Dreams, Optimism, Wisdom


Erle Frayne Argonza

Magandang umaga! Good morning from Manila!

Africa seems to be the favorite destination today for aid funds from everywhere, most specially from European countries. We wonder whether this is Europe’s way of expiating its guilt over the European powers’ enslavement, plunder and colonization of Africa.

A recent issue concerning aid funds dovetails on agricultural research. While there are clear positive benefits to donated funds, there are gaps that must be addressed. This identification of a new problem is already a brightening news for the continent, as the problem can be addressed more squarely.

The news is contained below.

[Writ 05 October 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]


African agricultural research ‘neglected ‘ by donor policies

Christina Scott

24 September 2008 | EN


[CAPE TOWN] A lack of emphasis on agricultural research in development policy over the last quarter of a century is one of the main reasons for the deterioration of African farming, according to a UN report released this month (15 September).

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report on Africa’s economic development also cites the small size of each country’s research stations, isolated researchers and high staff turnover as other factors that helped “prevent the attainment of a critical mass of scientific and technical staff”.

“In Sub-Saharan Africa there are problems with agricultural research, which determines the rate of technological change,” Sam Gayi, lead researcher of the report told SciDev.Net.

As a result, except for maize and more recently cassava, “most of Sub-Saharan Africa has no immediately applicable crop technology that might, with adequate price incentives, substantially increase the profitability of investments in agriculture,” the report concludes.

“Only a quarter of the total crop area of Sub-Saharan Africa is planted with modern crop varieties,” says Gayi.

Credit provision for farmers, as well as investment in infrastructure and research, were abandoned by donor-dictated development policies in many parts of Africa, with long-lasting detrimental effects, the report says.

The authors also criticise many state agricultural budgets for being skewed towards administrative costs rather than research.

They say gaps in communicating research and policy developments, combined with shortages of credit — particularly the dissolution of marketing boards that often gave cash advances to small-scale farmers — have made it more difficult for improved government policies to be translated into improved yields in the fields.

The report singles out Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and South Africa as countries that have managed to improve their agricultural exports. Côte d’Ivoire continues to benefit from “huge investments”, including government funds for research, made in the 1960s in a diverse range of crops.

The authors also say that restrictive standards on exports are placing a burden on African nations, who struggle to meet them.

“Several African countries do not have the technical capacity or resources to comply with the required standards,” says Hezron Nyangito, former director of the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) and newly-appointed deputy governor of the Central Bank of Kenya.

KIPPRA research suggests that Kenyan farmers would have to increase agricultural spending tenfold and Uganda would need to spend about US$300 million to upgrade its honey-processing plants to comply with European Union standards.



Erle Frayne Argonza

If I were a Nazi youth, I’d say “Hail Hitler! Hail cassava! Hail cassanova!”

You see, the “superior race” may have failed to distinguish between ‘cassava’ and ‘Cassanova’, that between the two it is the former that brings life, while the latter drains one of life (pardon me Cassanova, please!).

Who knows, cassava could be among the formula to make the White pupils of America increase their aptitude and IQs that were found to be, well, less ‘superior’ than expected? And these White pupils should study science a lot, as they’ve been found wanting in Science and Math aptitude, in contrast to their Asian fellows who are, well, “monkeys with no tails” that perform the highest in the same subjects?

Surprisingly, Melinda Gates, an American White lady, is herself involved in ensuring the bright potential of cassava. The anti-hunger campaigns worldwide, including my own country’s, will benefit a lot from this development.

The great cassava news is contained below. I feel like wagging my tail!

[28 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]   

Scientists target ‘super cassava’


12 August 2008 | EN | FR | 中文

Selling cassava in Indonesia


Cassava, the primary source of nutrition for 800 million people worldwide, is receiving attention from a project seeking to boost its nutritional value.

The BioCassava Plus project, supported by US$12.1 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, involves researchers from Colombia, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania.

The scientists have been seeking to fortify a single 500 gram adult portion of cassava with essential nutrients, including vitamins A and E, iron and zinc.

Other goals include making the crop more disease-resistant, extending its shelf-life from one day to two weeks and reducing cyanide toxicity.

The scientists now claim to have “demonstrated proof of practice for all the target objectives in three years” since their 2005 start date.

The transgenic cassava plants have undergone a stringent biosafety approval process in the United States, and field trials are currently being carried out at a US Department of Agriculture site in Puerto Rico.

Next on the agenda are field trials in Kenya and Nigeria in 2009, before researchers attempt to combine the traits into a single plant.

Link to full article in 



Erle Frayne Argonza

Consistently following ‘physical economy’ practices would mean a sustained construction and renovation of agricultural infrastructures. Conversely, the sustained destruction of such infrastructures will lead to rapid agricultural decay, such as what’s happening in the USA.

Africans know their physical economy principles well, and practice them precisely by boosting agricultural infrastructures. Below is a news item that captures relevant efforts in Ghana, Mali and Madagascar.

Enjoy your read!

[30 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

Ghana, Madagascar, Mali get agricultural revamp

Bandé Moussa Sissoko & Rivonala Razafison

19 June 2008 | EN


Small-scale farmers in Ghana, Madagascar and Mali are the first beneficiaries of a multi-billion dollar project to rehabilitate agricultural infrastructure.

The project, part of the efforts to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals tackling poverty, will later be expanded to other developing countries.

Kofi Annan, of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), signed a memorandum of understanding this month (11 June) with the US government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

Under the agreement, infrastructure will be established or improved, agricultural research will be strengthened, and seeds and other technologies will be distributed to small-scale farmers.

Mosa Justin of Madagascar’s Millennium Challenge Account, which distributes MCC money, says the joint project will work with researchers to better distribute seeds in three different zones: maize in Antsiranana, rice and butter beans in Menabe, and maize and rice in Boeny.

The Malagasy agriculture ministry has also signed a partnership with private fertiliser companies to increase production. “There is a need to create a fertiliser map according to the type and variety of soils, and then a blending plant to make the most appropriate fertiliser,” says Justin. Fertiliser use in Madagascar is currently one twelfth of the African average.

In landlocked Mali, the Millennium Challenge Account has begun a large rice irrigation project in the central Alatona region, which relies on water from the Niger river delta.

Project director Tidiani Traoré says work will begin on extending the Sahel Canal by 23 kilometres, building a new 63 kilometre canal and boosting the banks of the Malado Fala — an ancient dry stream bed used as a natural canal — by December this year.

About 16,000 hectares of farmland — roughly half the Alatona region — will receive improved irrigation, Traoré told SciDev.Net.

Traoré says plans also include formalising land titles, education about land tenure rights, increasing farmers’ access to agricultural advice and training in fish, livestock and financial management.

The Mali project also aims to construct a bridge and tar the first 81 kilometres of road from the rice paddies in the Niono inland delta, which floods annually, by October 2008.

Ghanaian plans include starting a dialogue between the private and public sector on how best to work together in getting seeds of new crop varieties to farmers fields.

Link to Memorandum of Understanding between MCC and AGRA [16.5kB]



Erle Frayne Argonza


Buenos dias a todos!


From Chile / South America comes the good news that biofuels are not chiefly responsible for inflationary patterns in grains/food. As I’ve always been explaining in various articles, the problems with food inflation today are largely the product of speculations by predatory financiers across the globe.


The news item below brightens the R&D efforts on biofuels. While indeed certain financiers have cashed in on the biofuel craze and led to price increases in corn, as the case has been demonstrated in the United States, the speculative aspect of the investment has got nothing to do with the biofuel itself as a factor behind food inflation.


Happy reading.


[21 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to the SciDev reports.]



Biocombustibles ‘no son culpables por alza de alimentos’

Paula Leighton

15 may 2008 | ES

El precio del arroz ha sufrido un alza en Chile

Wikipedia / David Monniaux

[SANTIAGO] En medio del debate internacional sobre la posibilidad de que los biocombustibles incidan en el incremento a los precios de los alimentos, una encuesta realizada en Santiago de Chile muestra que sólo un bajo porcentaje de entrevistados así lo considera. 

De acuerdo con la encuesta difundida el pasado 2 de mayo, en la que investigadores del Centro de Estudios Sociales y Opinión Pública (CESOP) de la Universidad Central entrevistaron a 300 habitantes de la ciudad, sólo el 16,3 por ciento atribuye el alza de precios al uso de plantaciones para biocombustibles.

Cerca de la mitad de los entrevistados (45 por ciento) culparon al calentamiento global y el 33 por ciento a la especulación de países ricos.

El 94,3 por ciento de los entrevistados considera que existe una crisis alimentaria. Esta percepción coincide con alzas registradas en los últimos meses en el país en alimentos como trigo, soja y arroz. En supermercados capitalinos este último cereal duplicó su valor a fines de abril ante anuncios de una escasez mundial.

Para Luis Gajardo, decano de la Facultad de Ciencias Sociales de la Universidad Central, en las creencias de los chilenos se conjugan elementos como la percepción de una crisis energética y la falta de información precisa sobre el impacto real del calentamiento global.

Detrás del alza de alimentos como el arroz, agrega “hay también una reacción ante anuncios catastrofistas de la prensa que han llevado a muchos a comprar más allá de sus necesidades, generando un fenómeno de ‘profecía autocumplida'”.





Erle Frayne Argonza


Putting together nanotechnology, biotechnology and bio-informatics is a new challenging area of R&D in the field of agriculture.


The experts of India, with the co-sponsorship by the state, are now into the next exciting phase of developing food production via this new integration methodology and practice. The implications of the new practice on quality control are legion, to say the least.


Happy reading.


[21 July 2003, Quezon City, MetroManila. Via SciDev update reports.]



India looks to nanotechnology to boost agriculture

M. Sreelata

16 May 2008 | EN

Nanotechnology could help water delivery systems for farming


The Indian government is looking towards nanotechnology as a means of boosting agricultural productivity in the country.

In a report released in April, the Planning Commission of India recommends nanotechnology research and development (R&D) should become one of six areas for investment.

The commission recommends policies to and carries out financial planning for government departments. The report was written by a subgroup of the commission, and will be incorporated into India’s eleventh five-year plan, for 2007–2012.

The authors recommend ways to harness nanotechnology, biotechnology and bioinformatics to transform Indian agriculture, including creating a national institute of nanotechnology in agriculture.

The report says nanotechnology such as nano-sensors and nano-based smart delivery systems could help ensure natural resources like water, nutrients and chemicals are used efficiently in agriculture. Nano-barcodes and nano-processing could also help monitor the quality of agricultural produce.

The report proposes a national consortium on nanotechnology R&D, to include the proposed national institute and Indian institutions that are already actively researching nanotechnology.

It also recommends that Indian universities and institutions develop suitable graduate and postgraduate programmes to train young scientists in nanotechnology.

Vandana Dwivedi, coordinator of the subgroup and an advisor in the Planning Commission, says implementing all the report’s recommendations will take time, though she hopes to see some of the aspects rolled out in the 2007–2012 five-year plan. No specific initiatives on nanotechnology have yet been announced.

But not everyone is impressed by the government’s plans. India should be cautious about rushing for technologies, says M. S. Swaminathan, a former head of the National Commission for Farmers and widely considered the father of India’s green revolution. 

“If technology has applications, it has limitations too. Right from the beginning it is advisable to have a national regulatory commission on nanotechnology so that people don’t get into litigation later,” he told SciDev.Net.

Swaminathan believes transferring existing technologies to farmers should take priority, saying, “We should first disseminate ordinary technology to the farmer. Even the basic know-how has not reached fields yet. The gap between scientific know-how and field level do-how remains as wide as ever.”






Erle Frayne Argonza


Good day!


Let me now shift my attention a bit and diversify our BrightWorld updates with news from across the oceans.


Here is a news, culled from the SciDev Forum materials sent to its members. The search for high-yielding varieties of grains is a continuing one, and had definitely not reached a dead end yet in biotech innovations.


Happy reading.


[19 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]



Scientists find ‘yield-improving rice gene’

Jia Hepeng

14 May 2008 | EN | 中文

The newly discovered gene may help improve rice yields


[BEIJING] Chinese scientists have identified a rice gene that could simultaneously control the crop’s yield, plant height, and number of days to flowering.

Publishing their study in Nature Genetics online this month (4 May), researchers from Wuhan-based Huazhong Agricultural University (HZAU) say the gene could play a role in improving rice productivity.

The scientists found that in individual rice breeds, the three traits appear strong –– or weak –– simultaneously.

“This fact makes us infer that the three traits were controlled by a single gene,” says Xing Yongzhong, one of the lead authors and a professor at HZAU.

Previous studies have found that a region on chromosome seven of rice can regulate all three traits but the specific gene involved had not been discovered.

The HZAU scientists mapped the relevant gene site on chromosome seven and located the specific gene named Ghd7. They discovered that shorter rice plants with fewer grains per cluster of flowers and earlier flowering do not have the gene Ghd7.

When they transferred Ghd7 into Ghd7-free varieties of rice, they found that time to flowering was increased by 105 per cent, they grew around 70 per cent taller, and the plants had more rice grains per cluster of flowers.

Numerous rice genes have been reported to control such traits alone, but Ghd7 is notable because of its large, multiple effects on an array of traits, write the authors.

Xing told SciDev.Net that the gene could be incorporated into varieties with traditional breeding. “Although we have used the genetically modified method in the study, we need not adopt this method in the practical seeding because the gene is identified from the rice itself.”

The team of scientists also studied the status of Ghd7 in 19 rice varieties from rice growing in a wide geographic range in Asia and found five different versions of the gene.

“We are exploring the subtypes of Ghd7-containing rice that are most suitable to their growing regions, so as to cultivate the most appropriate high-output rice varieties,” Xing adds.

Huang Dafang, former director of the Institute of Biotechnologies of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, welcomes the study as a major scientific breakthrough.

But he says that usually, multiple genes regulate the traits related to rice yields, and whether the Ghd7 could play its claimed role in promoting yields needs further research and seeding tests.

Link to full paper in Nature Genetics



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Two towns away to the east of Appari, Cagayan is the town of Gonzaga. Like its neighboring towns of Sta Ana (to its east) and Ballesteros (to its west), and those other coastal towns north of Cagayan, Gonzaga is home to fishery engagements. These are largely small fishers, or municipal fishers who could only go fishing by as much as ten (10) kilometers from the shoreline.

A town in the doldrums economically, this town though had the luck of being chosen as the site for the Provincial Action Center (PAC) of the Ministry of Human Settlements (MHS) for Northern Cagayan & Batanes. The PAC building itself was newly done in 1981 when we respective personnel occupied it. No sooner had we sat down there, I being the new Livelihood Coordinator for that area, when we got swamped with inquiries about the Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or KKK, the new enterprise finance program of government.

It was from this town where my team encountered many small planters and fishers. One group of fishers comprised of gentlemen who each had some fishing gears to operate, comprising of a 12-18 foot canoe (made from wood) with out-trigger, fish net, volvo outboard motor, and accessories. In contrast to the capital town of Tuguegarao where the experience was an attitude of luke warmth-to-indifference of folks towards the KKK, here there was enthusiasm about the program.

After some discussions with them, my team arranged for visitations of the operation area (coast). We had to be careful in dealing with these guys, because that town was home to the insurgent New People’s Army (NPA), and any mistake would turn out risky and costly. Without them telling us, I sensed that some of the folks were in fact doing espionage work for the NPAs. Instead of getting scared of that situation, I took it as an opportunity to show to the folks that development work is sincere, that if we can deliver the goods these same folks would cooperate well with the “new kids on the block” (team of development managers & implementers). Even the NPAs would admire us and not bother us and our beneficiaries for ‘revolutionary taxation’ which they never did.

It took us almost a month of discussions, visitations, and preliminary data gathering before we could decide what to counsel the folks. First, the fishers knew how to go about with their business, but their lives aren’t improving much, so it must be made clear to them that there is a gap in their competencies including technical (their gears are backward, though indigenous to the area). Second, we had information about the fishery resources in the locality, and knowledge about how to expand their markets. Third, we got the extra information that the town folks produced bagoong, or fermented fish, though production was primitive (home-made fermentation using terra cotta jars).

Piecing up the information together, including what institutional innovation to introduce, we then counseled the fishers confidently of the following: (1) instead of individual proponents, the group will cooperativize; (2) certain technical skills, including the management of the cooperative, the finances and control systems, and the marketing strategies, will be taught to them; (3) bagoong production will be the forward integration component for processing of small fish types (notably the dilis); (4) fishing nets will adjust to the larger team of fishers, so that bigger nets can be utilized and bigger outputs yielded.

After getting the clear nod of the group, we went about with our partnering business, taking another month to produce the business plan, begin cooperative training and assist in processing document, designing the tank for the bagoong production site (we had an engineer who helped us design a concrete tank), and other tasks.  The funding then was so open, so when the group submitted their documents and I endorsed the project for approval (funding at P350,000), it didn’t take a month for final approval (by the regional office) and the release of first tranche of funds.

Construction of the bagoong site began immediately, coupled with acquisition of larger boats, nets and gears. In no time at all did the contractor finished the ‘factory’ site, which had a concrete tank of 10 feet long by 4 feet width, and 2 feet height. Fermentation formula was 1:4 (1 can of salt for every 4 cans of fresh fish). The upper portion contained a faucet located 6 inches below the top, which released the patis (fermented sauce) that floated on top.

Upon launching and initial catch plus initial fermentation, our team and the proponents were so elated at the result. The bagoong tasted really good, so was the patis qualitatively good, it didn’t take the group a hard time to market them. So with fish catch (sold pronto in the coast to middlemen traders) and bagoong + patis as sideline, the fishers finally tasted better life. This is truly bagoong for better living, and remains among the legacy of Gonzaga.

[Writ 07 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]




Erle Frayne Argonza y Delago


[Writ 04 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]


As I went around Batan Island, Batanes province’s main isle that contains the capital Basco and the domestic airport, for the 1st time in 1981, I immediately scheduled visits to the Mayors of Mahatoa, Ivana and Uyugan towns. I heard from my kins, the Basco Mayor Castillejos included, and staff that these towns still practiced consuming ‘sweet potato’ and ‘gabi roots’ as staples. Prior to that, I saw with my own eyes the huge bulbs of garlic that dwarfed the golf-sized ‘native’ varieties we had in the ‘mainland’ (Luzon). I told myself I can’t miss out on this opportunity to biz-track the root crops of Batanes.


I was then livelihood coordinator of the Ministry of Human Settlements for Northern Cagayan & Batanes in the 2nd semester of 1981, so I had the mandate to do development tasks for this paradise island. So enchanting was this province that I literally experienced heart pains whenever I left Basco back for Tuguegarao and Gonzaga in Cagayan where my official headquarters were located. Part of the enchantment was the wonderful root crops there: sweet potato (kamote roots), gabi roots, garlic, onion, and ginger.


Right away, upon arriving at Mahatao town hall, the lady mayor served my team fried sweet potatoes that were sliced so thin they would pass for some manufactured sweet potato chips. The lunch came, and there went out the boiled sweet potato, served alongside the viands. Lunch was also served with the wonder wine made from sugar called palec. No rice was served at all.


After lunch we visited farm lands planted with the root crops. I was amazed to see farms planted in the old biodiversity way rather than the nutrient-damaging monocrop system. All the root crops mentioned here co-existed in plots as small as half a hectare. The small planters than informed me that they were interested in increasing the volume of production and explored marketing some products to the ‘mainland’. They needed some fresh funds to increase the land area (via purchase), install good storage facilities, and working capital for farm inputs and marketing expenses later.


I was then motored to Ivana town after that, and lastly to Uyugan (hmmm am I right in my ordering?). Traversing these towns was via an asphalted road at the periphery of the islands, and overlooking the sea below. To your left are the stone houses of Batan, much like those of the isle of Capri in Italy. Herds of Brahman cows and carabaos could also be seen, consuming the luscious verdant pastures of the rolling hills. Perfectly idyllic! Splendid! …I heard practically the same things from the small planters there, about the need to expand production.


That is, the prototype ‘root crops project’ there would turn planters from subsistence producers to commercial producers, turn them into agro-businessmen. Seeing that the planters knew what they were aiming at and how to achieve it, save for writing the technical papers (biz plans, proposals) and processing them, I “jumped the gun” pronto and declared that for the whole of Batanes (including the other isles of Sabtang and Itbayat that was nearer Taiwan than Batan) will have root crops production as priority investments for state assistance.


As soon as I convened the new Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran Secretariat there (I was already the deputy provincial manager-designate), I put on the top agenda that root crops and indigenous crafts of the island shall be preserved, not only as part of the development program there but also because the products and crafts are part of the national heritage. Anticipating the ‘green revolution’ in Batanes then, I also put on the agenda of the core Provincial Development Council the fast-tracking of electrification and wharf expansion, and the acquisition by Batanes of its own maritime ship that will enable trade expansion by leaps and bounds.


With only a year to operate in Batanes, I did everything I can to see to it that the development principles and targets I initiated there will take off at least, sensing that I might be re-assigned (promotions for this young technocrat was dizzyingly rapid). P500,000 worth of root crops projects alone, owned by small planters, were approved in early 1982, during my watch (that’s P10 Million today). Couples of millions more worth of projects were on the pipeline. Happily, when these projects took off, the National Electrification Administration team arrived, installing at last the long awaited electrification facilities in Batan.


Finally, let this be stressed strongly, I moved for the retention of the biodiversity practices in Batan. With ‘ecology balance’ among my agency’s priority agenda, I had sufficient weapon to support biodiversity rather than shift the planters to mono-cropping that sadly sapped out soil nutrients in ‘mainland Philippines’ since their inception during the time yet of Spanish Governor General Basco (1700s).


Every time I left Basco back for Tuguegarao then, I also had on hand more than a kilogram of garlic, sometimes with onions and ginger. I was so proud of the garlic that I always brought a few samples to show to my kins and fellow state officials in the ‘mainland’. The same variety now is cultivated in many regions of the country. But Batanes’ cutting edge is fully recognized: garlic & rootcrops here were planted in the sole paradise islands of the north. Ipso facto, they are root crops that enchant too, like their mother soil.



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