Medical expert urges use of affordable, virtually ‘free’ COVID 19 14-Day Test

March 30, 2020

Melody Mendoza Aguiba

A medical expert urged government and industries to adopt a COVID 19 testing system called “14-Day Test” that is totally free and yet has high degree of accuracy given a culture of trust among patients and healthcare professionals.

   Dr. Antonio Miguel L. Dans, chief of University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital-Adult Medicine, said the COVID 19 14-Day Test may be adopted by companies or government offices with high accuracy given a “culture of trust”  in its administration.

   It is a simple medical history test, long recognized in medical education as a real test. 

   It is used in as simply as asking a person his last 14-day history—whether he felt sick or had cough and colds. This test goes on top of determining one’s temperature to check for fever.

  At the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI), this test is done on all that enters hospital premises. 

   The NKTI 14 Day Test also includes asking all, no exceptions, whether one has travelled elsewhere in the last 14 days, whether he has been exposed to someone infected with COVID 19, and if he has diarrhea.

   The only drawback to this test is if a person lies about his symptoms in the fear of circumstances. Maybe he may be asked not to go to work, therefore losing a salary, said Dans.

   This is why Dans said money should be poured into for instance, assuring workers they will continue to receive salary despite absence for treatment.

   “In pursuing 14 Day test, we need to build trust.  We need to define relations between employer and employee, I think it’s where we should put our money in.” Dans said in  a webinar of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST).

Dr. Antonio L. Dans assures Covid 19 14-Day Test can be accurate given culture of trust

   “We are spending P20 billion for tests.  But this is also a test.   This is a test that is taught in medical schools (over the time) they study medicine for 10 years,” said Dans.  “If we don’t expect people to admit their symptoms then we will have to do lab tests everyday.”

   Dans gave tips on how to encourage employee to employer trust in administering this test:

  • Assure employees that admission of symptoms will be beneficial to potential patients and their families and communities
  • Assure employees of sustained compensation in jobs
  • Incentivize absenteeism when one already feels sick
  • Assure employs of being supported with the proper treatment and financial aid through linkage with Philhealth

  Definitely, even these tests, one should continue to practice social distancing and make ti a habit to observe regular washing of hands, use of disinfectants, and personal hygiene.

Dr. Jaime C. Montoya, executive director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD),  also reported during the webinar updates on these (PCHRD)-supported projects related to the control of COVID 19:

  • Bioactivity of lauric acid (virgin coconut oil) as adjunct therapy for COVID 19.  This is carried out by Ateneo de Manila University.  It is also being studied by Food and Nutrition Research Institute and University of the PhIlippines Manila. 
  • SANIPOD—tent-based sanitation booths with air showers to sanitize healthcare workers upon exit from Covid 19 patient wards
  • AMPLIFIED – also called micro PCR (polymerase chain reaction), it is a device for testing Covid 19.  It is more convenient to use than the regular PCR machine. It may be used at the point-of-care. Research on it is carried out by Ateneo Research Institute of Science and Engineering.
  • Big data analytics for quarantine policies implemented by Philippine Council for Industry Energy Emerging Technology Research & Development (PCIEERD). There are also nanotechnology-enhanced sanitizers, 3D printed face shields, and mobile artificial intelligence-enabled thermal scanners being produced by PCIEERD.
  • Repurposing of existing drugs, supplements, and other formulations
  • Studies on COVID 19 behavior (transmission or spread)
  • Diagnostics and kit validation
  • Artificial intelligence/Information Communication Technology-driven models and prediction studies

  The Philippines is part of the World Health Organization’s Solidarity Trials and is implemented by the country’s National Institutes of Health.

   It involves studies on four repurposed antivirals—Remdesivir, Lopinvir, Interferon, and Chloroquine.  The country has 174 enrolled patients in this trial.

  While Philippines has limited capacity in  developing a vaccine, Montoya said the country is collaborating with other countries to also enable Philippines to readily access the vaccines.           

   With its involvement in vaccines’ clinical trials, Philippines will automatically have the scientific data for approval of the Food and Drug Administration.  It will speed up local commercialization of such vaccines.

   Clinical trials may be a later stage of vaccine development. Yet it is already too late for Philippines to venture into the early stages in COVID 19 vaccine development. This as other countries already have basic research on vaccine development.

   The collaborations in pre-clinical or clinical trials include those with China– SinoPharma-Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and Beijing Institute and another project with Chinese Academy of Science-Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health.   The others are with Chinese-Taipei—Academia Sinica and  Adimmune Corp.

   Montoya and Dans urged citizens to examine reports regarding Covid 19 before accepting these as truth. Or many fake news will mislead people into believing for example a treatment for COVID 19 that is really useless or expensive.

   Dans said websites like the and run by the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases should be the reference of those who want to inquire on the latest and reliable information regarding COVID 19.

   “These days we should be more discerning.  Think and read.  There are news on Facebook saying ‘may na diskubre na test sa COVID19.’ Then you will find out they’re too expensive,” said Montoya.

   Test of accuracy of a news may include the following:

  • Reference to a reliable source of information of website
  • Absence of monetary interest (such as to sell a drug or test) of the source of information
  • Use of emotional words as persuasion tool. Melody Mendoza Aguiba

Former AFP soldier now highest yielder of Arize hybrid rice

May 29, 2020

General Santos City, May 29, 2020 – A former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) military man was recognized by government for the highest yield of 313 cavans in Region 12 with Arize Bigante Plus hybrid rice planted on 1.7 hectares in Brgy. Ligaya, General Santos.

   Edgar Romupal, 50, felt encouraged and happy for having turned to farming, the livelihood of his parents. Leveling up this time, he adopted hybrid rice technology to increase his yield and income.

Former AFP soldier Edgar Romupal beams with hope amid pandemic and Rice Tarrification, hurdling trials via double-yielding Arize Bigante hybrid rice

   The the Department of Agriculture (DA) held the 2019 Arize Mindanao 10K Project in partnership with Bayer Crop Science to encourage farmers to plant hybrid rice and earn higher while DA generates information on the best crop management using this technology.

   The Arize 10K program is enabling farmers to upgrade to higher living levels, overcoming poverty.

   True enough, Romupal demonstrated that even those new to hybrid rice farming can successfully attain high yields.

   This is just his second opportunity to plant hybrids, and his first one didn’t go as planned but served as a learning experience.

   “My parents have long been rice farmers.  So farming was first in my mind as I was able to save a little after retiring from military service,” said Romupal.

   He took on a 1.7-hectare rice land offered to him as mortgage using his small capital from AFP benefits and learned the ropes. His entry to the Arize Mindanao 10K recorded a harvest of 204 cavans in 1 hectare, with 63 kilos per cavan.

   Traditionally, inbred rice just produces around 100 cavans per hectare.  With 303 cavans,  Romupal’s yield is nearly double or a whopping 100% growth.  He earned a gross of P250,000, more than double the traditional P100,000 from inbreds.

   A good development this year is the increase in the farm gate price of palay (unmilled rice) which is reaching close to P20 per kilo. It bounced back from a depressed price of P12 per kilo or less in the previous year, which Romupal and other farmers pointed to the Rice Tarrification Act as the cause of this drop.

   There were imports of around 2.5 million metric tons during this period. Even then, at 63 kilos per cavan, totaling 19,719 kilos (at 313 cavans), price per kilo for his produce was P12.68 per kilo at the trading time.  It is still a low price for palay at farmgate compared to P17 to P20 per kilo in the previous years.  

   With a combination of technical assistance from the DA Region 12 and Bayer Crop Science in the 10K program, Romupal and many farmers enjoyed a yield boost the last season.

   Both institutions deployed field technicians to give enough time and attention to the farmers participating in the program, with Bayer implementing a season-long training program through its Bayer Agricademy. This included topics on pest & disease management and recommended irrigation practices.

   The 10K program was conducted in the provinces of North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sarangani, and Sultan Kudarat, targeting 10,000 hectares.

   After a successful season, Romupal plans to continue using Arize hybrid rice even if the local government decides to remove its seed subsidy program. He feels it as an easy decision after doubling his yields versus inbred rice varieties.

  Aside from rice, he separately grows corn and selected vegetables a 1-hectare farm. He has set an example as a model farmer for other farmers to follow crop diversification.  That enables them to earn higher from higher value crops and escape poverty.

   Bayer Crop Science believes that farmers who adopt modern farming technologies, like Romupal, will prosper in rice production and contribute to food security.

   Given the increasing population and the ongoing pandemic that is slowing down food supply chains, farmers remain as the main contributors in food production and should be given the right level of support to sustain our food requirements. Melody Mendoza Aguiba

P5 million grant given to technology developers in health and industries in the “new normal”

My 25, 2020

By Melody Mendoza Aguiba

A P5 million grant is being extended by government to scientists and technology entrepreneurs who will develop products that will enhance health safety and operation efficiency  in industries in the “new normal.

   Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevarra,   Department of Science and Technology (DOST) undersecretary,  said the research program will develop health-related products and technologies under the Collaborative Research & Development to Leverage Philippine Economy (CRADLE) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

   The technologies will also involve those that will provide continuity to industrial and manufacturing operations without risking COVID 19 infection among the workforce.

   “We want to equip industries with the scientific and technology solutions for business in the new normal,” said Guevarra.  

   Eight priority sectors will be the focus of this research and development.

   The sectors are pharmaceuticals and drug development, natural products, medical devices, ICT (information communication technology), Electronics and Communication, sectors promoting import-substituting of products, metals, and minerals, innovative food industries, animal health and livestock, and plants and crops.

   Proposals will be accepted from June 1 to 30, 2020.

DOST calls on proposals for technology development for new normal in a press briefing led by DOST Secretary Fortunato T. De la Pena, DOST Undersecretary Rowena Cristina L. Guevarra, and DOST Information Chief Richard Burgos

   Project implementation will begin on September 1.  By December 31, a prototype will have been developed for the product.   A minimum viable product will have been produced by March 31, 2020.  Pilot testing will begin after June 30, 2021. 

   Under CRADLE, a higher education institute (HEI) or research development institute (RDI) partners with a private company that puts in at least 20% equity for the venture. 

   The partnership commits to adopt for commercialization the research product.  DOST will provide funding for commercialization.

   DOST Secretary Fortunato T dela Pena also said during the virtual press briefing that DOST is also looking private sector partners that will distribute Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that DOST developed.

   One is a face mask that uses a water-repellent fabric as developed by DOST’s Philippine Technology Research Institute (PTRI).  Those who want to become distributors should abide by a technology transfer protocol.

   Another is a face shield developed using injection mold technology by Metals Industry Research and Development Center. It is now being produced at 5,000 pieces daily in partnership with a private company.

   The production of the PPEs also aims to be part of the Department of Health’s aim to produce PPEs in the millions for 2021.

   Dela Pena also announced the following during the virtual press briefing:

  1. DOST is also looking for partner-distributors of a natural ingredient-made soap developed by the Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FPRDI). The soap uses natural products with unique natural scents and fragrances.
  2. DOST has developed a “respirator venturi valve” that enables two persons to share the use of the respirator.  It was developed by the Industrial Technology Development Institute (ITDI). This is to meet high need for the respirator that is in dearth especially in hospitals in rural areas.

   These are other products and technologies that DOST has developed:

  1. A test kit for COVID 19 that was approved for use on April 3 by the Food and Drug Administration.  It is in partnership with the National Institutes of Health and Manila Health Tech Corp.
  2. Sample collection booth—a specimen collection booth that ensures safety of health workers obtainig specimens for COVID testing. It was requested by the Department of HEalth and funded by DOST. It was developed by a startup firm as commissioned by the Philippine Council for Emerging Industries Energy Research and Development.
  3. Locally fabricated ventilators produced under the Ginhawa Project
  4. Goclean disinfecting chamber for cleaning devices and other materials used in hospitals that may become health hazard when unclean
  5. Rx Box Telemedicine portable equipment.  It may be used without direct contact between patients and health workers, avoiding COVID 19 infection.  It is a device determining patients’ temperature,  pulse rate, blood pressure, and ECG (electrocardiogram).
  6. Ready-to-eat arrozcaldo for health workers packed in food-safe vacuum pouches.
  7. A software that is a security device used in checkpoints in conducting rapid pass evaluation.  It was developed in partnership with the Philippine National Policy and Department of Information Communication Technology (DICT).  Melody Mendoza Aguiba

DOST calls on proposals for technology development for new normal in a press briefing led by DOST Secretary Fortunato T. De la Pena, Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevarra, DOST undersecretary, and DOST Information Chief Richard Burgos

COVID 19 to reduce agricultural production in Southeast Asia (MT) by 3.11%, 100.77 million farmers affected

May 21, 2020

COVID 19 is foreseen to substantially reduce by a significant 3.11% the volume of agriculture output in Southeast Asia (at 17.03 million metric tons or MT) for the first quarter of 2020 as a result of a decrease in farm labor affecting 100.77 million farmers. 

   This loss is equivalent to $3.76 billion or 1.4% in gross domestic product (GDP) for the Southeast Asian region, according to the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).

   In a policy paper, “Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Agriculture Production  in Southeast Asia: Reinforcing Transformative Change in Agricultural Food Systems,” SEARCA asserts that a unique balance must be achieved among Southeast Asian countries on two important goals—trade and food security. 

   It is understandable that countries would first think of its own food security before others. But a
“collective” enhancement of capacities leading to higher agricultural productivity is crucial.  It will benefit all ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, the paper of Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA director and Rico C. Ancog suggested.

   “While most of the efforts are targeted within a country, it would be critical that policies supporting trade in ASEAN must be strengthened to simultaneously support productive and inclusive agricultural systems that ensure food security in the region.”

   As COVID 19 has become a universal problem in ASEAN that requires a region-wide approach, more collaborations may be done via the platform of the ASEAN Economic Cooperation (AEC).

   Factors and actions that block more open trade flows and enhanced partnerships must be controlled.

   “Effective coordination mechanisms among countries to reduce trade and food insecurities both at the national and regional levels in the long-term must be continuously pursued.” Further studies are recommended on this collaboration.

   Agri-entrepreneurship, rather than considering farming as a mere job, must be supported through policies at the domestic fronts. 

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Agriculture Production in Southeast Asia

   That would need to train and mentor significant number of a new breed of farmer-entrepreneurs, given that the average age of traditional farmers in the Philippines is 57-year old. It should include the youth, and especially women who usually take the the lead in a family’s food and nutrition aspects.

   In light of ongoing pandemic, this also urgently calls for a food policy on immune system-boosting, and the need for a COVID 19-controlling nutritional food orientation.

   “At the individual and household levels, information related to healthy diets and lifestyles, agricultural produce that are nutritious and rich in micronutrients, food preparation and preservation techniques, as well as waste management strategies must be made accessible.”

   Obviously, critical in this “transformative” food security policy is financing.

   Newbies in agriculture will be afraid to try a new business, risk-laden at that due to its vulnerability to changing climate.

   “As risks and uncertainties arise related to price volatilities, inclement weather, and climate-change related hazards that characterize farm production systems, there is a need to support (studies on) design of financial technologies for farmers,” said Gregorio and Ancog.

   That finance access includes more inclusive loans and and accessible insurance to assure farmers a reserve capital to start planting anew when calamities like typhoon strikes.

   Such innovative system of financial technologies need to be brain-stormed so that wider participation could be ensured

   The purpose is also to make financing of agricultural activities benefit a significantly larger scale of population.  This is to include middle class in urban areas that may engage in urban farming and more especially resource-poor communities in rural areas.

   Agriculture remains a major job-generating sector in ASEAN with 31% of combined population employed in agriculture.

   This is antithetical as the sector’s contribution to GDP has been decreasing.

   “Except for Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam, at least 23% of total labor force of each of ASEAN countries has agriculture as its main source  of livelihood, and as high as 62% in the case of Lao PDR.”

   Regrettably, this is the sector where the poorest people and income inequality among the population in Southeast Asia are found.

  For a five-year period from 2015 to 2019, SEARCA noted 36 million people live below the international poverty line of $1.9 (approximately P100) per day.

   Poverty among farmers is blamed on many factors—“small farm holdings; problematic land and tenurial systems; limited availability of high quality seeds; pests and diseases; constrained access to farm inputs, irrigation, and recommended agricultural practices; weather and climatic hazards; environmental degradation; absence of sufficient safety nets and financial support; and lack of strong market institutions.”

    That poverty among farmers is not without severe consequences to food security and nutritional status of the region’s population.

   The COVID 19 lockdown, along with the poverty factors just cited, is further draining the number of agricultural labor force, dragging GDP lower.

   The COVID-19 constraints on transportation and people’s movement results in a 1.4% decrease in labor supply (International Policy Research Institute or IFPRI).

   “This decrease in GDP could mean more families being pushed below the poverty line. Poverty impacts in Southeast Asia could push an additional 14.68 million families to live below the $1.90 a day threshold thereby straining the region’s ability to meet its poverty eradication targets per Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2030 .”

  Moreover, as of 2019, there were 81.7 million undernourished population in South East Asia. The Philippines itself has critical undernourishment level – at around 15% of population as of 2017, placing third next to the most undernourished countries in ASEAN (Lao PDR and Cambodia).

   Nevertheless, the following transformations, among other recommendations, are reinforced to radically improve agriculture sector’s role in socio-economic development and in addressing poverty:

1.       Changing a mindset that “agriculture is mere production” into “agriculture is sustainable agribusiness.”

2.      Rather than thinking agriculture is highly dependent on government, a strong collaboration between private enterprises, the academe which is the center of innovation and technology, and government should be nurtured.  Here, government strengthens its role as an “enabler”.

3.      Value chain thinking (maximizing profit from producing just raw materials or value added products) is upgraded into “ecosystem thinking.”  Consumers’ or market needs are the central consideration in value adding and production.  Convenience and cost efficiency are achieved through digital transformations.

   “Consumers are now becoming more aware of the intricate link between what they have on their plates and the quantity and quality of farm production.  This could be capitalized to encourage more programs and budget allocation from governments as well as private initiatives related to agriculture, such as farm-based small-and-medium enterprises.” Melody Mendoza Aguiba

Shrimp farmers cut costs by 38.5%, contributing potential to $600 million export

Shrimp farmers cut costs by 38.5%, contributing potential to $600 million export

May 18, 2020

Shrimp farmers have significantly cut costs by 38.5% from health practices that avert shrimp diseases and mortality, enabling them to potentially seize opportunities in Philippines’ shrimp export reaching to $600 million a year.

   A package of technology including a water treatment probiotic of Bayer Philippines Inc. has cut farmers’ shrimp cost from P180 to P130 per kilo  while feeding shrimp efficiently.  The cost savings also includes electricity cost.

   The water treatment raises aeration and water exchange in ponds, cleaning the water, and enabling shrimp to maximize feeding capacity. Feed and power costs are the top two production cost indicators in aquaculture growing.  

   Feed cost is determined through FCR (feed conversion ratio)  which is computed as Total Feeds Consumed / Total Harvest Biomass. The lower the FCR, the more efficient the production leading to cost savings and higher returns.

   The cost-effective practise uses a microbial solution, the PondPlus which provides better balance of phytoplankton and beneficial microbes in shrimp pond water.  It maintains naturally healthful water conditions needed to maximize yield.

   Farm trials have been conducted in Bohol in April 2018 in the use of PondPlus and PondDtox, a unique bacteria, Paracoccus pantotrophus. PondDtox enables anaerobic conversion of toxic hydrogen sulphide into sulphate in pond sediments. 

   “The result is an improvement in the oxygenation and nutrition level of shrimp and other crops.  When used in conjunction with good farm management practices, PondPlus ensures good algal balance and pond color. The result is reduced stress and improved shrimp yields,” according to Bayer aquaculture experts.

   From Bayer products, the FCR of shrimp farmers was reduced from 1.3 to 1.1.

   Although there was a noted increase in health product cost from P5/kg to – 3/5 – P10/kg, this was well covered by the reduction of feed and power cost, said Rex Bryan B. Rivera, Bayer Philippines public affairs and sustainability head.

   Feed cost went down from P78 per kilo to P66 per kilo.  Power cost was cut from P40 per kilo to P20 per kilo.

   For a medium-scale farmer with 5,000 square meters for shrimp production, that equated to an additional P220,000 savings that went straight to the bottom line (net profit).    

Shrimp export

   Bayer Philippines has prioritized helping solve farmers’ problems on aquaculture, shrimp in particular, with its huge export opportunities. Markets are Japan, United States, Korea, and Europe.

  The Board of Investments (BOI)-supported reported the Philippines posted a $558 million shrimp export as of 2013.  Exported are frozen, head-on or headless, and un-shelled or shelled shrimp.

   Shrimp is a priority sector under BOI’s IPP (Investments Priority Program), given tax  holidays and other incentives.

   The International Trade Centre reported that Philippines’ shrimp export rose from 8,278 metric tons (MT) in 2013 to 10,124 MT in 2017.  Exports to the US jumped from 2,793 MT in 2013 to 3,273 MT in 2017 in the form of various shrimp species. It exported up to 300 MT of shrimp to Europe , mostly France, over the same period.

   “With the recently awarded GSP+ (Generalized System of Preference, a tariff reduction program)  status, exports to the European Union are likely to increase even further,” reported

Water Pollutant

   The presence of hydrogen sulphide in pond water causes reduced shrimp growth and mortality.  It consequently decreases feed conversion efficiency.  

  Hydrogen sulphide is a result of decomposition of organic material including leftover feed, dead vegetation, microalgae, and cyanobacteria.  It can cause mortality in shrimp up to 100%, but PondPlus and PondDtox address these water pollution problems.

   Chris Mitchum Ganancial, Bayer Animal Health aquaculture portfolio and key account manager, said Bayer has introduced a program, “Be in Control.” It aims to help farmers address problems on survival rate and solving problems of high feed costs arising from toxic pond water.

   The farm trials of PondPlus and PondDtox proved these are effective in reducing mortality rate from diseases owing to toxic pond water.

   On top of field trials, forums have been carried out on trial results, that educated farmers in Bacolod, Cebu, General Santos City, Batangas, Butuan City, and Zambales.

   “Majority of Filipino shrimp farmers still adopt old, traditional practices and generally perceive health products as unnecessary add-on costs. Despite large-scale operations by some, farmers don’t realize that they can be more efficient and profitable,” Rivera said.   “The value of using these health solutions far outweigh the investment.”

   University professors, chemists, and public and private researchers and business partner suppliers have been involved in the forums.

   Bayer has also trained farmers on using Virkon Aquatic, a disinfectant used in sanitizing water (continuous water sterilization) and disinfecting equipment.  Deocare Aqua similarly addresses mortality rate concern brought about by diseases and toxic gases.

   Stomi, another health solution, addresses low minerals to help harden the shells of shrimp and increase their disease immunity.

    “Be in Control” was recognized globally by Bayer Animal Health as a model in impact and distinctiveness that helped farmers achieve the profit they desire from shrimp growing.

Shrimp pioneer

   The Philippines is a pioneer in culturing several prawn and shrimp species, according to  

   Using the species Penaus monodon (black tiger shrimp), disease has widely devastated cultured shrimp growing in the Philippines in the 1990s.  It is still among the most cultured seafood species in the Philippines.

   This is despite the fact that many farmers abroad have successfully shifted to the use of Litopenaus vannamei (whiteleg shrimp).

   There is an estimated 1,500 aquaculture operators in the Philippines including small and medium enterprises and large companies, reported

   “By controlling the supply chain, these (large, export-oriented) companies are able ensure traceability and quality standards needed to export to demanding markets like the European Union. This is important because (shrimp ponds close to urban areas may be contaminated)

with pathogens.”

Shrimp producers

   Filipino shrimp manufacturers are located in Manila, Bohol, Butuan, and General Santos City. Other processed export shrimp are pasteurized bottled sautéed shrimp, fresh frozen black tiger or white shrimp, shrimp powder, and frozen block shrimp.

   Shrimp production for export requires food safety certification, Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), ensuring quality. Rex Bryan B. Rivera/Melody Mendoza Aguiba

PHOTO- Bayer Animal Health showcasing “Be in Control” during the 12th Philippine National Shrimp Congress in Bacolod City. Chris Mitchum Ganancial with Mr. Hubert Malinao of Marcela Farms in Bohol “Be in Control” technical forums were conducted in various shrimp-growing provinces targeted by Bayer Animal Health

Online Agri Academy launched by Bayer Crop Science targeted at young farm entrepreneurs and aspiring farm technocrats

May 10, 2020 

  Recognizing the need to keep farmers up-to-date on best practices on the latest technology in growing rice and corn to maximum yield and profitability, Bayer Crop Science (BCS) has introduced the Bayer Agri Academy. 

   BCS finds it timely to popularize online agriculture learning considering the intensified need to produce more food even light of an impending food security crisis due to the pandemic from Covid 19.

   New generations of farmers and farming investors are also foreseen to emerge due to the realization of imminent food shortage.

   “Bayer Crop Science ramped up its digital efforts. Aside from posting technical information on its products for farmers planting rice, fruits, and vegetables, the team actively addresses queries on pest control, crop management, and where they could access farming products,” according Rex Bryan B. Rivera,  Bayer Philippines Inc., Public Affairs and Sustainability head.

   BCS is also targeting farmers in Mindanao who are now battling against pervasive Fall Armyworm (FAW) in corn that can severely cut yield but which finds solution in Dekalb VT double Pro.

Dekalb hybrid corn plant (right) hardly touched by pests compared to non-Dekalb corn (left)

   Farmers nationwide have been taken aback by FAW infestation.  North Luzon  farmers have tried using even banned,  environmentally-degrading pesticides just to combat FAW because of their absence of knowledge on new technologies. But farmers that planted Dekalb VT double Pro, mostly participants to BCS’s corn derby planting and government farm technicians,  have evaded FAW infestation.

    Going beyond sharing practical information on farming, Bayer created an online platform, via a Facebook group,  where technical experts and farmers exchange ideas and experiences to gain insights on boosting and sustaining farmer productivity.

    BCS takes advantage of online learning interest among young farming entrepreneurs, technocrats and investors as individual field visits have become restricted due to the Covid 19 lockdown.  

   In Agricademy, the team introduced Bayer Online Kapihan, which are live sessions to

directly engage with farmers.

   Topics covered in the first meetings were on new DEKALB hybrid corn varieties suited for Mindanao and the portfolio of solutions for Arize hybrid rice farming.

   Edward Limon, Market Development Manager for Crop Science, hosts the program and gets support from his fellow experts in running the learning program.  They keep it highly interactive. Access the site via Bryan B. Rivera

“Rethink” agriculture interventions as COVID-19 lockdown reduces number of farmers, their income, and GDP – SEARCA chief

 May 8, 2020

The government should “rethink” interventions in agriculture as the COVID-19 lockdown has further cut number of farmers and their income,  —resulting in depressed demand for goods, food insecurity, and declining Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

   Onto the second month of the lockdown, a decline in Philippines’ agricultural production is being placed at 2.97% due to a decrease in the number of farmers tilling the land.

   “Due to lockdown, mobility restrictions result to quantity reduction in farm labor.  If it continues longer, this would translate to reduction in agriculture productivity,” according to Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, director of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).

   “The loss of income and economic slowdown would also result in decrease in demand, particularly among the farmers and farming families with no safety nets,” said the SEARCA chief over SEARCA Online Learning and Virtual Engagements (SOLVE) webinar on food security.

   The downturn in agricultural production is worsened by farmers’ limited access to farm inputs and markets to sell produce. 

   This has already resulted in profit losses and wastage of farm produce such as that in vegetable capital Benguet.

   Finally, the decrease in labor productivity due to COVID-19 could translate in reduction in GDP among ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries.

   Reduction in GDP due to farm labor productivity decline is placed at 1.4% (although this decline may be applied on most ASEAN countries affected by COVID-19).

Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA chief, suggests an intensive collaborative approach to solving food security problems.

   Gregorio suggested a more collaborative approach in solving the food security problem.

   Collaboration should be intensified between government, industries, and the academe—the center and origin of many innovations and technology.

   “Our experience with COVID-19 highlights the importance of how we define food security. This becomes the basis of how we design programs and projects,” Gregorio stressed.

  Gregorio added that what is positive about the crisis from the pandemic is the increasing support of consumers as a result of their understanding between “what is on their plate and agriculture.”

   This is what government should capitalize on.

   Consumers have realized during the COVID-19 lockdown that if they do not support Filipino farmers and the farm sector, they will have nothing to eat—not the ideal nutritious kind everyone desires.

   Now everyone wants to turn to farming.

   “The agriculture sector could capitalize on this increasing support to identify several investments needed to strengthen the agriculture systems as food systems,” he said.

Massive Rice Imports

   An example may be on rice policy. 

   In the past, government has been threatened by imminent consumer protests against any high price in the staple.  Rice has become a political issue that compels government to come up with a food security policy with the fear that rice rationing may destabilize government; hence the massive rice importation.

   However, the liberalized rice importation has been pushing down local palay price.  If not complemented with appropriate safety nets program, this could send vulnerable farmers to avoidable poverty.  

   With present consumer support, government must expedite implementing more programs that also prioritize raising farmers’ income. 

   Reforms may zero in on producing value-added farm goods or consumer-demanded finished products.

Food security laggard

   As of 2019, the Philippines stood as one of the laggards in Global Food Security Index (GFSI) in ASEAN.  It placed fourth from bottom at around 60 points. 

   Other laggards are Lao PDR, Cambodia, and Myanmar which placed first to third from bottom.

   Those faring higher in GFSI among ASEAN countries are Singapore at  87.4 which was  reported by the GFSI March 2020 to be the most food secure in the world. 

   It was followed by Malaysia (73.8), Thailand (65.1), Vietnam and Indonesia (both 63 to 65).

   GFSI is a widely accepted metric in measuring food security based on food availability and affordability.

   While food availability and food affordability are two concerns, an underrated issue is nutritional security.

   It is a critical concern as Philippines was recorded to already have serious undernourishment level at around 15% of population as of 2017, making it the third most undernourished ASEAN country.

   “The highest prevalence of undernourishment (2017) in terms of percentage of the total population of a country was noted in Laos PDR (16.5%) and Cambodia (16.4%).Clearly, agriculture must not just aim for increased food production but also to improve the nutritional status of the population,” said Gregorio.

Five-Year Plan

   SEARCA under its 11th Five Year Plan (FYP) named these agenda  on Agriculture 4.0 which is a  concept of the future of agriculture focusing on use of technology for business efficiency.

    One is Open Innovation and Agri-Incubation. This entails partnering with the players and actors of the innovation community such as incubator houses, venture capital funders, universities, research institutions, as well as startups, small and medium enterprises, and corporations could support the goal of SEARCA.

  “While most startups are focused on developing digital technologies, incubators, and start-ups focused on Agriculture Research and Development technologies do not appear as popular in Southeast Asia,” said a SEARCA report.

Also on SEARCA’s agenda is Knowledge and Technology Transfer through an INtellecual Property Policy.

   SEARCA will also work with industry partners to implement Grants for Research Towards Agricultural Innovative Solutions (GRAINS) through four mechanisms: 1) Graduate Research with an Industry Partner, 2) Call for Research Proposals Based on Industry Need, 3) Engaging the Industry and the Youth in Promoting Agriculture and Rural Development, and 4) Academe-Industry-Government Interconnectivity.    

   Echoing the United Nations, Gregorio said food security is the combination of three elements:

   First is food availability which means food  must be available in sufficient quantities and on a consistent basis. It considers stock and production in a given area and the capacity to bring in food from elsewhere, through trade or aid. 

   Second is  food access  which means people must be able to regularly acquire adequate quantities of food, through purchase, home production, barter, gifts, borrowing or food aid.

   Third is food utilization which means consumed food must have a positive nutritional impact on people. It entails cooking, storage and hygiene practices, individuals ‘health, water and sanitation, feeding and sharing practices within the household.

  “Food stability has been added as a fourth pillar especially in consideration of the inherent exposure of Southeast Asia to weather and climate change-related hazards,” Gregorio said. Melody Mendoza Aguiba

P32 B economic stimulus package asked to be allocated for “productivity” and value added farm goods as livestock and fishery, logistics to enable recovery from Covid 19

May 5, 2019

The private sector has asked government to focus allocation of the P32 billion stimulus package for “productivity” and value-added farm goods such as livestock and fishery,  not just on rice and corn, to enable economic resurgence amid the Covid 19 crisis.

   In a letter to Congress’s ESRP (Economic Stimulus Response Package) chairperson, Rep. Joey Salceda and Agriculture Sec. William D. Dar,  the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) acknowledged the significant value of the P32 billion ESRP.

   Nevertheless, with the budget’s limitation compared to the gargantuan need in agriculture , PCAFI asserted the budget should primarily zero in on productivity even in livestock, fishery, export-oriented fruits and vegetables that bring higher income.

   “Focus should be on productivity, in time for the increasing demand and consumption towards the 3rd and 4th quarter of 2020, as a result of the grand stimulus package in order for the Philippine economy to recover,” said PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto.

   “While the P 32.0 Billion proposed supplemental budget will be of tremendous help to enable the agriculture stakeholders to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic that brought havoc to the industry, we feel it is inadequate and might leave the exclusions of concerns not properly addressed.”

PCAFI led by Danilo V. Fausto (second from right) meets with Department of Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar (third from right)

   It is important to allocate budget for logistics to move fish and agriculture goods, not only in Luzon, but in Mindanao.

   “A lot of these products are wasted due to suspension of airline operation, difficulty in the land transport of perishable fruits, vegetables, fish, meat (specifically pork) and including fingerlings. Since these products are highly perishable, they need enhancement for cold chain support (refrigerated trucks),” said Fausto.

   Budget for artificial insemination (AI) in reproducing livestock and for controlling ASF (African swine flu) is also important.

   “There is an obvious slant towards rice and corn. Aside from rice, livestock, fishery and aqua need help. The ASF task force are running out of kits and lack veterinarians to monitor the livestock industry. There is a need to provide support on a consistent manner not only when disease outbreaks occur.”

   PCAFI also asked government to channel a P1.5 billion budget to more “value added” dairy, poultry, hogs, fisheries, and feed crops. 

   This P1.5 billion budget is originally proposed for urban agriculture and  protective personal equipment (P500 million each);  corn for food project (P300 million; and information, education and communications (P200 million).

   “We would like to recommend that portions thereof be transferred to dairy, poultry, hogs, fisheries, and feed crops. These sectors have been hit hard by the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) with the closure or limited working hours of food outlets and will continue to suffer losses even under a GCQ (general community quarantine,” said Fausto.

   To maximize productivity that will generate higher income for farmers and enable them to contribute to higher GDP (gross domestic product), these are proposed by PCAFI under government’s “Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat (ALPAS) Kontra sa COVID-19“:

  • Programs that will encourage meat processors to use local supply, requiring minimum inclusion of local producers
  • Inclusion of stimulus budget for agricultural producers, processors and suppliers of raw materials for high value fruits, vegetables and other commodities for export and local markets
  • Programs to make corn (for animal feed) more competitive even during rainy season to ensure consistent supply and quality to the poultry or livestock sectors
  • Production of feed grade animal feeds including copra and coconut oil, palm oil, and production of fish oil and fish meal as an alternative to the imported soybean meal for protein content of feeds
  • Establishment of more laboratories to be accredited at strategic locations due to GCQ (General Community Quarantine) reason

   “Credit guarantees should be focused towards the agriculture sector where banks shied away due to the risk inherent to food production. Guarantees should also be provided for suppliers of inputs who provide credit to farmer producers especially the small and medium livestock owners majority of which are asking for a reprieve on their payables due to huge losses,” Fausto said

Equal attention should be provided in budgeting for the following.

  • Improvement of irrigation system
  • Fertilizers to sustain and increase crop and vegetable production
  • Start-up planning and showcasing of “Balik Probinsya” resettlement and inclusive agribusiness under government and private sector partnership
  • To encourage investment in rice production, the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation should provide insurance “unconditionally” to palay producers guaranteeing the return of capital (at say P 45,000.00 per hectare) in case of natural calamities

   “Price support and subsidy should be provided to rice farmers guaranteeing minimum purchase price of palay at P17 per kilo.”

   This was reportedly the original breakdown for the P32 budget under which rice continues to take up the biggest chunk of the budget:

P 8.5 billion – rice resiliency project

P 7  billion – palay procurement fund of the National Food Authority

P 3 billion – expanded SURE Aid and recovery  (loan to farmers at zero interest)

P 3 billion – expanded agriculture insurance

P3 billion – social amelioration for farmers and farm workers

P 1 billion – upscaling of KADIWA ni Ani at Kita

P1 billion – integrated livestock and corn resiliency project

P1 billion – expanded small ruminants and poultry project; i)

P1billion– coconut-based diversification

P 1  billion- fisheries resiliency project

P 1 billion–revitalized gulayan

P 500 million – urban agriculture

P500 million– acquisition of protective personal equipment

P 300 million – corn for food project

P 200 M – information, education and communications project

   The letter was also sent to ESRP Cluster co-chairpersons, Rep. Sharon S. Garin and Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo, and Agriculture and Food chairperson Wilfrido Mark M. Enverga. (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)