TBI seeks SEARCA help on agriculture

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna: London-based Tony Blair Institute (TBI) for Global Change sought guidance on advancing the agriculture sector from the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).

SEARCA Center Director Glenn Gregorio said TBI, a nonprofit organization that works with political leaders worldwide and helps governments deliver positive change for people, recently visited the center to explore possible areas of collaboration.

"TBI is seeking collaboration, particularly in advancing the agriculture sector, including the promotion of responsive and climate-resilient research and development and innovation," Gregorio said.

The TBI delegation was led by Grant Merrick, senior adviser for agriculture and food, and Tina del Rosario, TBI Philippines, Asia-Pacific Advisory manager.

Primarily focusing on agriculture, climate resilience and food security, TBI Philippines was established as a result of several meetings between former United Kingdom prime minister Tony Blair and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Gregorio saw a lot of commonalities between SEARCA and TBI Philippines.

"TBI Philippines is very young yet very relevant, and we look forward to partnering with them," said Gregorio.

"During our meeting, we gave TBI an overview of the center's mandate, five-year plan, and core programs," he said.

Gregorio highlighted the center's Master of Science (MS) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) scholarship offerings and the academic and travel grants programs.

"We discussed the Seed Fund for Research and Training, a grant that provides starter funds to researchers and scientists who contribute significantly to Southeast Asian agriculture but lack the funding to carry out their projects," Gregorio said.

He said the Regional Professorial Chair Grants, an annual recognition given to outstanding Southeast Asian academic professionals who have made significant and notable contributions to their respective fields, was mentioned to the TBI delegates.

Also introduced was the Grants for Research towards Agricultural Innovative Solutions (GRAINS) which provides starter funds not only to researchers and scientists but also to inventors and entrepreneurs who aim to scale up their technology or innovation model.

Program specialist Christina Corales from Emerging Innovation for Growth Department cited some of these technologies including the bioplastic films from shrimp waste materials by the University of San Carlos in Cebu and the edible coating that delays the ripening and extending the shelf life of mangoes developed by HS InnoTech Inc.

One of the GRAINS projects introduced by Corales was SpaceCrop Technologies, an agricultural software company that helps farms manage irrigation and increase crop resiliency using satellite data and artificial intelligence.

Gregorio also informed TBI of the "Food is Life Exemplified Promoting Planetary Health Diet" or FLEx PHD competition, a hackathon that fostered the development of mobile applications. This guides consumers in making informed food choices based on their nutritional needs, the food's health benefits, and its production's impact on farmer income and the environment.

Bernice Anne de Torres, Research and Thought Leadership Department program specialist, also underscored SEARCA's roadmap development projects, the newly developed Philippine coconut and calamansi industry roadmaps, and the Myanmar pulses roadmap.

De Torres informed TBI that SEARCA is establishing the Consortium for Agricultural Development, Research and Extension or Cadre, a regional network of high-caliber and like-minded institutions that will collaborate in delivering research and extension support to the most pressing issues and challenges faced by the Southeast Asian agriculture sector.

The center also presented its capacity-building and institutional development assistance projects, such as the Commission on Higher Education-funded Leveling-up Philippine Higher Education Institutions in Agriculture, Fisheries, and Natural Resources or LevelUPHEI AFAR.

SEARCA Deputy Director Associate Professor Joselito Florendo explained that the LevelUPHEI AFAR aims to enhance the relevance and competitiveness of the country's higher education institutions in the 21st century.

He also introduced the Southeast Asian University Consortium for Graduate Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources or UC, a network of esteemed universities in Southeast Asia, Canada, Germany, Japan and Taiwan.

Gregorio showcased some of their joint publications, including the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Coconut Authority and the SEARCA-formulated National Agriculture and Fishery Modernization and Industrialization Plan (NAFMIP 2021-2030) of the Philippines, and the Technology Transfer and Business Development Manual, a project with the University of the Philippines Los Baños Technology Transfer and Business Development Office.

NAFMIP 2021-2030 is a co-publication with the Asian Development Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the SyCip Gorres Velayo Co.

On carbon neutrality initiatives, Gregorio cited the center's capacity-building activity on the use of the Carbon Wise Rice Information Management System, a web-based measurement monitoring, reporting and verification tool allowing farmers to input farm activity data, which is then used to calculate carbon emissions.

He also cited another initiative which is the Rice Straw Biogas Hub envisioned to generate biogas as clean energy from waste rice straw and provide innovative technology services for rice farmers.