R and D

"These are Taiwan’s strides in agricultural technology."



Today is the 158th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose P. Rizal, our proclaimed national hero.  The anniversary is celebrated only in Calamba City, Laguna, his birthplace.

Instead, we commemorate Rizal’s greatness and his inspired contribution towards the freedom we enjoy on Dec. 30, the day he was felled in Bagumbayan, now the Luneta, by Spanish soldiers.

I have always maintained that we should celebrate birthdays instead of death anniversaries, and victories instead of defeats.  I think it is the Catholic influence that puts primacy on martyrdom because of the belief in the after-life that has made our leaders commemorate Rizal’s death more than his birth.

The US of A declares the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, even if the latter was felled by an assassin’s bullet in the aftermath of the Civil War.  Similarly, Martin Luther King who was likewise assassinated, is honored in a federal holiday during his birthday.  Holidays in the US of A are of course moveable for convenience to either the nearest Friday or Monday rather than the exact day.

Most Orientals also celebrate the birth of their leaders, especially their monarchs.  But then again, we are a country located in the Orient, but our religious and cultural influences are more Western than Asian.

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Last week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored a two-day field trip to Central and Southern Taiwan for ambassadors and resident representatives. It was to showcase the strides they have made in agricultural technology,

We visited a sweet potato (camote) processing factory in Tainan.  What is a lowly fruit which urban millennials have hardly tasted in Metro Manila is a high value crop in Taiwan, exported to Japan and elsewhere for its culinary  and nutritionally healthy characteristics.

In Manila, this kind of Taiwanese sweet potato is available only in select outlets, at prices only the rich can afford.

In Taiwan’s cities, steamed or roasted sweet potatoes are available in Family Mart or Seven-Eleven outlets, and farmers raising these make good profits. Through continuous research and development (R and D), the private company we visited which is assisted by the Council of Agriculture and the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute, has developed several varieties attuned to domestic and international market preference.  They have even developed a sweet potato similar to our ube in taste, texture and color. And they make use of everything, churning products from potato fries of differing shapes and sizes, to jams, as well as usage of the leaves and flowers of the plant.  Amazing!

We also visited in neighboring Chiayi the world’s biggest greenhouse for Phalaenopsis, a kind of orchid that is highly prized, not only in Asian but European markets as well.  The private Chiayi company, again with the help of government agencies, has made a multi-million dollar enterprise in cultivating, raising, packaging and exporting these flowers all over the world.  We were shown an 11-hectare row of greenhouses where orchids of different colors were cultivated.  The quest for product excellence through focused R and D is the secret to their business success.

In Yunlin County, there is a company that processes contract-raiser grown free range chickens.  They provide the day-old chicks, which they developed through six years of continuous cross-breeding until they sort of “perfected” the breed. Taiwan chickens, unlike their American counterparts, taste well, similar to our native free-range chickens, but larger and more tender. 

The company supplies the major chicken fast-food joints in Taiwan as well as specialty restaurants including Michelin-starred ones like Joel Robouchon. Again, nothing goes to waste in their processing plant which hires Filipino overseas workers.  They also produce excellent essence of chicken which is a favorite health and medicinal tonic of Orientals.  And to think that the company was founded by a poor farmer who used to raise chickens for his family’s consumption aside from tending to a small fruit and vegetable farm.

Looking beyond the present, a Taiwan biotechnology company has hired food technology and chemistry scientists with doctorates to do research and develop products that could redress the effects of climate change and extreme weather on food production.  Again amazingly, their products are utilized by North American and soon, European food chain producers. The research is done in modern, state of the art laboratories, where the plants are tested under actual field conditions in Nantou County in central Taiwan, but their manufacturing operations are in Ontario, California.

Asked why they decided to site their factory in the US of A, the reason given to us was very market-oriented: If it’s made in the US, market acceptability would be easier than if it were made in China, or Taiwan.  Very sensible, and very business-like.

MECO has partnered with Taiwan government agencies and its private sector to introduce modern technologies to our farmers.  Sometime in July, a button mushroom project in Baguio will be inaugurated. In the Cebu City highland area of Maomawan, a vegetable project has been started in land owned by TIEZA, partnered with the Cebu Institute of Technology, into a potential agro-tourism site. Similarly, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, together with an NGO, a vegetable-growing project to teach Dumagats more profitable ways of farming is being done.  Another project, the details of which we would reserve for another column, is being initiated in Davao City as well as in Cotabato, to assist poor farmers who may otherwise be enticed into insurgency.

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Some sectors keep chiding government for it’s “delayed and less than fiery” response to the incident in the Recto Bank where a Chinese fishing vessel rammed into the stern of a Filipino fishing boat and left it’s 22 fishermen floating in the sea without succor.

I am reminded of a scene from the movie classic “El Cid” where King Alfonso VI was wounded in a battle he himself led against the Moors.  Due to court intrigues, he earlier banished his acclaimed general, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, called El Cid by the enemy.

Bleeding from his body wounds, he proudly told his mother, Sancha of Leon, that it was not for lack of courage that he lost the battle.

Sancha admonished him: “Not by courage alone does a king rule his people.”

Words of instant indignation can perhaps salve the national anger over the incident in the China Sea, but a wise leader looks at the bigger picture, and goes beyond the instant into the longer-term view.  Not for lack of courage, but for a plenitude of wisdom.

Topics: Lito Banayo , Dr. Jose P. Rizal , birth anniversary
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