On May 16-20, 2011, FFTC and its co-organizers, Biodiversity International, MARDI and TARI and Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture conducted a training workshop on the “Management and Utilization of Field Genebanks and in vitro Collections.” It focused on the legal aspects of managing field genebanks and provided the participants a clear view of the current issues facing genebanks all over the world.
The last 10 years
In 2011, the food and agriculture industries in the Asian and Pacific Region faced serious issues. Climate change, carbon footprint, waste management and water scarcity gained more attention as producers worldwide grappled with a higher demand for livestock feeds and ethanol fuel. So on this year, FFTC’s programs and activities tried to address these issues by embarking on workshops and seminars that tackled risk mitigation of agricultural nitrogen circulation, waste management, local food systems, field genebanks and in-vitro collections, risk assessment and risk management of mycotoxins, farming strategies for sloping land agrosystems, to name a few.
Food safety and security, plant diseases and climate change continued to be the major agricultural issues that hounded the Asian and Pacific Region in 2012. In the midst of all these, FFTC stood on its ground and consistently responded to emerging technology needs so that small-scale farmers can adapt to the ever changing agricultural and economic landscapes. The Center’s programs zeroed in on issues related to water management, soil information nutrient databases, emerging infectious diseases of food crops, safe seafood production, rural community revitalization and the dreaded HLB disease.
In this year, food science expert and former Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Yu-Tsai Huang, became the 11th Director of FFTC. Likewise, it was also the year when the 21st TAC Meeting was held with three distinguished speakers who delivered lectures on international agriculture and the environment to properly set the tone for the discussion on reviewing the proposed strategic plan framework for 2012-2016.
The year 2013 was called the year of extremes. Climate change gained serious momentum as the weather shifted from severe winters and summers and called the attention of scientists and governments from all over the world. Natural calamities wreaked heavier havoc with the strongest typhoon ever recorded killing thousands in the Philippines. Social media’s power was also extremely felt in 2013. From the vital trends in data sharing, “tweets” and uses of applications (apps) to the rise of online investments and micro videos, experts say the importance of knowledge management has never been more pronounced.
Meanwhile, FAO reported that in 2013, the agriculture sector became a more market-driven sector which provided investment opportunities, particularly in developing countries. However, the organization warned that food systems for better nutrition should also be improved. In their “State of Agriculture 2013,” FAO reported that “Agricultural policies and research must continue to support productivity growth for staple food while paying attention to nutrient-dense foods and more sustainable production systems.”
The Center’s programs and activities for this year were aligned to issues related to soils, fertilizers, climate change, crop production, food security, agricultural marketing and trading, international agro-trade, plant diseases and technology transfer.
Following the FAO report in 2013 saying that the agriculture sector has become more market driven, FFTC’s programs and activities for the year were mostly aligned to issues related to food security, agricultural marketing and trading, with special focus on the development of Asian markets for agribusiness.
The start of the FFTC-AP project
It was in 2013 when FFTC, together with Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture (COA), embarked on an initiative project called “Asia-Pacific Platform on Agricultural Policy,” the aim of which is to promote communication between countries in the Asian and Pacific Region regarding their respective national agricultural policies, which hopefully can contribute to the likely formation of mutually consented agricultural policy at the regional level.
In the first year, the project covered the agricultural policies of Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan. From there, the contracted partner countries have been added every year to include Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The collection of information was done through the support of FFTC’s contracted partners in the said countries, which the Center selected. Agricultural policies are divided into several topics like overview of agricultural policy, trade liberalization countermeasures, agricultural land policies, farmers’ welfare and retirement system, food security and safty, production polices, etc. Papers submitted by the country partners are uploaded online in which the readers can access, download and even interact with the writers.
From an initial upload of 47 articles during its first years of operation, the website has already generated 1024 articles as of March 31, 2020, which are now classified into 30 categories. Members of the private sector and professionals of related agricultural background have also been invited to write articles and share critical issues on specific topics or categories. From its inception up to March 31, 2020, the website has already accumulated a total of more than 10 million hits, with around 10,940 hits per day over the last three months. As of March 31, 2020, the number of website registered users is 16,724.
In 2014, FAO has declared the year to be the International Year of Family farming, emphasizing the fact that family farms occupy a large share of the world’s agricultural land and produce about 80% of the world’s food.
But as humanity faces the new challenges posed by climate change as well as dealing with the cruel degradation of the environment, experts say the limits of highly intensive farming systems are already being clearly shown.
Although FFTC’s activities for 2014 are not directly focused on family, the issues and challenge that it dealt with in the workshops and seminars are similar to those which are targeted by other organizations working directly with farming systems. They are the challenges that zero in on the pressing needs of small-scale farmers, whose main goal is to meet the basic necessities of their immediate families. The issues are related to soils, fertilizers, food safety, agricultural policy, and aging farmers and—all aim at putting safe and nutritious food on the table, earning more income to improve shelter conditions and purchase decent clothes to protect the family from the elements.
The FFTC-AP started as a two-year project whose aim is to create a website containing scholarly articles on agricultural policies in the Asian and Pacific Region. It slowly grew, steadily gained followers and is now on its eighth year. Through the AP website, the Center is able to share timely and relevant information on agricultural policies to researchers, scholars, students and policymakers in the region.
Readers of the FFTC online publications include teachers, students, scholars, researchers, policymakers and agriculturists, to name a few.
From tropical fruits to dragon fruit
It was also in 2014 when FFTC embarked on a survey of tropical fruit production and market in Southeast Asia. In that survey, dragon fruit emerged as one of, if not the most promising tropical fruit in the region. The following year, in 2015, FFTC conducted another workshop on “Improving Pitaya Production and Marketing.” This was held in Kaoshiung and was attended by 20 speakers in 11 countries. One of the major recommendations of the said workshop was to involve stakeholders in the formation of a dragon fruit network. The Center followed this lead and, in 2016, another workshop called “Regional Workshop on the Control of Dragon Fruit Diseases” was again organized. This time, it was conducted in Khon Kaen, Thailand. In the said workshop, which was attended by 17 speakers from nine countries, another strong recommendation was to form a regional network to focus on the pests and diseases of dragon fruit.
In November, 2017 and March, 2018, two meetings were held to form a network of dragon fruit experts. An organizing committee composed of FFTC, the Mekong Institute, the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute and the New Zealand Plant and Food Research Institute met in Taiwan to further discuss the formation of the research network. In the said meeting, the committee agreed to expand the scope of the network from dragon fruit pests and diseases to include the entire dragon fruit industry.
It was during the term of Dr. Yu-Tsai Huang between 2011 and 2013, when FFTC started the dragon fruit project as it emerged as the most promising tropical fruit based on a marketing survey conducted by the Center. It became the start of a long running series of workshops on the development of the dragon fruit industry in the region, which still continues to this day. Photo shows several field visits of dragon fruit farms in Taiwan following the workshops conducted in Kaoshiung.
On April 22-25, 2018 in Taipei, FFTC again gathered 20 speakers from seven countries and organized another workshop entitled “Dragon Fruit Regional Initiation Workshop.” One of the strong recommendations of the said workshop was for FFTC to take the lead to make sure that the building of a network of dragon fruit researchers, technologists, leaders of research institutes and government officers working in dragon fruit production and marketing continues.
So, through the generous support of The Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS) and SOFRI, we organized another workshop to facilitate the information exchange on dragon fruit production and marketing in the Asian and Pacific Region.
Speakers and participants of the FFTC-VAAS-SOFRI international workshop on “Dragon Fruit Network: Marketing and the Whole Value Chain and Steering Committee Meeting” pose for posterity at the SOFRI headquarters in MyTho city, Vietnam. FFTC takes the lead in building a network of dragon fruit researchers, technologists, leaders of research institutes and government officers working in dragon fruit production and marketing.
On the third day of the 2019 dragon fruit workshop in Vietnam, speakers and participants visited a vapor heat treatment factory to observe its operations and facilities.
At the Tam Vu Cooperative located in Long-An province in Vietnam, speakers and participants observe the real operations of a dragon fruit farm and packing house.
The FFTC 2015 external review
After more than a decade, in 2015, FFTC conducted another external review. The FFTC management sought the help of three agriculture and management experts headed by former WorldVeg Director Dr. Samson C.S. Tsou, Japanese soil microbiologist Dr. Shuichi Asanuma and Filipino agricultural economist Dr. Roberto Rañola to assess the Center’s performance for the past years and formulate recommendations on what appropriate courses of actions the Center should take.
Part of the external reviewers’ methodology was to conduct interviews with the FFTC management, professional and support staff, consultant and selected officials of the Center’s partner agencies in order to validate and verify the contents of the materials provided to the reviewers. Part of the team’s major findings and/recommendations are: 1) to transform the role of FFTC from being an “agricultural technology information center” to “an agricultural technology knowledge management center; 2) evaluate the Center’s performance based on outcomes rather than outputs (number of activities); 3) be proactive in refining and optimizing the Center’s endeavors; 4) establish interactive multimedia where partners can freely communicate and share information; and 5) develop project activities in partnership with other institutes to augment the project funds.
Members of the FFTC external review team visit one of the laboratories at Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute in Taichung and observe an ongoing training on Rapid Bio Assay of Pesticide Residues. Photo shows (standing from L to R) Dr. Ching Hua Kao of TARI, external review member Dr. Roberto Rañola, external review team leader Dr. Samson C.S. Tsou and FFTC senior accountant Ms. Joyce Hsu.
The external review team (left) did an interview with Dr. Te-Chen Kao, Deputy Director, TDARES. Through the years, FFTC has partnered with TDARES in many of its projects especially those related to plant protection and green technology.
In 2016, nearly 200 countries ratified the Paris climate change agreement. It was also the hottest year in 137 years to have been recorded, and the year when the 68th UN General Assembly heightened public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses. It was also in 2016 when the FAO declared that there is now an urgent need to support smallholders to adapt to climate change and that farmers and fisherfolk will require far access to technologies, markets, information and credit to adapt their systems and practices to climate change.
FFTC held its 23rd TAC Meeting during this year as well as supported two Taiwanese experts to present and deliver scientific papers on indigenous bees. Other workshops and seminars included themes on implementing and improving crop natural disaster insurance program, grafting to improve fruit-vegetable production, management and control of transboundary animal diseases in the Asian and Pacific Region, effective IP protection and commercialization strategies, and mitigation of greenhouse gases and adaptation to climate change in livestock production systems.
There were some big events in agriculture in 2017. Avian influenza H7N9 strain continued to threaten global food security. FAO declared that world food hunger is on the rise again. Severe monsoon flooding in Southeast Asia killed over 1,000, destroying homes and crops. In its humble way, FFTC did its share to address some of the issues that affected global agriculture in 2017, with activities focusing on climate change, promoting food safety with green agriculture, value-added small-scale farming under free trade and encouraging the young generation to go into farming.
It was also in 2017 when NTU Professor, agri-economist and former Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Kuo-Ching Lin, became the 12th Director of FFTC.
The FFTC 2017 Consultation Meeting. The Center management gathered prominent agricultural experts in Taiwan to discuss and brainstorm current agricultural issues.
FFTC Director Dr. Kuo-Ching Lin and Deputy Director Dr. Akio Takenaka lead the 2017 FFTC consultation meeting with Taiwan’s experts. The consultation meeting’s purpose is to generate ideas and seek suggestions regarding the possible workshops and activities which the Center could embark on in the future.
Because the Center did not have a TAC Meeting on this year, the management thought it wise to consult with prominent agricultural experts in Taiwan to discuss current trends and agricultural issues in order to elicit suggestions on possible projects and activities which FFTC could focus on in the future. Workshops and seminars dealt with adapting smart beef cattle feeding techniques, enhancing farm management efficiency by ICTs for young farmers, roles of cooperatives in response to changes in food consumption trends, boar semen application for pork quality improvement, knowledge management in agriculture, and organic agriculture as new business opportunity.
In 2018, the FFTC management, under the leadership of Dr. Kuo-Ching Lin, presented the Strategic Action Plan for 2019-2020 to the TAC members during the 24th TAC Meeting in New Taipei City. The Center at that time undertook 10 projects, four of which were workshops. Three seminars, one collection of information, one major meeting and one collaborative research network. This was also the year when the Center beefed up its Agricultural Policy Platform and added more significant agricultural policy website. Likewise, the management also strengthened its project on “Enhancing Collaborative Research Network on the Control of Dragon Fruit Diseases and Pests in Southeast and South Asia.”
In between these projects, the FFTC Director, Deputy Director and its staff also attended and participated in various activities related to agricultural development in the region to strengthen the Center’s ties and become more visible in the agricultural regional community.
The year 2019 has been a busy year for FFTC in which the management rose up to the challenge of improving the quality of its workshops and websites. As recommended by the TAC members, the management also put in a lot of efforts to be more visible by being active in social media, attending agricultural events and engaging in other activities like visiting farmers, meeting with people from the private sector and government agencies, giving talks and lectures, attending international agricultural exhibitions and conferences. These activities created new opportunities for partnership and increased the Center’s visibility. Last December 11, 2019, the FFTC management, headed by its Director and Deputy Director, presented to its Executive Board its main achievements for 2019. In the meeting the Director and Deputy Director took turns in presenting the highlights of accomplishments and progress report of the 2019 Work Program, on top of which is the successful completion of its eight international workshop/symposium/training courses in which feedbacks from the co-organizers, speakers and participants were all rated good. Topics included ICTs for precision agriculture, developing innovation strategies in the era of data-driven agriculture, ecosystem approach to fisheries management, smart agriculture for environmentally and consumer friendly food production, etc.
The 104 th Executive Board Meeting was held last December 11, 2019 at the Shangrila’s Far Eastern Hotel Plaza. In that year, the Center successfully completed eight international workshops/symposia/training courses. The Executive Board members reviewed FFTC’s activities and performance including creating opportunities for partnerships, courtesy visits, speeches, lectures, etc.
In 2019, the dragon fruit project launched its own dragon fruit website http://df.fftc.agnet.org, which added more data to its growing collection of information on one of the world’s most promising tropical fruits. These articles came from the papers written by the speakers of FFTC’s past four workshops since 2014. Aside from the articles, the website also provided links to other related articles and news on dragon fruits written by other dragon fruit experts from around the world.
In 2019, the dragon fruit project launched its own dragon fruit website, which added more data to its growing collection of information on one of the world’s most promising tropical fruits. It also has links to other related articles and news on dragon fruits written by other dragon fruit experts from all over the world.
A more jazzed-up and redesigned AP-website, more contracted partners and more interesting articles also paved the way for a better FFTC-AP platform for 2019. An AP journal is also in the pipeline to serve researchers and scholars of agricultural policies not only in the region, but also all over the world.
Another innovative project for this year is the symposium on “Implementing the Satoyama Initiative for the Benefit of Biodiversity and Human Well-being.” Attended by 14 speakers from seven countries, the said symposium is part of the five program themes of FFTC’s Strategic Action Plan for 2019-2020, which is on rural resource management covering the management of mountains and farmlands, irrigation, environment, organic resources and rural community. Satoyama, a Japanese concept stemming from two Japanese words —“Sato” which means village and “yama” which means hill or mountain is a concept developed through centuries of small-scale agricultural forestry use focusing on the spirit of preservation and utilization.
The Satoyama spirit, in which mountain villagers live in harmony with Nature, is very much alive in Taiwan. In 2019, FFTC organized a symposium in Hualien and gathered 14 speakers from seven countries who shared their knowledge and experiences in what is called the Satoyama Initiative.
After the Satoyama symposium, the speakers and participants had an educational trip and visited the Jia-ming tea garden in Hualien.
The year ended with the management drafting the FFTC Strategic Action Plan Focusing on Holding Workshops and Seminars for 2021-2024. It started with the creation of a task force, reviewing the Center’s activities for 2019 and 2020, doing library research and conducting monthly meetings. The FFTC management also embarked on a series of caravan tours which went on for five months in which the management visited, met and discussed with agricultural leaders of Taiwan’s agricultural institutes, agencies, universities and government organizations to learn and collect information from their ongoing research work and their directions and vision about their relevant research fields. The caravan tours culminated in the conduct of a final consultation meeting with Taiwan’s agricultural experts and the drafting of the whole strategic plan which it will present in the 25th TAC meeting in July, 2020.
FFTC in response to the timeline of Asian agriculture
When the Center was established in 1970, there was food scarcity in Asia, but Taiwan was experiencing the so- called second stage of agricultural development. Because of the successful land reform in the country, food was relatively sufficient and farmers owned their cultivation lands. The exportation of fresh and processed agricultural products became the main goal of the government and the priorities were breeding and improvement of cultivation techniques for crops with high export potential. The resulting large foreign exchange reserve became the foundation for the industry to grow.
Meanwhile other parts of the ASPAC region suffered from severe shortages of both food and fertilizer in the 1970s. Experts traced this to the lack of technical information among farmers. Compounding the problem was inadequate fertilizer supply and a shortage of improved seeds. This agricultural landscape was the foundation that led to the creation of FFTC. At that time, fertilizer management, particularly for rice, crop variety and pest control, as well as organization of agricultural cooperatives and other forms of rural organizations were the target topics or themes of FFTC’s seminars and workshops.
The 1980s, on the other hand, was called the “Agriculture Developed and Industry Developing Stage” During this decade, village manpower decreased and labor cost increased as a result of industry development. Mechanization and automation became the main goal. In order to overcome manpower shortage, improvement of cultural practices and breeding for high yield crops suitable for machine operation became a necessity. It was during this period, experts say, that new varieties and techniques for increasing quality and quantity of crops were developed.
This was also the time when prices of farm inputs started to increase. To address this concern, FFTC’s emphasis was on improved use of alternative fertilizer resources such as nutrient recycling, green manure and biological nitrogen fixation due to increase in prices of farm inputs. In seminars and workshops, the focus was also on growing high-value crops and raising livestock.
The 1990s saw the fourth stage of agriculture. Coined as “Agriculture Advanced and Economy Developing Stage,” this period was marked by the flourishing industry, along with the problem of high labor cost, agriculture manpower shortage and overproduction of rice. The main goals of the government then were to develop horticultural crops and convert rice paddy fields to cultivation of other crops. A number of new varieties of high quality and high return crops were developed and paddy rice was decreased.
It was during this time when the Center’s main target was sustainable agriculture, with workshop themes along the lines of maintenance of soil fertility and conservation of resource base. The emphasis was on topics like integrated systems of insects, disease and weed management with biological control.
The beginning of the new millennium was also the start of the Agriculture adjustment stage. Taiwan joined the World Trade Order or WTO in 2002. The resulting free trade had a great impact on Taiwan’s agriculture. It was in this decade (2000-2010) when conservation of ecosystem and the environment were in conflict with farmers’ rights. Consumers also became more health conscious, changing their consumption style to include more fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants. The goal during this period were development of high competition and export potential, development of biotechnology for agricultural production, development of automation and mechanization, and enhancement of research and good quality and safe agriculture.
In order to attune itself to the signs of the times, FFTC paid attention to projects that delved on plant protection focusing on environmentally friendly farming practices. There were also seminars on farm machineries, food traceability, climate change, food security and food safety.
The next decade 2011-2020 is a critical period for FFTC since this is the time when not only Taiwan, but the rest of the world is grappling with issues like greater global competition, expansion of industrialized agriculture, combined effects of population growth, strong income growth and urbanization, greater effects of climate change, scarcity of relevant resources for agriculture, high energy prices, stricter food safety standards, etc. Topics or themes focused on issues related to water management, soil information nutrient databases, emerging infectious diseases of food crops, safe seafood production, rural community revitalization, citrus HLB disease, biomass resources, organic products, “climate smart” food production, genetically modified organisms, promising technologies for aquaculture, Fusarium wilt on Cavendish banana, biotechnology, free trade and agricultural policies in the Asian and Pacific Region.
Samples of FFTC workshop and seminar posters which are produced by the secretariat as part of its promo collaterals and publicity. The Center normally holds eight to 10 workshops and seminars per year.
FFTC: The challenges of the next 50 years
It is hard to imagine what agriculture will be like in the next half century. For one, futurists predict the global population to double or even triple by 2070. At that time, the stage of science would have leaped by manifold bounds, and scientists and policy makers would have discovered innovative ways to address food production and marketing. Perhaps genetic manipulation would have been perfected or the understanding of DNA would have led to a lot of new discoveries and inventions to address food security. By that time, even robotics and drone technologies would have been a thing of the past and would have been replaced by more advanced gadgets and machines. Mitigating the effects of climate change would have been addressed by more hi-tech greenhouses and who knows what, and maybe more young farmers would have embraced the challenges of agribusiness and have by then turned themselves into the rich entrepreneurs that they were once envisioned five decades back.
It is also hard to imagine how information technology would have advanced 50 years from now, considering how fast gadgets like smart phones are being developed or how data mining and computer imaging are exponentially growing.
As in the past, FFTC will strive to adapt to the environment in the Asian and Pacific Region and would do its best to turn difficulties into opportunities. There might be better ways to collect and disseminate information, hold a workshop or conference and utilize the power of cyberspace in order to help farmers in food production or marketing. Just like the vision of FAO, the Center will strive to do its humble share and contribute to the creation of transformative change in agriculture and food systems in the region. This challenge include the threats posed by climate change, the many changes in the global food systems, the emerging plant and animal diseases, problems in food marketing and distribution, etc.
FFTC will further strengthen its network approach and rekindle ties with old partners and/or seek for new ones in order to build a more formidable regional network, paving the way for a more enhanced capacity building and technology transfer activities.
Whatever the future scenario holds, FFTC believes that even after five decades, it will still be the well-informed farmer who will have a competitive edge and will make better choices and farming decisions in agriculture.
A peek into the future. It is hard to imagine how information technology would have advanced 50 years from now, considering how fast gadgets like smart phones are being developed or how data mining and computer imaging are exponentially growing.