Lighting torches for Science for Change Summits

The Freshwater Fisheries Center in Isabela State University received a grant of ₧22.5 million for the research and development (R&D) for the management of the indigenous fisheries resources of the Cagayan Valley Region.

The project focused on high-value species, such as lobed river mullet, or “ludong,” and freshwater eels that are present in the Cagayan River system.

The fisheries center is a beneficiary of the Science for Change Program’s (S4CP) Niche Center in the Region for R&D Program (Nicer) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

The project gives emphasis on developing artificial breeding and culture techniques for fish species and provide information on their natural habitats to determine options for their management.

It was one of the highlights of the S4CP Summit that was held in Baguio City on May 13, the second leg of the summits after the Bacolod City event last week, a news release said.

S4CP is Science for the People

With the theme, “Science for Change is Science for the People,” the summits showcased beneficial changes in institutions, industries and communities from the S4CP’s four subcomponents programs.

They are the Nicer; Collaborative R&D to Leverage the Philippine Economy Program (Cradle); Business Innovation through S&T for Industry Program (BIST); and R&D Leadership Program (RDLead).

“For the past six years, DOST endeavors to significantly accelerate science, technology and innovation in the country through a massive increase in investment in the S&T human resource development and R&D,” said Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña in the news release.

He added that the S4CP allows the undertaking of relevant and meaningful R&D in Nicers that are on a par with international research institutes.

Through these centers, there will be a continuing increase in technology-based and value-adding business investments, both foreign and domestic, due to a conducive STI-supported economic environment, de na Peña pointed out.

DOST Undersecretary for Regional Operations Sancho A. Mabborang remarked that the DOST-Regional Offices champion the banner projects of the S4CP.

“Having been from the region myself, I am fully aware of the capacities that we can maximize in the commercialization of the results of our R&D activities in the countryside. We are perennially one with the regions when it comes to bringing S&T to our people on the ground,” Mabborang said.

For herself, DOST Undersecretary for Research and Development Rowena Cristina L. Guevara pointed out: “R&D investments in the region are essential to address regional disparity in R&D funding and will drive industry growth all over the country.”

“Bringing opportunities to key industry players in the Regions levels the playing field in the development of the STI landscape in the country,” Guevara added.

North Luzon beneficiaries

The Nicer Program provides grants to higher education institutions (HEIs) to undertake collaborative research that promotes regional development.

The 42 total number of Nicers established across 17 regions have P2.23 billion approved grants. From the total Nicer grants, P450 million, or 20 percent, were granted to North Luzon HEIs.

The Cradle Program for academe, research development institutions (RDIs), and industry aims to provide industries with the appropriate R&D to solve their problems.

To date, 86 projects with P388.6-million total approved budget have been implemented by 36 HEIs and 87 industry partners across 10 regions.

For North Luzon, a total of P37.9 million was granted to nine academe-industry collaborations under Cradle.

One of these collaborations is with Edcor Multipurpose Cooperative, a cassava business in San Guillermo, Isabela.

Farmer-members of Edcor have experienced low quality cassava harvests. One of the reasons is disease-infection in cassava plantations, which directly affected the quality of the produce.

Through the Demeter’s Eyes project, undertaken by Isabela State University, an embedded system for smart detection, recognition and mapping of Cassava Phytoplasma Disease (CPD) in cassava plants and was developed with a budget of P5 million.

The monitoring results of the CPD-infected cassava plants can be used by cassava farmers to immediately isolate the infected plants to avoid possible spread to other areas of plantation.

To date, there is no approved BIST project in North Luzon. The BIST for Industry encourages private companies to invest in R&D through acquisition of strategic and relevant equipment or technologies.

“I encourage all local companies from CAR [Cordillera Administrative Region], Regions I, II and III to avail [themselves of] the financial assistance from BIST,” Guevara said.

Meanwhile, the RDLead Program capacitates host institutions by sending them an R&D expert who can guide them in bringing out the potential or latent talents of universities, researchers, and research personnel.

In the Cordillera Region, Dr. Ronald T. Del Castillo, a consultant in the United Nations World Food Programme (Philippines), is the RDLeader in Saint Louis University.

He is the team leader on research about developing and applying social and behavioral communication tool in improving food and nutrition-related behaviors, including indigenous peoples and in the DOST-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development-funded research on mobile mental health.

His expertise in public and mental health guided the faculty and staff of the Saint Louis University in crafting their research program proposal on mental health in the Cordillera Region.

Undersecretary Guevara further noted that it is important to sustain the R&D initiatives and undertakings with the stakeholders in all regions.

“Through the S4CP Bill, we can ensure that research studies and results propagate society-centric solutions that benefit the Filipinos,” Guevara said.

Visayas beneficiaries

In the Visayas, the DOST provided funding for agricultural, pharmaceutical, herbal supplement manufacturing and regional science communities, the S4CP news release said.

Among the Visayas Nicers is the establishment of the Eastern Visayas Center for Crustacean Research and Development at Samar State University.

With the dwindling supply of crustaceans, including crabs, shrimps, prawns, the center with the new state-of-the-art facilities and technologies will help the local government units in Eastern Visayas with the information and strategies for policy formulation in fisheries and aquatic resources management and sustainable utilization.

The collaboration will likewise guarantee socio-economic impact in the region.

The Cradle Program provides support to MCPI Corp., a leading natural carrageenan manufacturer and exporter, partnered with the University of San Carlos to develop three product lines—cold-soluble powders, bioplastic sheets, and bioactive hydrogels.

The results of the studies will help the industry design bioplastic with desired rigidity and strength, constitute powders that dissolve in tap water without heating, and prepare hydrogels for biomedical use.

In BIST, the beneficiary is Herbanext, a 100 percent Filipino-owned company in Bago City, Negros Occidental, which manufactures botanical ingredients, nutraceuticals, functional food products, herbal drugs and herbal cosmetics.

The company received an interest-free loan worth P11.7 million. It was used to acquire state-of-the-art extraction equipment and modern pilot scale machinery that allow increase in potency and therapeutic quality and reduces issues in shelf stability and microbial load in the manufacturing herbal products.

“Herbanext is more empowered to do more research and is more confident in the quality and safety of our herbal products. In the not so distant future, we look forward to the export of world class Filipino herbal medicine,” testified Philip Cruz, president of Herbanext Laboratories Inc.

The RDLead Program in the Visayas has Dr. Esperanza Maribel Agoo of Bohol Island State University, an expert in Plant Taxonomy, Conservation and Ecology.

“There is a need to tap the university’s existing resources in manpower and facilities for them to gain more impactful researches. Notably, there is also a need for the institution to be more aware of the research priorities of funding agencies and for researchers to collaborate more among themselves and at the regional, national, and international level,” Agoo said.

The S4C Program opened the opportunities to research institutions and industries to invest in R&D to improve their processes, operations, and profits. With these R&D investments, Visayas sees industry revitalization and progress in aquaculture, pharmaceuticals, herbal supplement manufacturing, and other collaborative research and partnerships, the S4C Program said.

Image credits: S4CP photo