Research project to detect, treat animal diseases gets gov’t funding

Published August 10, 2020, 8:00 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

The Department of Agriculture (DA) had set aside millions of funds for a research study – which will be done in coordination with a state university in Pampanga – that will help look for access to technologies that can accurately detect and effectively manage, control, and contain emerging animal diseases.

This is amid the persistence of African Swine Fever (ASF) and bird flu in the country, which are both highly destructive to livestock and poultry industry.

A statement showed that DA has recently signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Pampanga State Agricultural University (PSAU) in Magalang, Pampanga for the implementation of the project “DNA Analysis for Accurate Diagnosis of Emerging Deadly Viruses among Agri-fisheries of Central Luzon”.

The project will receive a funding of P6.4 million from DA’s Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) and is expected to provide information that can be used by drug manufacturing industries to build custom designed vaccines that specifically target the viral strains present in a locale.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the launch of this project is both timely and relevant as it will boost the government’s capacity to accurately detect and effectively manage emerging animal diseases, including trans-boundary diseases, here in Central Luzon and nearby regions.

“Supporting this project can help us in a big way in the future. Let us tap the best of molecular science and all biotechnology tools available for the very problems we have in the country. Let us not waste time,” Dar said.

Using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and DNA sequencing, the project will determine the true-to-type species or genotypes on the causative agent of emerging deadly viruses including ASF, New Castle Disease, avian flu or bird flu, tilapia lake virus, and white spot syndrome virus, measure disease occurrence, reduction, and severity, as well as analyze their transmission. 

Dar also instructed BAR and PSAU to re-assess the availability and capacities of various animal disease diagnostics research facilities in effectively addressing and managing diseases not only in livestock but also in fisheries.

“Enhance your capacity through this existing facility because we need to start working now for that potential pandemic that may come from zoonotic animal diseases. If you have the best minds, the younger generation who has the right training, then you are ready and we shall be able to solve any problems along those issues of trans-boundary animal diseases,” Dar said.

Such funding came as the international think tank Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) raised concerns over the Philippines’ poor knowledge economy (KE) or “intellectual capital” in the agriculture sector.

SEARCA emphasized that research must not be done just for academic exercise, but should be able to address the needs of society, solve hunger and malnutrition, and help farmers develop into profitable entrepreneurs.  

“A country like the Philippines needs an adequate cadre of researchers who appreciate the need to shorten the gap between research productivity and its translation to economic development,” according to the ‘Food Security amid the COVID 19 Pandemic’ (FSACP) report of SEARCA.

Philippines currently ranks poorly at the high knowledge economic index (KEI), which measures the conduciveness of an environment in a country to use knowledge for economic development.

KEI also measures how the countries maximize the use of human capital to enrich productivity and aid in food production and manufacturing and services industries.

Right now, the top 10 countries that have a high KEI based on criteria of the World Bank Institute are Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, and Australia.

The FSACP report, which is now being promoted by SEARCA Director Glenn Gregorio and Rico Ancog of the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB), urges the government to tap the “intellectual capital” of Higher Education Institutions (HEI) to boost food security and economic recovery amid the COVID-19 crisis.

To pave the way for an advanced KE, the report said incentives must be given so that the intellectual capital in HEIs, who can either be the faculty and researchers, can generate commercialization tools that will meet Filipinos’ imminent needs.

FSACP recommended that HEI’s “intellectual capital” must be equipped with knowledge on commercial and industrial farming, organic farming, big data system, remote sensing, artificial intelligence, urban agriculture, integrated pest management, pest and disease control, nutrient-enrichment of food, and biotechnology or genetically modified food production.  

HEIs must also have programs on transport and logistics when it comes to bringing food from producers to consumers as well as the use of online and internet based solutions and automated weather stations on predicting weather for more stable food production.