A Sensient Colors, LLC delegation led by Dr. Vergel Concibido, director of agronomy, visited the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) on 1 February 2024 to gain insights on its scholarship offerings and innovation-focused projects.
Sensient Colors, LLC is a business unit under the Sensient Technologies Corporation, a leading global manufacturer and supplier of natural and synthetic color solutions for food and beverage, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and industrial markets. They have previously partnered with SEARCA in Innovation Olympics 2.0, an agri hackathon, wherein young innovators developed solutions to the challenges faced by urban and rural smallholder vegetable farmers.
"We started with Innovation Olympics 2.0, but we're hoping to expand our collaboration beyond this initiative," Dr. Concibido remarked.
During the meeting, the visitors were given an overview of SEARCA's mandate and offerings. Ms. Sharon Malaiba, unit head of the Partnerships Unit (PU), introduced the Center's core programs.
Ms. Malaiba shared the Education and Collective Learning Department's scholarship programs and their eligibility requirements. In addition, Dr. Nur Azura binti Adam, SEARCA deputy director for programs, discussed the Center's joint scholarship grants, citing the collaborations with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Tokyo University of Agriculture (Tokyo NODAI), National Taiwan University, and Sejong University in Korea. Dr. Nur also highlighted SEARCA and the European Commission ERASMUS+ Capacity Building in Higher Education's three-year initiative titled Postgraduate Micro-Credentials on Food Security and Climate Change, which utilizes digital technologies to develop and offer online modules that aim to address food security and climate change.
In response, Dr. Concibido shared that for five years now, Sensient Colors, LLC has been offering 12 scholarship slots at the University of Padjadjaran in Indonesia. Two of these slots are open to Filipinos 35 years or below, with research focusing on Sensient color and flavor crops, such as turmeric, annatto, and natural blue vegetables. Dr. Nur expressed interest and suggested exploring a joint scholarship.
Ms. Malaiba presented some of the Research and Thought Leadership Department's past engagements with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in forums, seminars, workshops, and roundtable discussions, mostly on biotechnology. She also informed the visitors about the forum on Philippine yellow corn organized by SEARCA and Bayer CropScience Philippines.
Meanwhile, Ms. Lichelle Carlos, a program specialist of SEARCA's Emerging Innovation for Growth Department (EIGD), gave a rundown of EIGD's initiatives, one of which was the Innovation Olympics 2.0, which was won by Team AIRIN's automated irrigation and nutrient management system and Project Angat's vertical farming system.
Ms. Carlos also discussed EIGD's initiative in agrobotics education. SEARCA and the Central Luzon State University conducted a training workshop on VEX robotics. Aside from that, the Center also welcomes visitors and hosts ideation sessions in its SEARCA Hub for Agriculture and Rural Innovation for the Next Generation (SHARING) and SHARING Café, which serve as learning spaces for agricultural innovation.
On top of that, Ms. Carlos introduced the Grants for Research towards Agricultural Innovative Solutions (GRAINS). GRAINS provides starter funds to researchers, scientists, inventors, and agripreneurs to scale up their technology or innovation model. She underscored notable projects under GRAINS, such as the innovation on bioplastic films from shrimp waste materials by the University of San Carlos in Cebu, Philippines; a government-led project on big weather data in Thailand; and a Singapore-based startup's diagnostic kit that detects the presence of disease in shrimp farm water samples. Another GRAINS project is with SpaceCrop Technologies, an agricultural software company that helps farms manage irrigation and increase crop resiliency using satellite data and artificial intelligence.
Lastly, Ms. Carlos also showcased the Center's projects on carbon farming, one of which was its partnership with Newfields Consulting Ltd. and Macon Ltd. on the Training-Workshop Series on Carbon Wise Rice-based Farming. She also mentioned SEARCA's Rice Straw Biogas Hub (RSBH) initiative, led by a United Kingdom-registered startup, Straw Innovations. RSBH aimed to generate biogas as clean energy from waste rice straw and provide innovative technology services for rice farmers.
Dr. Concibido resonated with RSBH's principle. "One of the things that we're trying to figure out is upcycling," Dr. Concibido said.
"In our process of extracting colors, we produce a lot of biomasses. There are still a lot of potential bioactive products left on the ingredient that we can recover and use. Aside from that, we can also reduce our carbon footprint," he added.
Furthermore, Dr. Concibido conveyed that Sensient Colors, LLC is constantly surveying noble products from the centers of diversity. He said they are currently exploring the Amazon to search for sources of colors and flavors. He pointed out that they are actively looking for natural sources of white colorants as the ingredient used in toothpaste, lotion, yogurt, and milk that makes them white is silicon dioxide, which may cause harmful long-term effects on human health.
To cap the meeting, Ms. Carlos suggested co-organizing another hackathon focusing on Sensient crops. Moreover, Dr. Nur proposed encouraging SEARCA's PhD scholars to focus their research on upcycling and exploring natural sources of colors and flavors.
Dr. Nur welcomed the visitors. With them in the meeting were Ms. Corinta Guerta, technical advisor to the director; Ms. Malaiba; Ms. Carlos; and key staff from PU and the Office of the Deputy Director for Programs.