kept out of the agro-processing industry, intentionally or unintentionally.

In short, there are no real partnerships! And the small holder farmers remain trapped in poverty!

So there should no more be dilly-dallying in getting more technologies and innovations to small holder farmers.

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