Representatives from farmer groups, local government units (LGUs), academic institutions, and the private sector convened in an Agri-innovations Forum organized by the Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc. (PSFI) in partnership with the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) on 19-20 April 2022 via Zoom and Facebook Live. The two-day forum also discussed multidisciplinary perspectives on agri-innovations that should be in place to ignite dynamic and systemic changes in the region.
Linking agri-food systems and innovations
“Food systems are always transforming as new technologies are introduced, such as digital applications. To make food systems more nutritious, focus, patience, and perseverance are required over many decades,” reported Dr. Howarth Bouis, SEARCA Senior Fellow and World Food Prize Laureate and Emeritus Fellow of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in his keynote message.
“The status of malnutrition has indeed worsened due to the prevailing pandemic. Looking into the future, certainly we must eat more staple foods and increase the supply of key foods that can contribute to nutrient intakes where supply is cost-efficient and cost-effective. Hence the need for more policy makers and institutions like SEARCA and PSFI working together to engage and empower those in the agricultural sector, especially Filipinos, to mitigate the decline of dietary qualities in our own ways,” Dr. Bouis stressed.
In another keynote presentation, Mr. Danilo Lopez, Board of Trustee, PhilDev Foundation, Inc., distilled the meaning of farming and agriculture innovations the Filipino way and shared his personal story on making farming more productive and profitable on the local level.
“With farming, you are in charge of your life, and you have a noble life of feeding not just your family but the Philippines as a whole. We are all endowed with the ability to help our neighborhood, our society, the greater agri-food system, for a better and more sustainable future,” Mr. Lopez said.
Heeding the call of both Dr. Bouis and Mr. Lopez, Mr. Sebastian C. Quiniones, Jr., PSFI Executive Director, reinforced the need to value partnerships in cultivating sustainable agriculture and a healthy living environment.
“As the pandemic continues to have a serious impact on food security and livelihoods among Filipinos, we believe that continuous investments in agriculture, research, and focus on innovations are needed to improve agriculture and food systems. We need to work together to elicit bold, transformative, sustainable solutions that are holistic, equitable and inclusive,” Mr. Quiniones said.
He added that food and nutrition security, both of which are within PSFI’s sphere of work, are always in the forefront of its efforts despite the ongoing health crisis.
“Nutrition and food security remains to be one of PSFI’s core areas of work because we believe that this serves as a primary foundation for building empowered communities by ensuring that our next generation can grow to reach their full potential. We are blessed to have SEARCA as our partner, with its depth of experience in evidence-based agriculture, multitude of partners, and collaborators in this advocacy space,” he said.
“Agriculture 4.0 has been a buzz word for some time now. But the challenge remains in bringing forth technological innovations, especially in the field of agriculture to our farmers and farming families. We have witnessed how agriculture took the frontline at the onset of the pandemic. Food security has always been a priority in the local, national, regional and global levels. Thus, transformative changes in our food systems became crucial,” said Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA Director.
Dr. Gregorio also emphasized how SEARCA embraced the rhythms of change as it compels partners and stakeholders to initiate anew a paradigm shift towards accelerating transformation through agricultural innovation (ATTAIN) in its 11th Five-Year Plan.
“SEARCA’s development strategy with the overarching theme of ATTAIN greatly considers innovation as a multi-disciplinary and a multi-stakeholder undertaking. This includes the following: (1) providing inclusive social service and protection schemes through policy innovation; (2) organizing new arrangements for more participatory governance through institutional innovation; (3) adopting new ideas, strategies and practices for and by the public and private key players through social innovation; (4) enabling digital technology platforms for business models through technological innovation; and (5) creating new ways of working, thinking, and operating through conceptual innovation,” Dr. Gregorio said.
He ended his message by expressing his gratitude to PSFI for being one in SEARCA’s vision.
“With all these innovations necessary to translate into concrete and useful outputs, let us not forget the pivotal roles, our key players in the agri-food system. That is the reason why we are grateful to have partners like PSFI who shares the same vision in fostering community not just to become responsible and productive member of society but also as enablers of innovation,” Dr. Gregorio concluded.
Creating synergy for smarter agriculture
True to its shared mandate of empowering stakeholders and enablers of agricultural innovation, SEARCA signed a Letter of Agreement (LOA) with PSFI on the first day of the forum. This is a testament to their complementary objectives and shared goals to pursue further collaboration in creating innovative solutions and disseminating technological information for sustainable agriculture and rural development.
The LOA also signifies SEARCA and PSFI’s acknowledgement of the key role agri-innovation plays in increasing food production and improving nutrition; building resilience as key to strengthening agricultural and rural communities; and contributing to food security and driving the potential for economic growth.
Dr. Gregorio and Mr. Quiniones signed an agreement with Assoc. Prof. Joselito G. Florendo, SEARCA Deputy Director for Administration, and Ms. Maria Pamela S. Castro, PSFI Program Manager for Agriculture and Livelihood, as witnesses.
Taking stock of agri-innovations in Southeast Asia
The forum highlighted strategic lessons from institutional experiences, both in the science and practice of agri-innovations. The sub-themes featured speakers who tackled pragmatic actions and sustainable modalities in the following areas: Sub-theme 1: Upscaling agribusiness; Sub-theme 2: Digital inclusion; and Sub-theme 3: Investment and finance modalities. The sub-themes enabled a rich discussion and networking opportunity for the representatives of participating entities and sectors.
The speakers in the sub-themes were Mr. Michael Melendres of Earthman Consulting and Development Corp., Dr. Manuel Reyes of Kansas State University (KSU), and Mr. Patrocino Collao I of the Young Farmers Challenge Program of the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) for Sub-theme 1; Mr. Raymund Austria of APPGeese, Inc., Dr. Feliciano Calora, Jr. of the Philippine Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARD), and Ms. Yvone Foong of CHEKTEC Pte. Ltd. Singapore for Sub-theme 2; and Mr. Conrad Parizal of the Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp., Mr. Alexander Capulong of Investree, and Mr. Edgardo Luzano of Landbank of the Philippines for Sub-theme 3.
The forum also invited Mr. Ruel Sanchez, President of the Victoria Kalamansi Farmers Federation (VKFF), and DA Undersecretary for Policy, Planning and Research Fermin Adriano to serve as panel reactors.
“First and foremost, I would like to thank SEARCA for helping us in upgrading the calamansi value chain here in the Province of Oriental Mindoro. We need more institutions like SEARCA and PSFI who bridge farmers with agriculture experts. In totality, all the innovations and best practices shared by our distinguished speakers are topnotch. But it would be better if these innovations can reach far-flung barrios and lower-class municipalities in the Philippines. I hope Filipinos would team up to solve the harsh realities on the ground among farmers and be more considerate from where we are all coming from,” Mr. Sanchez said.
Mr. Sanchez also reechoed the call for innovative interventions and support for current farmers who are stuck in the belief that farming is only limited in production. His battle cry also included to make agriculture more enticing to young people, who are the next generation of food producers, consumers, and innovators.
His overall reaction was affirmed by Usec. Adriano who said “we should encourage these innovations because we cannot promote agriculture development without introducing them. But in introducing technologies, we must do away with prototypes and pilot projects and focus our energy on upscaling existing agriculture programs.”
Usec. Adriano also reinforced the need for the national government to calibrate those at the helm in pushing agri-innovations to keep up with neighboring Southeast Asian countries.
“To be honest, the Philippine agriculture sector is a laggard compared to our neighboring countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The greater task for large sectors is really to get excellent managers who will properly manage the introduction of these innovations. There are socio-cultural aspects that impede the adoptions of these technologies; hence, we need to place the right leaders who can help Filipino farmers upscale the technology,” he said.
In his closing message, Assoc. Prof. Florendo thanked all the participants for joining the forum.
“On behalf of PSFI and SEARCA, we thank all the participants for your questions that sparked conversations among the speakers and moderators and for making the time to hear about innovative products, agricultural technologies, and financing programs and services in agriculture. The buzz words of this forum have been transformation, innovation, sustainability, and inclusion, among many other concepts that need to be translated into responsive and actionable solutions to problems confronting our agri-food sector,” he said.
Assoc. Prof. Florendo also encouraged everyone to seek further information on how Filipinos can work with the academe, private corporations, start-ups, and government agencies that offer opportunities for collaboration on agri-innovation initiatives here in the Philippines and abroad.
The SEARCA Deputy Director concluded, “as consumers, producers, or enablers of our agri-food system, we are reminded that all of us have roles to play and that we can always change for bigger, better, and smarter ways of doing things in the agri-food sector.”
The sub-themes on upscaling agribusiness, digital inclusion, and investment and finance modalities were moderated by Asst. Prof. Glenn N. Baticados, Program Head, Emerging Innovation for Growth Department (EIGD); Ms. Raiza Cusi, PSFI Program Manager, Program Excellence Group; and Ms. Castro respectively. The master of ceremonies were Mr. Jerome Cayton C. Barradas, Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources (AFNR) Knowledge Platform Project Coordinator II, Research and Thought Leadership Department (RTLD) and Mr. Nathan P. Felix, Senior Public Relations Associate, Partnerships Unit (PU).