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An Enduring Bayanihan in Agricultural Research for Development

For almost four decades, Australia and the Philippines have nurtured a strong partnership in international agricultural research that has helped address challenges across key agricultural sectors in the Philippines.

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In 1984, the Philippines became one of the first partner countries of Australia to host projects supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Since its inception, ACIAR has been investing and brokering agricultural research partnerships in the Philippines, helping smallholder farmers increase their incomes, improve livelihoods, and enhance access to economic opportunities.

Agriculture is a key driver of economic growth in the Philippines, employing more than 11 million people and providing food for 25 million families. It is also a source of raw materials for many thriving industries.

With support of more than AUD 150 million (PHP 5.3 billion) in over 220 projects, Australia through ACIAR has brought together Australian and Filipino scientists and researchers to work on solutions for challenges across key agricultural sectors. Research initiatives are helping to build more productive, resilient, and sustainable agriculture, increasing food security, reducing poverty, improving livelihoods, and strengthening research capacity in the Philippines. Collaborating in research and building capacity of agricultural research institutes in partner countries are key priorities for ACIAR.

People to people links

The Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) has been Australia’s partner for almost four decades – and this relationship only continues to grow.

This partnership is an integral part of the broader Australia-Philippines bilateral relationship, particularly on development cooperation.

“Our partnership with the Australian Government is one of the most productive partnerships we have,” said Dr Reynaldo Ebora, PCAARRD Executive Director. We have worked together on projects focusing on crops, fisheries, agribusiness, animal health, social science, soil management and climate change.

Collaboration is very important to us, Dr Ebora said, because without active partnerships with state universities and colleges, and local and international research and development institutes, as a funding agency PCAARRD may have “a good plan, but no implementing agencies”.

The PCAARRD-ACIAR partnership continues to evolve, with both organisations being equal partners and co-investors in the research cooperation between the Philippines and Australia.

In 2020, Dr Ebora has been appointed member of ACIAR’s Policy Advisory Council, providing advice to Australia’s Foreign Minister on priority areas and emerging issues in agriculture in the Philippines and more broadly the Asia-Pacific region. Since 1984, Dr Ebora is the third PCAARRD senior official to serve as member of the Policy Advisory Council.

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ACIAR CEO Professor Andrew Campbell (5th from right) with PCAARRD Executive Director Dr Reynaldo Ebora (4th from right) during a visit to PCAARRD in 2018.

A key factor to this enduring partnership is the close collaboration of Australian and Filipino scientists and researchers through exchange of information, sharing of expertise and knowledge, and capacity building.

Dr Ebora said PCAARRD has some limitations in securing researchers to focus on issues critical to agriculture. “We don’t have enough researchers, and have difficulty in releasing people for higher study, due to their current teaching or administrative assignments. The number of people enrolling in agriculture at university has also declined.”

He further stressed that students are more inclined to take other courses, and those in agriculture are more inclined to take agricultural biotechnology or agricultural entrepreneurship, rather than the traditional agricultural disciplines. “There are not enough plant pathologists and entomologists to meet the needs of industry and the research community,” Dr Ebora said.

ACIAR and PCAARRD are looking for new partnership models for capacity building that includes graduate program and short-term trainings. This joint initiative will support the Philippine Government’s broader thrust in enhancing local scientific and technological expertise in agriculture, biotechnology, environment and natural resources, among others.

Partnership for results

Sharing a commitment to good science is also a key feature of the ACIAR-PCAARRD partnership. To date, this partnership has highlighted how strategic development and implementation of programs deliver quality outputs, bringing science and technology products and services closer to the market, and closer to Filipino communities.

Among the research breakthroughs over years of collaboration include: cryo-preservation of seeds of tropical fruit species; reducing postharvest disease losses in mango and papaya; livestock management and biotechnology, including control of respiratory diseases in swine and studies on smallholder livestock producers; better management practices for natural stands of bamboo; managing water resources; production and improving quality, marketing, and market access of fruits and vegetables; and helping conflict-vulnerable communities in Mindanao to adopt improved farming methods.

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ACIAR and PCAARRD research collaboration has helped reduce the impact of the highly destructive Panama disease on banana plantations.

These significant breakthroughs have also led to a joint initiative on improving the way that both institutions assess the impacts of research programs. PCAARRD says it has significantly benefitted from ACIAR’s support in enhancing the institution’s impact evaluation studies, from an earlier initiative back in 2007.

ACIAR and PCAARRD also recently developed mixed method approaches to impact assessment, essentially broadening the scope of measuring results of research investments beyond the economic benefits and looking at other social and environmental impacts from the perspective of different stakeholders.

The ACIAR-PCAARRD partnership is poised to grow even further, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, to pursue new research on inclusive value chains, dairy sector development, marine resource management and soil health. The partnership will continue to explore innovative ways of delivering agricultural research for development in the Philippines and in the region.

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