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Agriculture research and development revisited

/ 12:00 AM September 12, 2016

Agriculture research is a driver of competitiveness and product diversification.

In my long years as observer of developments in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, I’ve seen how agriculture research and development (R&D) became a major force for productivity and diversification.

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Asean peers, who have established strong footholds in the global market, have done better than us in this department. They have dedicated research institutes, with adequate funding and support, to undertake extensive R&D work.

Let us take country examples:

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Indonesia

Indonesia’s leading research institute, Indonesian Oil Palm Research Institute, is engaged in research on palm cultivation, processing, socioeconomic aspects and policy formulation. About 40 percent of the 10 million hectares of oil palm plantation in the country belong to the smallholders.

The country is the world’s leading player in palm oil.

The Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute (ICCRI) was established in 1910. Current activities of ICCRI in the coffee sector include: land mapping to identify new areas for coffee production; research on coffee diseases and identification of resistant planting material; farmer training on improved production and processing techniques; supply of coffee seedlings for improved varieties; and supply of coffee processing and testing equipment.

Indonesia is the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world. It produced some 411,000 tons of coffee beans in 2015. Of this total, it is estimated that 155,000 tons were for domestic consumption. Note: According to the International Coffee Organization, the Philippines produced only 44,000 tons in 2015.

Indonesia is also the world’s third largest cocoa producer after Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. In 2015, it produced some 300,000 tons of cocoa beans, according to the Indonesian Cocoa Organization. Food giant Cargill, JB Cocoa and Barry Callebaut have made investments that will increase national cocoa bean grinding capacity. Actual grinding is estimated at 370,000 tons beans in 2015.

Malaysia

The country is a key player in palm oil, and for a long time, natural rubber. It has over 5 million ha planted to oil palm, and some one million ha in rubber.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) was created in 1998 that merged two agencies: the Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia and the Palm Oil Registration and Licensing Authority. The MPOB is funded by palm oil industry taxes and through government grants for research. MPOB activities include research, development and implementation of regulations, and the promotion of the palm oil industry. It has worked in partnership with overseas universities on R&D projects.

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The Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia (RRIM) started in 1926. It was funded by a rubber export cess (levy), part for rubber replanting, and part for research for decades. The RRIM has contributed significantly to the development of the rubber industry for the last 80 years. With its R&D excellence in natural rubber (NR), RRIM has had an impact on the world NR industry.

The Malaysian Rubber Board (MRB) was established in 1998, and folded three agencies into one. The primary objective of MRB is to assist in the development and modernization of the Malaysian rubber industry from cultivation, the processing of its raw rubber, as well as the manufacture and marketing of rubber products.

Thailand

The Rubber Research Institute of Thailand operates five research centers to address different agro-ecological zones. It has developed two productive rubber clones, RRIT 251 and RRIT 408. The country is also the world’s leading NR exporter.

Public agricultural research has played a big role. Agricultural research outputs have increased, in particular, improved rice, rubber, maize, soybean and cassava varieties, according to a study done by Leturqe and Wiggins under the Overseas Development Institute in 2010.

Thailand is a leading global player in sugar, cassava, pineapple, processed fruits, shrimp, and chicken meat.

Vietnam

The Western Highlands Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute (WASI) is a government agency directly under the Viet Nam Agricultural Science Institute. Its functions are scientific research and technological transfer on agro-forestry, animal husbandry, biotechnology, and protection of ecological environment.

The WASI, established in 1997, is a consolidation of the coffee research institute, the mulberry research center, and related scientific research offices, such as pepper and macadamia. WASI has developed coffee hybrids with maximum farmer’s yield of up to four kilograms beans per tree.

Vietnam is the world’s leading exporter of Robusta coffee, pepper and cashew nuts.

Philippines

The Philippines trails in crop research and agricultural exports.

The Philippine Rice Research Institute was established only in 1985 by President Corazon Aquino, a long delay compared to similar rice research centers in Asia. Another research center of note was the Philippine Carabao Center established only in 1992. The Philippine Rubber Research Institute was created by law in 2010, and has a long way to take off.

Meanwhile, coconut, the largest crop in land area and largest agricultural export, has no dedicated research institute. As evidence of long-term neglect, the average yield is 35-45 nuts per tree, about a third or fourth of the potential. It has also spawned a large poverty group.

Banana and pineapple are export successes due to corporate funding for research. For coffee, Robusta seedlings are provided by Nestle. But other smallholder crops need public support.

Agriculture research offers significant benefits to society. The social return was estimated at 48 percent per year for research, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Agricultural research has proven itself effective at increasing farm productivity, enhancing product quality, and reducing costs along with providing spillovers in manufacturing and services. The resulting job creation is part of the outcome of inclusive growth. The country certainly needs a coherent long-term research agenda.

(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. The author is the Vice Chair of the MAP AgriBusiness and Countryside Development Committee, and the Executive Director of the Center for Food and AgriBusiness of the University of Asia & the Pacific. Feedback at <[email protected]> and <[email protected]>. For previous articles, please visit )

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