Dreams, Optimism, Wisdom


Erle Frayne Argonza

We peoples of Southeast Asia have been caught up in the cycles of droughts and heavy rains for as long as our memories can recall. The El Nino comes every now and then, bringing either a rainy season or too dry a spell for an entire crop season, thus endangering our own agricultural production.

Biotechnology innovations incidentally are very dynamic in the region, or in East Asia as a whole. The breeding of maize varieties that are resistant to drought has been among the forefront of research & development. Below is a news caption of the R&D efforts in maize by exemplar countries Philippines, Indonesia, and China.

Happy reading!

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

A-maizing: Asia’s drought-resistant maize varieties

Source: CIMMYT

16 June 2008 | EN | 中文


Maize is a staple crop in South-East Asia, both as a food and animal feed. But the farmers that grow the crop often live in drought-prone areas, where poor soil and disease exacerbate poor harvests.

To counter this, the Asian Maize Network was created, funded by the Asian Development Bank and led by CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre).

The network, running from 2005–2008, brings together scientists from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam to develop drought-tolerant maize varieties — and deliver them to farmers.

Genetic material from drought-tolerant varieties was supplied by CIMMYT and funds put into setting up testing programmes in all five countries.

The first varieties have already been released for further testing in individual countries, and many more are in the pipeline, with the eventual aim of providing them to poor farmers at affordable prices.

The scientists involved say the project has helped them both in terms of capacity and partnership building. Many agree that the training and working with researchers from other countries has given them a new perspective on their work.

“I’m motivated to see that what I’m doing will really help farmers,” says one.



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

Good afternoon from Manila!

Controlling or regulating biopiracy is among the toughest tasks regarding intellectual property. Currently, there is an ongoing research by a corporate group to map the genome of Indigenous Peoples or IPs in the Philippines, the results of which will redound to improving the survival chances of the human species in general. The research is so surreptitious, however, that nobody knows who are the data gatherers and how is data collected.

That behavior is tantamount to biopiracy. Incidentally, the United Nations released a roadmap recently, which has direct implications on improving regulatory aspects of biopiracy. The news is contained below.

Enjoy your read.

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

UN roadmap paves way for curbing biopiracy

Hepeng Jia

13 June 2008 | EN | 中文

Yading Nature Reserve, China


[BEIJING] Countries have agreed a roadmap for negotiating an agreement for the sharing of genetic resources, following a UN biodiversity conference.

The two-week conference in Bonn, Germany, ended last month (30 May) with renewed promises from countries to substantially reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

The conference set out a roadmap for negotiations on access and benefit sharing (ABS) of genetic resources to help curb biopiracy. Delegates discussed and tentatively agreed a variety of options on elements for the future agreement that could be legally binding, non-binding or a combination of the two.

Participants hope to reach a global agreement on ABS at the next UN biodiversity conference in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010.

Xue Dayuan, director of the China Institute of Environment and Resources Protection for Minority Areas and a member of China’s delegation to the conference, says the roadmap anchors the diverse debates over the issues and narrows down action to a set of suitable options that could be further explored.

But environmental groups have expressed scepticism, saying developed nations have failed to offer enough financial aid to developing countries for biodiversity protection.

Xue says previous efforts for biodiversity protection focused too much on funding from the developed world, and that countries should develop their economy first in order to fund their own, more sustainable, protection measures. 

“China, together with other fast-developing countries like India, could offer an exemplar in realising economic growth with relatively less destruction of biodiversity.”

According to the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, China had established 2,531 natural reserves by the end of 2007, covering more than 15 per cent of its land.

China’s vice environment minister Wu Xiaoqing pledged a “strong commitment” at the conference to participating in global biodiversity protection.

Delegates at the conference also agreed action plans to expand nature reserves and launch the ‘Life Web Initiative,’ a network that aims to enhance partnerships to support the preserves. For example, an online database will help global funders match nature reserves to finance.

Germany pledged €500 million (US$775 million) over the next four years to aid global forest protection, particularly those in developing countries, and another €500 million each year after that.

Norway also announced plans to spend €600 million (US$936 million) on global forest conservation annually over the next three years.



Erle Frayne Argonza

Biofuels, more biofuels!

This is the message of a welcome news from researchers across the globe. The collaborative efforts today, aimed at optimizing biofuel research & development, are very encouraging across countries and continents.

Another welcome news about biofuels, done by researchers from Asia, can be viewed in the news below. The Middle Kingdom is as abreast about the thematic research as the other Asian countries, to say the least.

Happy reading!

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


Researchers boost yields of rice-waste biofuel

Jia Hepeng

2 June 2008 | EN | 中文

A farmer surrounded by rice straw after harvest


[BEIJING] Chinese scientists have developed a new method that dramatically increases the yield of a clean biogas fuel from rice straw.

China is the world’s largest rice producer and the industry results in 230 million tonnes a year of surplus rice ‘straw’ — the stem and leaves left behind after harvesting. Farmers often burn the straw, increasing pollution and carbon dioxide emissions (see Stalk burning fuels China pollution woes).

Until now, using the straw to produce ethanol or biogas — a mix of methane and carbon dioxide — by anaerobic digestion with microorganisms has been disappointing. The complex structures of the straw’s cellulose and lignin components make it hard for the microorganisms to break them down.

Author Li Xiujin, an environmental engineering professor at Beijing University of Chemical Technology, explains that researchers soak the straws in alkali to kick-start the breakdown process.

But that method means recycling chemicals, disposing of waste solutions and heating to a high temperature — involving high facility investment and treatment costs, and a risk of environmental pollution, he says.

Rather than soaking the rice straw, Li’s team treated it with a small amount of alkaline solution containing six per cent sodium hydroxide.

They found that this significantly increased straw biodegradation, and improved biogas output by 64.5 per cent.

Li told SciDev.Net that farmers could make 20 yuan (US$3) additional profit from producing biogas by this method, which would encourage its uptake.

The research provides a boost for biofuels made from waste products — an important factor, given worries over biofuels’ impact on food security. And generating environmentally friendly biogas from farm waste instead of burning it will counter environmental concerns.

Jin Jiaman, director of the Beijing-based Global Environment Institute, welcomes the study, saying it could help tap biofuels in rural areas.

But it might not necessarily bring wider use of biogas, which would need government subsidies to install facilities and lay pipelines into rural households.

“The big labour input needed for processing straws could also dampen farmers’ zeal to use biofuels,” Jin told SciDev.Net.

The research was published online last month (14 May) in the American Chemical Society’s journal Energy & Fuels.

Link to the full article in Energy & Fuels 



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 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.