Stronger policy on agri-biotech pushed for progressive, resilient food system

The speakers in the recent agri-biotech webinar are (from left top, clockwise) Dr. Edgardo Tulin, Dr. Gabriel Romero (moderator), Dr. Glenn Gregorio, Dr. Segfredo Serrano and Dr. Benigno Peczon.

A call for robust policies and laws that will advance biotechnology research and development (R&D), technology development, and commercialization was made during a recent “Biotechnology for Green Recovery” webinar.

Focused on agriculture, bioeconomy, and scientific infrastructure, the webinar incited critical discussions toward the creation of a policy environment that will further promote the development of bio-based industries,  a news release said.

Dr. Segfredo R. Serrano, a former Department of Agriculture (DA) undersecretary for Policy and Planning, said having a resilient food system to combat the impacts of climate change and other natural and man-made disasters remains a challenge amid population growth and declining resources for food and agriculture.

He underscored that food safety and nutritional security should also be among the top priorities alongside food security.

Serrano, a scholarship alumnus of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca), pointed out that modern biotechnology is not a silver bullet, but it is a powerful and potentially greener option.

He said technologies, such as genetic modification, CRISPR, and new breeding techniques offer greater specificity, efficiency, and precision at either suppression, enhancement, deletion, or insertion of target traits, which improves product safety, the Searca news release said.

He said for these technologies to thrive in the Philippines, there needs to be a strong set of policies and laws that promote their advancement in terms of R&D, technology development, and commercialization.

More importantly, Serrano emphasized that the country’s regulatory system should be strengthened.

“The system should not be reactive, and the regulators should be two steps ahead of the technology that is being introduced on the ground,” Serrano, who served under 12 DA secretaries and four Philippine presidents, pointed out.

 Dr. Edgardo E. Tulin, Visayas State University president, batted for a harmonized R&D agenda with focus on the country’s top export commodities.

He pushed for scientists and researchers to be actively involved in the Senate or Congress sessions related to science and technology.

“Governance should also be more agile, with better convergence and coordination among agencies,” Serrano further pointed out.

Searca Director Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, who concurred with Serrano on the value of synergy among key stakeholders in the academe, industry, and government.

“We should be partners in biotech research and collaborate on co-sharing financial resources to shorten the gap between research and knowledge utilization, including contextualizing research projects within the agriculture value chain,” Gregorio said.

 He added that “these technologies keep food production in phase with modern demands. We must outsmart climate change, create healthier food, and fast track the delivery of agricultural products.”

“The reality of agri-biotech is won or loss at the farmer and consumer level where applicability and sustainability is really tested,” said Gregorio, who was also recognized by DA as one of the 2021 Filipino Faces of Biotechnology.

Dr. Benigno D. Peczon, president of Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines Inc., spoke on the issues besetting the country’s agriculture sector, including globalization, sub-optimal farm sizes, credit access, existing policies and practices, and infrastructure.

He called on policy-makers to augment the budget of the DA and the Department of Science and Technology to keep pace with other countries.

The webinar was jointly organized by Searca and the DA-Biotechnology Program Office with the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines, International Rice Research Institute, and the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture and Food.

It was held during the National Biotechnology Week in November that was led by the Department of Interior and Local Government.

Image credits: Searca photo


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