SEARCA, partners push agribiotech among youth

THE Philippine government-hosted Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) recently held a forum on Breeding Innovations for Increasing Productivity and Climate Resilience in Crops and Livestock as part of SEARCA's efforts to expand the knowledge of the youth on agricultural biotechnology (agribiotech).

Held on August 15 at SEARCA's headquarters on the campus of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, the public seminar was conducted together with the United States Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA-FAS) Manila and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) Inc.

Glenn Gregorio, SEARCA director, said the forum aimed to create an interactive platform of engagement with key stakeholders to discuss the latest updates, emerging issues and concerns for an improved understanding and acceptance of biotechnology in the country.

As part of the SEARCA Agriculture and Development Seminar Series, the hybrid event that gathered more than 200 participants online and onsite was livestreamed and may be reviewed through SEARCA's Facebook Page.

Gregorio said the discussions during the forum were led by international and local experts on agribiotech.

Nur Azura Binti Adam, SEARCA's deputy director for programs, noted that agribiotech has been viewed unfavorably at times and hoped that the forum would open the public's minds about the technology.

Nur's suggestion of inviting farmers to similar forums in the future so they can share their success stories and convince other farmers to use biotech crops was concurred by ISAAA Executive Director Rhodora Aldemita, noting that the forum is different from the previous ones since it is geared toward students who are future technology developers.

"We would like to encourage students to go for agribiotech in their career because we need new ideas and new people in the field," Aldemita said.

Mark Hanzel, agricultural attaché of the USDA-FAS from the US Embassy Manila, also noted that the Filipino youth represent the future of agricultural innovation in the country, and misunderstanding and misinformation hinder developments in agribiotech.

Hanzel noted that even if people truly understand science and how it works, and things have been tested for decades and have been proven safe and effective, "we still see policies succumbing to the pressures of misinformed view."

"It's important that we take the knowledge, and we go out there with it and help people understand these things better," he added.

During the forum, Aldemita presented the crop innovations in the pipeline for productivity and climate resiliency, while Claro Mingala, director of the Philippine Agriculture and Fisheries Biotechnology Program, spoke about livestock innovations.

Joining the discussion was Huw Jones, professor of Translational Genomics for Plant Breeding from Aberystwyth University, Wales, who presented the global regulatory landscape for new breeding innovations.

Encouraging the youth

One of the questions raised during the open forum was how to encourage the youth to get involved in agribiotech aside from the usual forums.

Aldemita noted that with a curriculum already in place in the University of the Philippines system, they can encourage the youth to get involved in agribiotech aside from the usual forums.

She added that while other schools still want to improve their curriculum and include agribiotech as a major in their agricultural course, several like-minded agencies in the country have also been working together to conduct activities and produce knowledge products for the youth.

While suggesting that education and understanding on the topic should start much younger in the school curriculum, Jones pointed out that the concept of plant breeding is something that younger children need to understand.

Mingala also shared that the Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Program Office offers scholarships for undergraduates and higher studies.

Whether the current regulations could keep up with new developments in the field, Aldemita also explained that regulators are always future-proof regulations so they can be adjusted whenever there are new innovations.

"If some aspects need to be changed, it will always be science-based," she said.

Associate professor Joselito Florendo, SEARCA deputy director for programs, noted that he may have a different background, but he, too, has a role in advancing the country's agriculture sector.

"I have a part in advocating for modern biotechnology as an important innovation that we can use," Florendo said, adding that one option is to accelerate agricultural transformation in the Philippines and beyond.

"We may all be different, but all of us can have a valuable contribution. Food security is everyone's business," he added.