Why invest more in R&D

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DR. WILLIAM DAR

(First of three parts)
Why the need for research and development (R&D)?

Of course, I am asking that question in the context of agriculture and agribusiness, and the need to reduce poverty, especially in the countryside.

The answer on why the Philippines needs R&D can be seen from its low Total Factor Productivity (TFP), according to the  United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The Philippines has a low TFP of 1.87 percent from 2001 to 2013, which is a big improvement over the 0.18 percent during the 1980s and 0.53 percent during the 1990s. However, the country still lags behind its Asean counterparts: during the 1980s, Malaysia’s TFP was 3.01 percent, 1.88 percent in the 1990s, and 2.85 percent from 2001 to 2013; and Vietnam’s was 1.17 percent in the 1980s, 2.33 percent in the 1990s and 2.53 percent from 2001 to 2013.


According to the USDA, TFP is the most informative measure of long-term agricultural productivity. TFP covers land, labor, capital, and material resources used in production and compared to total crop and livestock output.

The country is also not investing enough in R&D, according to the recommendations of UNESCO, which should be at least 1 percent as a percentage of  gross domestic product (GDP).

In 2013, the country’s GERD (Gross Expenditure for R&D) was only 0.14 percent  of GDP. If there is any consolation, it is the country’s agriculture sector still getting the bulk of R&D funding.

The Philippines also has a very low researcher/scientist ratio per million of people, also according to UNESCO recommendations, which should be 380 per million population. Today, the country only has 189 researchers/scientists per million, which means we need at least 19,000 more to be a significant force in R&D.
Comparatively, Israel has 8,300 researchers/scientists per million population while South Korea has 6,900, Singapore 6,700, Malaysia 2,100 and Thailand 974.

So let me ask my favorite question —what must be done?

Not just increasing number of researchers

Republic Act 8435, or the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act “provides for a program of human resources development in science and technology (S&T) to achieve and maintain the necessary reservoir of talent and manpower that will sustain its drive for total S&T mastering.”

Also, RA 8430, or the Magna Carta for Scientists, Engineers, Researchers and other S&T Personnel in Government, provides the “establish, promote, and support programs such as science and engineering scholarship programs, improvement of the quality of science and engineering education, popularization of science culture, and provision of incentives for pursuing career in S&T.”

The people behind the drafting and passage of those two laws knew very well the country’s need to increase its scientists/researchers, even if the Philippines now has a good number of scientists and researchers, and many of them have produced ground-breaking R&D outputs that have made an impact on the country’s agriculture sector.

But the country needs more of these outstanding scientists and researchers! And increasing the number of scientists/researchers in the Philippines needs massive funding to send them to higher educational institutions here and abroad, with emphasis on post-graduates studies that can also be pursued abroad.

What I have been hearing, however, is interest toward science-based courses needs to be increased among the youth, especially for courses related to agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Media can also play a big role here by doing more stories on successful scientists and why the country needs more scientists/researchers. From what I have observed, media has given more exposure to personalities in show business, entertainment and modeling, sports and even politics. So media must somehow reorient itself to trumpeting more of the country’s real heroes like scientists and smallholder farmers and fisher folk.

Government agencies and state colleges and universities (SCUs) should also improve their salary structure and incentive system for their scientists/researchers, and reward more to those who have produced applicable and sustainable R&D outputs. So this means government and SCUs should also adopt a more relevant and R&D agenda or policy, which should result in outputs that benefit the smallholder farmer and fisher folk, can be easily commercialized, create real wealth, address the issue of resiliency toward climate change, and reduce poverty, especially in the countryside.

My key messages

So let me state some key messages as to why we need to ramp up R&D spending, and reorient it to be more relevant to the current state of the country’s farming sector.

My first key message is we need invest more in agricultural research and innovation, because by 2050, we need to feed more than nine billion people. Latest estimates by the Philippine Statistics Authority show the country’s population is about 103 million, which is a 3-percent increase over the approximately 100 million recorded in 2015. By 2020, the country’s population, based on my estimate, may reach 108 to 109 million.

To simply state it, we need to invest more in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries research because of the increasing Philippine and world population.

My second key message is innovation needs to be entrepreneurial oriented to be central in all our R&D and extension paradigms. Innovation means R&D must have real applications in the real world, and one that results in the creation of more wealth and business enterprises. Innovation will also require partnerships in undertaking the country’s R&D and extension paradigm.

My third key message is agricultural research must change to address sustainability more effectively. This means scientists/researchers must not only seek additional funding but more importantly, they have to demonstrate effectiveness in implementing programs and activities. Also, focus should be both on quantity and quality of research investment.

My fourth key message is agriculture needs to focus on smallholder farmers/fisher folk, and especially women and the youth. So the R&D and extension agenda should also have incentives to entice youth engagement in agriculture, and address the issue of aging farmers. The average age of farmers in the Philippines today is 57 years old.

My fifth key message is reducing hunger and poverty requires different partnerships, or the involvement of local government units, non-government organizations, SCUs, foreign entities and the private sector, among others.

My sixth key message is the country’s R&D and extension agenda should also lead to the generation of data, information and knowledge. And let me state that information science, or the role of ICT-mediation, and biotechnology are currently influencing agricultural research and extension.

My seventh key message is there should also be an understanding of baseline issues for better decision-making, and partnerships based on trust should also be a part of the knowledge continuum. These efforts should eventually support economic growth and create impact on poverty reduction.|

My eighth key message is R&D and extension should have impact as the end game, and capacity development as the legacy. In short, research should lead to productivity gain and poverty reduction, which will require smallholder farmers and fisher folk to be also equipped with skills not just limited to increasing production. This means issues like value-adding, creating enterprises, and smallholders actively participating in the R&D and extension system should also be addressed.

I hope that the agencies tasks to coordinate, unify and fund research and development projects like the  Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD), Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR), and the Commission on Higher Education to recommend to both houses of Congress higher level of investments, and to work in a convergence arrangement to make it possible for the above key messages to be considered, particularly in the planning or formulation of a unified R&D agenda anchored on the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

In the next part of this three-part column-series, I will discuss how to address issues related to the innovation-based extension system.

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