BrightWorld

Dreams, Optimism, Wisdom

CHINA’S MESSAGE: LET’S PREDICT EARTHQUAKES MORE ACCURATELY July 30, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

I’m sure everybody still recalls the near-cataclysm that struck China recently that buried towns and villages and led to thousands of deaths. China and the planet is still mourning for all those beloved fellows swallowed up by turbulent Earth.

That event challenged China to predict earthquakes more accurately. Quake prediction follows uncertainty principles, which do not cohere with the uniformitarian paradigm of geology. Any move today to reverse the situation of relatively unpredictable quakes is very welcome.

Happy reading!                                                                                                                                  

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

 

Chinese scientists call for better quake prediction

Jia Hepeng

3 June 2008 | EN | 中文

The seismic signal from the Sichuan earthquake

Flickr/MacEsc

[BEIJING] Scientists in China are calling for improvements in earthquake prediction, including the establishment of an early-warning system and methods for scientists to share quake information.

The calls come after the Sichuan earthquake — the country’s most serious earthquake in 30 years — hit on 12 May (see China displays openness in earthquake response).

Ni Sidao, a professor of geophysics at the University of Science and Technology of China, says that although current scientific methods cannot accurately predict an earthquake, an early-warning system could alert people to leave for open spaces before buildings are destroyed.

Ni made his remarks last week (25 May) alongside other scientists at the China Science and Humanities Forum in Beijing, operated by the Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

He said that P waves — early-arriving non-destructive seismic waves — can be used to detect and calculate the scale of an earthquake within ten seconds with the aid of computers.

In the case of Sichuan, the later-arriving, destructive seismic waves (S waves) took 30 seconds to reach Beichuan — the most seriously hit county, 90 kilometres north of the epicentre — and nearly 100 seconds to reach Qingchuan County, 200 kilometres from the epicentre.

People in Beichuan could have had a ten-second warning of the earthquake with an early-warning system, allowing some to move outdoors and trains to stop to avoid derailing, said Ni.

But he admitted that current seismic monitoring stations in most parts of China are too isolated to form a warning network.

Ren Luchuan, a senior researcher at China Earthquake Networks Centre (CENC), welcomes Ni’s suggestions, but says such a system is very difficult to operate.

“[The time difference between P and S waves] is so short that it is very hard to establish a system to notify residents,” he told SciDev.Net, though he says such a system could be used for key sites such as nuclear power stations, which could close reactors.

Longer-term prediction seems to be just as fraught with problems.

In the latest issue of the Chinese language journal Science and Technology Review (28 May), Wu Lixin from the Chinese University of Mining and Technology, Beijing, and colleagues report an abnormal temperature rise in the thermal satellite images of the eastern front of Qinghai–Tibet plateau — the fault that caused the earthquake — 20 days before the Sichuan earthquake.

The authors suggested this rise could be caused by tectonic plate movement, and could be an indicator for earthquake prediction.

But Ren says many factors could cause the abnormal temperature increases, leading to uncertainty in using temperature change to predict earthquakes. 

In a separate article published in the same issue, however, Wu writes that there should be more intensive, accurate and consistent analyses of thermal satellite images, and that these should be frequently checked against seismic wave monitoring.

In addition, Wu says an earthquake information sharing system should be established, so that general researchers can analyse or input data about abnormal observations into a system for professional seismologists to screen.

 

POST-PINOCHET CHILE MARCHES ON IN S & T FUNDING

Erle Frayne Argonza

Let us continue our reflections about wonderful news that brighten up our day.

Going back to Chile, as it continues to celebrate the air of freedom beyond the Dark Age of the Pinochet regime, we have another news item concerning the boosting of S&T funding in the said emerging market.

Chile is proving itself as a model of development that is worth watching. See what’s going on in this exemplar country through its S&T prioritization as indicated by funds boosting.

Happy reading!

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

 

Chile crea un fondo para becas en ciencia y tecnología

Paula Leighton

25 may 2008 | ES

La presidenta Michelle Bachelet durante su cuenta anual al país

Presidencia de la República de Chile

[SANTIAGO] Aumento en las becas para estudios de posgrado, fondos para equipamiento científico e incentivos para atraer a investigadores extranjeros son algunos de los anuncios que hizo la presidenta de Chile, Michelle Bachelet, en su cuenta pública anual (21 de mayo).

La mandataria destacó que su gobierno creará un fondo con US$6 mil millones para financiar un ambicioso programa de becas de posgrado y de formación en oficios tecnológicos de alta especialización, tanto en Chile como en el extranjero.

Dicho fondo permitirá que las mil becas de formación en universidades extranjeras destinadas para 2008 aumenten a 2.500 en 2009 y a 6.500 en 2012, anunció Bachelet.

Además, el próximo año 150 técnicos que se desempeñen en áreas prioritarias para el país accederán por primera vez a becas de perfeccionamiento en el extranjero, las que en 2010 aumentarán a 2.000.

Bachelet dijo que en 2009 también aumentarán las becas para maestrías y doctorados que se dictan en Chile y se entregarán 35 mil becas para estudios técnicos superiores. 

Otro anuncio fue un programa para atraer en dos años a al menos 100 científicos extranjeros, los que se desempeñarán en universidades regionales “en áreas donde aún no contamos con suficientes expertos nacionales”, señaló.

“Todos estos anuncios que contribuyen a que en Chile haya personas con mayor formación son muy bienvenidos, porque le dan valor agregado al país. Al mismo tiempo, es muy positivo que científicos extranjeros vengan y contribuyan a formar estudiantes y nuevos investigadores”, dijo a SciDev.Net Servet Martínez, presidente de la Academia Chilena de Ciencias.    

Para fortalecer los centros de investigación científica, Bachelet anunció también que  “durante los próximos dos años estableceremos un programa de equipamiento científico al que destinaremos US$30 millones”.

Finalmente, la mandataria se comprometió a entregar en 2009 treinta mil computadores de uso personal a escolares pobres académicamente destacados, implementar laboratorios móviles de computación para niños de educación primaria y apoyar la conectividad digital en 35 comunas del país.

Texto completo del mensaje presidencial de Michelle Bachelet

 

BOOSTING INNOVATIONS BY COSTA RICA July 27, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Magandang umaga! Good morning!

We’ve known Costa Rica all along as a peace-advocating country. As an exemplar of peace-keeping, it abolished its national army and confines peace & order functions to its domestic police.

Here is a welcome news about innovations being boosted in the peace-keeping nation. Our developing countries should better look up to Costa Rica for this combination of peace-sustenance with innovations and should study following the ‘Costa Rica way’.

Happy reading.

[23 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to the SciDev database/news.]

Noticias

Costa Rica: ¿cómo subirse al tren de la innovación?

Alejandra Vargas

25 may 2008 | ES

Oscar Arias, presidente de Costa Rica, durante la presentación del documento

Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología

[SAN JOSE] A pesar de que en Costa Rica hay dinero, personal capacitado y recursos tecnológicos suficientes para innovar, su índice en este campo es de los más bajos de América Latina.

Teniendo en cuenta este escenario, ocho expertos del país prepararan el llamado Atlas para la Innovación en Costa Rica, para hacer un diagnóstico de la situación. El reporte –lanzado este mes (6 de mayo) y sometido durante todo este mes a consulta popular– reveló errores y retos que le esperan a Costa Rica, si quiere subirse al tren del desarrollo.

El reporte señala que los recursos existentes para la innovación en Costa Rica son dispersos, intermitentes, rígidos e insuficientes.

Según el documento, el país carece de una cuantificación adecuada del gasto y la inversión que requiere para implementar la innovación. Esta indefinición impide diseñar y aplicar efectivamente los incentivos financieros, fiscales, legales y ambientales para promover el proceso.  

Para erradicar estas faltas, el Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología (Micit) propuso, en la ceremonia de lanzamiento del reporte,la creación de una Comisión para la Innovación, que justamente pueda evaluar aún mejor qué es lo sucede en el país y el mundo y cuya misión sea proponer ideas claras para que los políticos tomen decisiones ágilmente.

Esa comisión decidirá cómo y dónde se encaminan los esfuerzos y el dinero y creará un marco regulado de incentivos que fomentará la creación de empresas financiadas por capital de riesgo.

El Atlas para la innovación también apuesta por la creación de más incubadoras de empresas y sugiere la formación de asesores y gestores para la agilización de los procesos de innovación en pequeñas y medianas entidades.

Esto tiene como objetivo que exista un acompañamiento real de las PYMES hasta ver resultados en el mercado mundial.

“Costa Rica es aún un país con un bajo esfuerzo en innovación tecnológica, lo que nos obliga a impulsar un cambio profundo. Es preciso reorganizar un sistema de ciencia y tecnología que debe evolucionar en el tiempo, que debe ser ágil, flexible y ajustable a los cambios de entorno”, dijo Eugenia Flores, jerarca del Micit, durante la presentación del documento.

“En los últimos 25 años, del aumento total de la producción mundial, el 88 por ciento proviene de mejoras en las tecnologías y solo el 12 por ciento proviene de la expansión de los sistemas de producción vigentes. Esto encierra una advertencia que no podemos ignorar: o nos involucramos, todos, en el proceso de potenciar la innovación en Costa Rica, o nuestro país será cada vez menos competitivo”, sentenció Oscar Arias, presidente de Costa Rica, en la ceremonia.

Para Gabriel Macaya, director de la Academia Nacional de Ciencia, “la innovación es un tema que nos encontramos en muchas propuestas y análisis que ya se han hecho en el país. Espero que se den los medios para que los sectores involucrados comiencen a trabajar y avancemos.”

Enlace al documento completo 

 

HIV TREATMENT RESPONSE VIA PHARMACY RECORDS (FROM AFRICA) July 26, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

Good day!

 

From the African continent comes welcome developments about HIV treatment response. The results of studies across countries show intervention processes could be one possible area for improving treatment response altogether.

 

Happy reading.

 

[22 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev updates.]

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Pharmacy records ‘can predict HIV treatment response’

Carol Campbell

27 May 2008 | EN | 中文

A doctor at a HIV treatment clinic in Swaziland

Website/HIV-AIDS

New research suggests that pharmacy records can be accurate, and cost-effective, indicators for predicting whether HIV patients in the developing world are at risk of treatment failure.

Failure of first-line antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) is detected in the developed world by measuring the amount of HIV circulating in a patient’s blood. In resource poor settings, however, the WHO recommends that CD4 cell testing — a measure of the health of the immune system — is used.

But CD4 tests indicate treatment failure after it has occurred, while using pharmacy records to measure treatment adherence could indicate patients at risk of treatment failure before it happens, the researchers say.

Using medical insurance data from the private insurance programme Aid for AIDS, researchers tracked adherence to medication among nearly 2000 HIV-infected adults in nine southern African countries — Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The researchers calculated adherence by comparing the number of months a patient was prescribed drugs with the number of months the drugs were actually dispensed from pharmacies.

“We assessed the ability of a simple measure — whether the patient collected their monthly medication on time — to predict virological failure,” says clinical pharmacologist Gary Maartens from South Africa’s Groote Schuur Hospital at the University of Cape Town and an author of the research.

They found that monitoring adherence was more accurate than monitoring changes in CD4 levels to determine whether a patient’s treatment had failed in the first year after starting ARVs.

“If the patient’s adherence to medication was tracked, potential health problems could be red-flagged immediately,” co-author Michael Hislop from Aid for AIDS told SciDev.Net.

He said the system could work within the public health system with the correct technology and systems. At present, however, only the private health sector has the resources to track adherence, and the researchers say more research needs to be carried out into the effectiveness of adherence monitoring in public health clinics.

Tracking adherence in order to identify and intervene with vulnerable patients should mark a policy switch, the researchers write, “a reason for clinics to organise these data in a way that can be used in simple algorithmic approaches to patient care”.

The research was published in PLoS Medicine last week (May 20).

Link to paper in PLoS Medicine

 

 

GM COMMERCIALIZATION UPDATE IN EGYPT

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

Magandang araw! Good day!

 

From the Land of the Pharoahs comes a welcome news about genetically-modified crops. It has got to do with the commercialization of a Bt maize variety, a pattern that has already taken off in the Philippines.

 

The contentious issue here concerns the entry of Monsanto, the agri giant, in the control over the patent of the food variety. Let the Eqyptians deal with the matter themselves, but for now I am of the opinion that the corn variety is a good news altogether for our fellows in the great Land of the Pharoahs.

 

Let Isis make us dance with delight over this welcome news!

 

[22 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to the SciDev news summaries.]

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Egypt approves commercialisation of first GM crop

Wagdy Sawahel

13 May 2008 | EN

Flickr/simpologist

[CAIRO] Egypt has approved the cultivation and commercialisation of a Bt maize variety, marking the first legal introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops into the country.

A report last month (16 April) from the US Department of Agriculture, noted that the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture had “approved decisions made by the National Biosafety Committee and Seed Registration Committee to allow for commercialisation of a genetically modified Bt corn variety”.

The endorsement was based on a series of field trials conducted between 2002 and 2007 for the variety MON 810, produced by biotechnology company Monsanto. Bt crops produce a toxin that guards against pests.

The variety to be distributed, Ajeeb-YG, is a cross between MON 810 and an Egyptian maize variety with resistance to three corn borer pests, developed by Monsanto scientists in South Africa — currently the only African country planting GM crops commercially.

Cairo-based company Fine Seeds International is partnering with Monsanto to distribute the variety in Egypt.

Ahmad Yaseen, an agricultural engineer at Fine Seeds, says the seeds will be available this month to farmers in ten Egyptian governorates.

Yaseen said the seeds will initially be imported from South Africa, but “starting from next year, Ajeeb-YG will be produced in Egypt”.

Amr Farouk Abdelkhalik, an Egyptian biotechnologist and regional coordinator of the Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa, says the new variety “points to the potential agronomic and environmental benefits of Bt maize in Egyptian cropping systems and accordingly the reduction of the massive use of pesticides”.

“We should develop our own GM plants using our genes and technology to protect small-scale farmers,” he added.

Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a plant biotechnologist at the National Research Centre in Cairo, expressed concerns about the long-term effects of the crop.

He says research on the issues surrounding GM crops “must be conducted in Egypt, and an in-depth assessment must be carried out to examine the impact of GM plants on small-scale farmers”.

Egypt currently has no official biosafety legislation, though a regulatory framework exists. Hisham El-Shishtawy from the National Biosafety Committee secretariat told SciDev.Net that the existing framework follows the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and encompasses ministerial decrees regulating the registration of GM seeds. 

 

BIOFUELS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR FOOD PRICE INFLATIONS July 25, 2008

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'”.
 

 

MEDICAL IMAGING INNOVATIONS (FROM ISRAEL) July 24, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

In the lands of the Semites comes brightening news about medical imaging. This news is particularly great for poorer families of developing economies, who can do their own information gathering and monitoring of health-related problems right in their palm.

Happy reading.

[20 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Culled via SciDev news.]

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Researchers devise ‘mobile’ medical imaging system

Wagdy Sawahel

16 May 2008 | EN | 中文

The new system transfers medical images via mobile phones

Flickr/johnmuk

Researchers have developed a new system enabling medical images to be transferred via mobile phones, which could make imaging technology cheaper and more accessible to poor countries.

According to the WHO, three quarters of the world’s population does not have access to medical imaging and more than half of available medical equipment in developing countries is not used due to maintenance problems and lack of trained personnel.

To address this, Boris Rubinsky at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and colleagues separated the components required in a medical imaging system.

A simple device ― one measuring electrical impulses for example ― collects data from the patient in the field. This is transmitted via the mobile phone to a central site where the data is processed, an image produced and sent back to the field, again via the mobile phone.

Using the system, the researchers successfully produced a clear image of a simulated breast cancer tumour.

“The wide availability of cellular phones has suggested that imaging devices do not have to be all in one physical place and that their components can be spread around the world and connected through cellular phones, rather than connected physically with electrical wires,” Rubinsky told SciDev.Net.

“The physicians can use their own cellphones to plug into [the data collection device] and send the raw data, in the form of a text message or email, to a geographically distant central facility — that can serve thousands of users — and within seconds sends back the processed image the way you would send a picture to your cellphone,” he says.

“This system is economical as the cost of [the data collection device] near the patient site is not a major part of the cost of the entire system, making it less expensive and easier to maintain,” he adds.

Rubinsky hopes they can develop a more advanced prototype for the detection of breast cancer within a year.

Morad Ahmed Morad, a professor of medicine at Tanta University, Egypt, says the device is an “ideal example of turning information and communication technology into solutions making a real health impact on lives of poor people in developing countries”.

The study was published in PLoS ONE last month (30 April).

Link to full paper in PLoS ONE

 

NANOTECHNOLOGY AND AGRICULTURE (FROM INDIA)

NANOTECHNOLOGY AND AGRICULTURE (FROM INDIA)

 

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.]

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India looks to nanotechnology to boost agriculture

M. Sreelata

16 May 2008 | EN

Nanotechnology could help water delivery systems for farming

Flickr/IRRI

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.”

 

 

BRIGHTER PROSPECTS FOR RICE CULTIVATION IN CHINA July 23, 2008

BRIGHTER PROSPECTS FOR RICE CULTIVATION IN CHINA

 

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]

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Scientists find ‘yield-improving rice gene’

Jia Hepeng

14 May 2008 | EN | 中文

The newly discovered gene may help improve rice yields

Flickr/Cbcastro

[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

 

MARKET-STATE SYNERGY: PLATFORMS FOR EFFECTIVE DIALOGUE July 11, 2008

Erle Frayne  Argonza y Delago

For a long time in Philippine development experience, cooperation in the development terrain was largely a market-state synergy. Only in the 1980s did the NGOs and peoples’ organizations or POs sprout in large numbers to leverage their strength and engage the state in the development game.

 

As a budding development professional and technocrat in the early 1980s, I encountered a context with few NGOs if ever in my area of operations (Cagayan Valley/Region II, Northern Philippines). It was Martial Law, independent NGOs/POs were regarded with suspicion as communist fronts (we have a Left insurgency here), and so it was tough looking for ‘civil society’ groups to co-partner with in the development game, most specially in development planning.

 

When the provincial development councils were mandated to be installed as planning & coordination platforms, I had the luck of sitting in some of them as convenor and top advisor. But alas! There were not much ‘independent’ NGOs/POs to invite as participants, save for ‘agrarian reform’ and peasant groups that were constituted by barangay officials and mayors that were not, in fact, ‘independent’ or ‘autonomous’.

 

Good enough for the market players, as chambers of commerce already abound then across the archipelago. So during my watch as convenor, I immediately invited the local chambers to sit along with us state officlals who came from both local and national government agencies.

 

So that was the arrangement I had than at the provincial council. And the experience was fulfilling so far. The market players were participative, they actively presented ideas regarding process and priority programs and projects for the province. It was not difficult engaging them, as I recall well.

 

Another strategy that was employed by my broader them then, led by our regional director, was to form a club of government and business executives in the region. We called it the ‘Valley Kilusan Executive Greenhouse Club’  or Valley KEG Club. In the first semester of 1983 I was luckily appointed the manager of the clubhouse (located in Ilagan, Isabela), which I executed on top of my other regular tasks.

 

The response to the invitation for club membership was simply very enthusiastic. During my incumbency as manager, there were over 100 members which included traders, provincial governors, regional directors & provincial heads of line agencies, and cottage industry owners.

 

Our sub-regional office in Ilagan (Isabela) housed the clubhouse that was specially designed and constructed for the purpose of R & R of executives in the region. We had a restaurant and some function rooms, including a games room that was under construction (it was done when I left the ministry for graduate school later).

 

Every now and then we invited entertainers from Manila, who were contracted to perform for about a week or so. One entertainer decided to stay for good, as he found the business opportunities in the valley so great for exploration and immersion. The restaurant alone, which was packed with exec audiences at times, was already a good venue to build goodwill and good faith among development partners.

 

At daytime, some business and government officials would come to take lunch, hold meetings there, or simply chat and exchange pleasantries. The warlord governor then (now deceased) of Isabela, who also chaired the Regional Development Council, would come occasionally to meet people and exchange pleasantries.

 

Both the formal and informal platforms for concurring synergy are effective, as far as my experience had shown. Explore all possibilities for dialogue, this is the thumb rule. If one may not work fairly well, then explore the other strategy. Should both of them work well, then indeed this would brighten your day, and this is possible.     

 

[Writ 29 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

 

SHELTER DELIVERY: HOUSING STATE EMPLOYEES, EFFECTING RECOVERABILITY July 7, 2008

Erle Frayne  Argonza

We surely have housing backlogs on a perennial basis in the country. The backlog had never been sufficiently filled up amid the media hypes of stakeholders regarding this developmental problem. Even when civil society joined the housing arena together with the state and market, huge backlogs by the millions of houses remain.   

I had the opportunity of working for the Ministry of Human Settlements in the early 1980s as a young junior executive. The posts I occupied (deputy provincial manager, acting provincial manager, …) allowed me to oversee state programs in development, notably community development, enterprise development and housing.

The institution of a line ministry as a strategy to meet the housing backlog, fast-track the construction and delivery of livable houses did work to achieve desired ends up to a certain extent. As far as my office was concerned then, our mandate was to plan and execute new projects under the shelter program (I directed the start-up planning for the house-on-stilts for new Cagayan subdivisions then, and had them approved for implementation), and monitor the ‘rural BLISS’ sites (BLISS = Bagong Lipunan Improvement of Sites and Services).

The rural BLISS sites were largely located in small towns and catered mainly to government employees. They were already constructed and occupied when I arrived as a community development assistant in 1981. A team in our regional liaison office monitored the sites by interfacing with the homeowners’ associations called the BLCA (BLISS Community Associations).

When our ministry was re-organized and expanded in mid-1981, management of the sites went to the Estates Management Office of the Regional Office (called Area Coordinating Center or ACC). My office (called Provincial Action Center or PAC) interfaced with the Estates Management group, got reports from them, and thanks heavens this relieved me of some heavy tasks regarding the matter.

Effecting recoverability was quite a tough one then, to recall. All of the sites’ homeowners somehow paid their mortgages on time, though some got delayed in remitting theirs’, save for one: the Tuao site. Tuao was headed by a warlord Mayor (Leonard Mamba), but who, being a fellow alumnus at the University of the Philippines, was very cooperative and cordial with me.  

Having no problem in relating to the local exec, I can now deal directly with the Tuao BLISS homeowners. They simply refused to pay their bills (mortgage)! What terrible homeowners these ones were, one may rightly surmise. Because, as one can see, they were the only ones who refused to pay mortgage. Terrible! How should you deal with the matter, if you were tasked to do oversight job on it?

It wasn’t my office’s job to instill collection rules, but the matter was brought to my attention by the shelter staff of the regional office. They begged me to put my feet forward a bit, dip my hands in the fiasco, and negotiate with the homeowners. The residents could have gone to the mayor to stake out their stubborn attitude, but they realized I was ‘chika-chika’ (cordially related) to the mayor there (who was a brilliant lawyer in Manila before becoming the warlord mayor).

I immediately drew the tactics in my mind. It was still best to talk to them, this was Plan A. But if talks would fail, if carrots won’t work, then I will have to use sticks on the stubborn residents. The stick was to request the provincial commander of the Philippine Constabulary (who was my ‘chika-chika’ and distant cousin), and use the troops to drive out the residents. I was tough about doing Plan B.

But I was resolved in exhausting Plan A. For two (2) days I visualized myself like some Napoleon Bonaparte talking to his men and inspiring them with words. Inspire the homeowners with words, this was the tactic. Move them to tears, remind them that it would be better to have a home and pay for them, rather than live in the streets homeless. Move them with words, simple!

My own exposure to the theatre as a college student did pay off in this task. I had to role play for many hours, said my lines to my agency team, and then delivered my lines before the residents. It worked! There was standing ovation and loud applause after the talk. I can never ever forget the engagement, I myself was nearly brought to tears. The following week they began to settle their arrears and began to pay their dues.

Well, the occasion proved that good communications should be exhausted, and eloquence pays off much. Practice eloquence, maximize personal touch on clientele, and you can move mountains. That will brighten your day, as development is all about moving mountains anyway. It can be done.

[Writ 29 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]