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 of new crop varieties 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.
During the 1980s, the development of mechanization and automation became agriculture’s main goal.
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. In Taiwan for example, the main goals of the government then were to develop horticultural crops and convert rice paddy fields to cultivation of other crops. In fact a number of new varieties of high quality and high return crops were developed and paddy rice was decreased from 780,000 ha to 340,000 ha.
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 Organization 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 goals during this period were coping with high competition especially in the export market, 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 sources, stricter food safety standards, etc. For the past three years, 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, boar semen application for pork quality improvement, roles of cooperative in food consumption trends, enhancing farm management efficiency by ICT, knowledge management, protected cultivation, promoting rice farmers’ market through value-adding activities, determining the nutrient content of soil, fostering increased engagement and capacitating the youth on agri-entrepreneursip, smart use of fertilizers, climate smart agriculture, early warning systems of agricultural disasters through ICT, free trade and agricultural policies in the Asian Pacific region .
FFTC as facilitator for policy and strategic changes, technology innovations, etc.
All of FFTC’s programs, projects and activities are geared towards collecting and providing its stakeholders with technical and practical information that will enable farmers to operate profitably in a manner that is also environmentally sound. The information it provides is focused on sustainable land use, and technologies which help improve their incomes. And while the range of topics is wide and varied, it only reflects the reality of small farms in Asia. This is why information on modern technologies is of vital importance to the Asian farmers. Information programs of the Center emphasize sustainable agriculture. It tries to provide information about agricultural systems which are productive in the long term, because they conserve the environment. For its part, FFTC facilitates the collection and packaging of this wide range of information through organized workshops, seminars, training courses, research surveys, field demonstrations, publications and the Center’s website. The goal is for the farmers to be more well-informed in order for them to make smart choices and decisions which can help them improve their livelihood and attain a higher quality of life.
Some of FFTC’s significant achievements through the years
For the past decade, FFTC has tried to sustain its projects on integrated pest and weed management, disseminating information on combined control, each of which reinforces the impact of the others. Unlike chemical control, integrated pest management (IPM) does not aim at preventing all damage to crops from pests and diseases. Instead, it tries to keep damage below the economic injury threshold.
Since 1991, the Center has been carrying out a long-term project on the control of plant virus diseases and also monitored the emergence of new ones. It began with a survey over several years of various diseases of crops in 18 countries in Asia and the Pacific. This was followed by a series of workshops and training courses. Information about the diagnosis and indexing of plant viruses was disseminated using new molecular bio-techniques recently developed in the region. DNA primers and antibodies were provided to national laboratories in the region.
This initiative led to the birth of the technology transfer project to rehabilitate the citrus industry in Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines. For three years, a pathogen free (PF) citrus foundation and nursery system were established in these countries, together with disease indexing techniques and the necessary facilities and equipment. This integrated technology was further extended and replicated in Laos and Myanmar, where training courses on disease indexing were conducted.
The Rapid Bioassay of Pesticide Residues (RBPR), a technology developed in Taiwan in 1985, is a low-cost alternative to chemical analysis to achieve quick test results for pesticide residues in order to protect local consumers from contaminated fruits and vegetables. For three straight years (2009-2011), FFTC, in cooperation with the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute, Council of Agriculture and the Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI) spearheaded the training course on RBPR attended by various participants from the Asia Pacific region. The course consisted of intensive lectures, discussions, laboratory exercises, hands-on activities and field visits. Topics included prospects of rapid monitoring and control of pesticide residues in the ASPAC region; the Food Quality Protection Act in the US, toxicological principles, etc.
The series of training on RBPR was mentioned in a journal published by the Taiwan Agriculture Research Institute (TARI) which said that in the 1990s, through the initiatives of FFTC, Thailand’s Ministry of Agriculture invited TARI to hold an international training course in four countries: Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Korea. From 2006 to 2008, five National Pesticide Analytic Lab (NPAL) dealt with pesticide testing of vegetables and fruits under the Philippines’ Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI). TARI dispatched several specialists in Baguio and Cagayan de Oro cities and held several training courses under the support of FFTC. The Center also drew up a three-year-plan of international training courses on the subject, together with the Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institute (APAARI) and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA). There were 56 participants from 13 countries who were trained and benefitted from the RBPR technology.
Many programs of the Center have been concerned with sustainable soil management, especially in the very difficult soils of the tropical uplands. This often involves the use of compost to improve soil properties. In the tropics, compost usually supplements rather than replaces applications of chemical fertilizer. Over the years, FFTC has collected and disseminated a huge databank of information on sustainable farming systems for tropical slopelands. Many of FFTC’s information programs have involved techniques of soil testing and plant analysis. These are used as the basis of fertilizer recommendations, and help farmers apply the right kind and amount of fertilizer at the right time. Other programs have provided information on soil management based on improved cropping systems and water management.
Livestock have always been an important focus of FFTC’s work ever since it was established. Its information programs have covered the diagnosis and treatment of major diseases, and improved feeding and management. It has also focused on the integration of livestock and crop production since it increases the overall productivity of agricultural systems. Lately, the Center has also focused on recent progress in swine breeding technologies and cutting-edge reproductive technologies to update its participants on the latest trends in swine production and health management.
Economics has always been an important part of the Center’s work. In workshops, it has always been mentioned that marketing is a major problem of most Asian farmers. In less industrialized countries, farmers have problems in transporting their goods to the market, or storage facilities so they can delay selling until prices rise. Over the years, FFTC has collected and disseminated a large body of information to help farmers with these problems. It has included surveys on postharvest losses of fruits and vegetables and the identification of the weak points in marketing chains. There have been seminars and workshops on how improved postharvest handling and packaging, and facilities such as cool stores and packing sheds, can increase profit margins. In some workshops, price information has been discussed and how cooperatives can operate price information networks for farmer members.
Tropical fruit offers a significant opportunity for small-scale farmers in the Asian and Pacific region. And to strengthen the position of farmers in the tropical value chain, the access to high quality planting materials is one of the key factors. Thus a survey study was initiated in 2014 to obtain the objective overview of tropical fruit production and market in Southeast Asia, and the specific details related to prevailing situation and constraints on the production and distribution of planting materials.
For six years now, FFTC has been conducting workshops to help improve the promising dragon fruit industry. This year it conducted another workshop to initiate a regional network of dragon fruit experts and enthusiasts.
The following year, in 2015, FFTC conducted a workshop on “Improving Pitaya Production and Marketing.” This was held in Kaoshiung, Taiwan and was attended by 20 speakers from 11 countries. One of the major recommendations of the said workshop was to involve stakeholders in the formation of a pitaya network. FFTC followed this lead and the following year, another activity entitled “Regional Workshop on the Control of Dragon Fruit Diseases” was conducted in Khon Kaen, Thailand. In the said workshop (which was attended by 17 speakers from 9 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 14, 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 (TARI) and the New Zealand Plant and Food Research Institute (NZPFRI) met in Taiwan to further discuss the formation of the research network. In the last meeting in March, the committee agreed to expand the scope of the network from dragon fruit pests and diseases to include the entire dragon fruit industry.
The result was the workshop on April 22-25, 2018 in Taipei, Taiwan entitled “Dragon Fruit Regional Initiation Workshop.” The workshop gathered 20 speakers from seven countries and brought together key researchers, technologists, leaders of research institutes and government officers working in dragon fruit production and marketing. One of the strong recommendations of the said workshop was to form a task force to create sources of funds, write a draft of the network’s articles of incorporation, vision, mission, objectives, etc. The steering committee also suggested that FFTC should take a lead in this area.
Another relatively new project is called the “Asia-Pacific Agricultural Policy Information Platform,” which basically aims to form a network of agricultural policy experts in the Asia Pacific region to establish a website for sharing and exchanging agricultural policy information across different countries. Launched in August, 2014, the website has collected, reviewed and uploaded more than 800 policy articles. The project is now on its sixth year and has generated more than 4 million hits.
The FFTC-AP project aims to establish a database of national agricultural policies catering to policymakers, researchers, scholars, etc. in the region. The Center manages a website containing agricultural policy articles contributed by its contracted partners of 10 countries and from other contributors.
III. The FFTC strategic plan for 2019-2020
The FFTC management makes sure that its activities are attuned to the needs of the current environment. Hence, the FFTC Strategic Action Plan for 2019-2020 is another renewal of the Center’s commitment to respond to the technological needs of the farmers in the region amidst the constant changing global environment.
Based on the FFTC’s past Strategic Plan, the Center comes up with this Strategic Action Plan for 2019-2020, underpinning the five program themes as follows:
Program theme 1: Intelligent agriculture by ICT
Through the years, agriculture has kept pace with modern intelligent technologies to increase the quantity and quality of agricultural products. Farmers in the 21st century have access to Information Communication Technologies (ICT), have access to GPS, soil scanning, data management, social media and the internet. FAO has declared that intelligent agriculture or smart farming is the key to the future. According to one of FAO’s blog articles, “By precisely measuring variations within a field and adapting the strategy accordingly, farmers can greatly increase the effectiveness of pesticides and fertilizers, and use them more selectively. Similarly, using smart farming techniques, farmers can better monitor the needs of individual animals and adjust their nutrition correspondingly, thereby preventing disease and enhancing herd health.” FFTC therefore plans to organize more activities that will tap the expertise of people involved in intelligent agriculture. It hopes to gather more farm extension workers and work with the National Agriculture Research System (NARS) in the region to increase further knowledge on the role that ICT plays in raising crops and raising animals. Emphasis will be on the following:
Farmers in the 21st century have access to Information Communication Technologies (ICT) like the use of smart phones and the drone technology for crop monitoring, soil assessment, etc. Photos courtesy of Google images
Program theme 2: Value-added agriculture
Value-added agriculture or the changing of a raw agricultural product into something new through packaging, processing, cooling, drying, extracting or any type of process that makes the product from each original form, has been practiced for many years. The changing agricultural landscape, however, has recently been put on the spotlight especially at this time when governments emphasize the need of farmers to think in a businesslike manner.
Converting fresh lavender plants into oil or soaps, cucumbers into pickles, fresh bananas into chips are all entrepreneurial endeavors. Experts say value-adding is always worthwhile especially because of the higher returns that come with the investments and the opportunity to open new markets and make a business expansion. Moreover, the key to the success of value-added agriculture is to cash in on the lure of niche markets — those specialty niches where most small producers can be successful and mark their own dents in their respective businesses.
The Center hopes to carry out programs and projects that could help the farmers develop their own market niches through value-adding activities:
Converting fresh lavender into oils or soaps, cucumber into pickles and fresh bananas into chips are examples of value-added agricultural products. Photos courtesy of Google images
Program theme 3: Climate-smart agriculture
As defined by the FAO, climate-smart agriculture or CSA is “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience, reduces or removes GHG emissions where possible and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals.” Dr. Leslie Lipper, FAO’s senior environmental economist, and her team of experts further defines CSA as “an approach for transforming and re-orienting agricultural development under the new realities of climate change.” One of the keys to make CSA work is to build agricultural resilience and strengthen the physical constitution of farming systems. This would entail among other things understanding the weather patterns, adoption of environmentally friendly and ecological sound agricultural practices, managing climate risks, among others.
FFTC intends to pursue activities that deal with climate-smart agriculture. It hopes that through collecting information on practical technologies and best practices, it can help mitigate GHG emission, promote low carbon farming, adapt and build resilience to climate change, and increase agricultural productivity. Practices like better manure management, integrated pest management, integrated crop-livestock management, use of renewable energy, improved animal feeding, etc. could be discussed in detail and/or demonstrated to agricultural extension workers. Successful agricultural workers and/or researchers can also be invited to share innovative and climate-smart practices in the Center’s various projects. The following can be the focus of this particular theme:
Scientists have developed a technology to help farmers measure greenhouse gas emissions during crop production like this photo of farmers in India. Photo courtesy of Google images and the Environment Defense Fund website
Program theme 4: Environmentally friendly technologies
Environmentally friendly technologies, as the term implies are technologies that are ecologically sound, socially equitable, economically viable and environmentally sustainable. They are innovative technologies with the potential to steer agriculture along a sustainable path, and at the same time contribute to the advancement of economic and efficient production methods to prevent harm to human health and the environment.
The bio bees, which is an example of environmentally friendly technology, house the stingless bees in small beehives in the greenhouse. These bees help in the natural pollination process. Photo courtesy of Google images and the Greenhouse farming blogspot.
In line with the vision of the Satoyoma initiative of realizing societies in harmony with nature and develop socio-economic activities including agriculture and forestry that are aligned with the natural processes, the idea is to collect and disseminate information on green technologies for the production of safe and high-quality food, production of non-staple crops that are highly promising sources of income for poor farming communities, and enhancement of rural entrepreneurship which will focus on success stories and experiences on enterprise development initiatives. FFTC plans to enter into partnerships with its key partners and do the following:
Program theme 5: Rural resources management
The conservation and management of rural resources has become a fundamental part of agricultural development. It basically covers the management of farmlands, irrigation, environment, organic resources, and the rural community. Issues relating to the decrease in the size of farmlands, lack of water, aging farmers, the continuous decreasing number of young farmers, and agricultural trade all comprise areas which experts focus on in relation to conserving and managing rural resources. Lately, changes in global production networks and increased urbanization also changed the landscape and the character of rural areas. Manufacturers of niche and specialty products have also widened their scope and created more dynamism in the way rural resources are managed. Moreover, tourism and recreation activities have grown and are now an integral part of rural livelihood. This has also expanded rural development approaches and included the involvement of regional development agencies, non-government organizations and international development organizations. Emphasis would be on the following:
Rural resources management covers farmlands, Irrigation, environment, organic resources and the rural community.