At the recommendation of the members of the FFTC Technical Advisory
Committee (TAC), the FFTC Management formed a team of reviewers to evaluate the
Center’s activities. The team is headed by Dr. Samson Tsou, the Honorary
President of the Taiwan Agricultural Science and Technology Resources Logistics
Management Association. The other members are Dr. Shuichi Asanuma, Professor
Emeritus of Nagoya University in Japan and Dr. Roberto Rañola, Professor of the
Department of Agricultural Economics, University of the Philippines at Los
Banos. Below is the full text of their report
The Food and Fertilizer Technology Center (FFTC) is charged with the specific mandate, unique among international agricultural research and development centers in the Asia-Pacific region, of disseminating and exchanging information on a wide range of modern and practical agricultural technologies addressing the needs of small-scale farmers (SSF) in the region. It has effectively produced impressing outputs such as a large number of research and extension workers invited to the FFTC-initiated workshop activities, a huge web-based information repository that covers a wide range of agriculture-related subjects, and a significant number of visits to the FFTC website. It is quite an achievement for a small center of 12 staffs with support of a few project coordinators and national partners in the region to have acquired considerable experience, expertise and comparative advantage in the diffusion of agricultural information and mature technologies.
However, in order to effectively move beyond these outputs to outcomes (i.e., initial effects of technology adoption or behavioral changes of policy-makers, research and extension workers, and/or farmers), it is important to make sure that FFTC’s information outputs are not only widely disseminated but also extensively used at the regional level. To facilitate this information uptake processes, it requires stakeholder engagement. Engaging stakeholders should go beyond inviting them to the workshops and expecting them to assist transferring the information and technology to the target audience. There is a need to put time and effort into bringing stakeholders fully on board right at the beginning of the project activities. The project team is to identify priority problems and needs in the region, determine the most appropriate interventions, and map out the most plausible pathway to reach the expected outcomes that would impact the greatest number of potential beneficiaries.
FFTC’s information outputs are contained in numerous categorized forms and various structures, ranging from practical skill leaflets, hard-copy proceedings and technical bulletins to web-based database, etc. And FFTC follows much standard practice of a “pipeline” approach, in which information of ready-made technologies are delivered to national agricultural research systems (NARS), hopefully, for eventual adoption by presumably grateful SSF. Nevertheless, being given information is merely to become informed. Being able to assign meaning to the information received is to become knowledgeable.
Knowledge management systems provide not just access to stored information but also access to the meaning and value of that information. An appropriately designed knowledge management system uses expert knowledge (i.e., expertise) on a subject to guide decision making for action by policy-makers, research and extension workers or farmers with the right knowledge, in the right place, and at the right time. The advantage of such a system is that it enables the expertise it has captured to be widely disseminated in a user-friendly form that answers questions in its subject area easily and rapidly. Henceforth, ideally, the FFTC database is analyzed, organized and linked to other open data. Subsequently, the information is to be interpreted from the domain perspective (e.g. crop productivity, smart use of fertilizers, climate change, agricultural food safety, etc.) in order to produce relevant, comprehensive information and new knowledge ultimately leading to wisdom for action.
To engage in effective agricultural knowledge management, adequate mechanisms are needed for capturing and disseminating knowledge through the use of rapid, efficient, and cost effective processes and institutional arrangements. Towards this end, information and communication technology (ICT) can play a critical role. The range of ICT is increasing all the time, and there is a continuing trend of integrating the new technologies such as Web 2.0/3.0 Internet, mobile technologies, cloud computing, digital gadgets, etc. with conventional media such as PCs, radio, television, etc. In order to capitalize this potentially transformative instrument of converging ICT for agricultural knowledge management, the ERT recommends that efforts be made to increase in-house e-readiness (availability, connectivity, accessibility, competence) for agricultural knowledge management.
On the other hand, in an effort to fulfill FFTC’s mission of promoting the dissemination of technical information and generation of new knowledge on agricultural food production so as to benefit SSF in the region, FFTC has selected a wide range of program subjects for FFTC-initiated workshops, directly or indirectly addressing the SSF’s problems under different environmental conditions in the past decades. Nonetheless, through the course of the center's endeavor, FFTC has faced a constant challenge in determining the most appropriate subject and manageable structure for its program activities. This is particularly important considering the agricultural sector in the region is no longer simply to maximize productivity, but to optimize across a far more complex landscape of sustainable productivity, rural income generation, climate change and resilience of agro-environment, nutrition and balanced diet, food safety, barriers to food access and distribution, revitalization of the agricultural sector, etc. To meet this challenge, a strengthened partnership with NARS in the region is imperative. As mentioned earlier, there is a need for FFTC to put time and effort into bringing stakeholders fully on board right at the beginning for the initiation of the project activities. It is this team formed at the outset to use sound scientific evidence to scan and prioritize program subjects that are relevant to the needs and issues of farmers and agriculturalists in the region, thus also enabling NARS to be become more proactive rather than reactive in partnership with FFTC.
To be able to meet the desired change of directions mentioned above, FFTC needs to gradually grow financially and professionally. In this regard, it is imperative for FFTC to expand and diversify its funding base to strengthen its international image and better serve a wider audience in the region. Thus, the ERT recommends that the FFTC management with support of the FFTC Executive Board to: 1) actively undertake efforts to screen and evaluate funding opportunities; 2) have a clearer understanding of priorities of the potential funding agencies; and 3) establish linkages with funding agencies that can provide financial support to FFTC’s outcome-generating projects with budget provisions for human resource costs and project partners. For a start, FFTC may like to approach two of its former member countries, Australia and New Zealand, to secure special project support for improving food crop techniques under saline soils in the Pacific island countries, and improving dairy production in South Asia based on the expertise of these two countries.
Forty-five years ago, the Food and Fertilizer Technology Center (FFTC) was established as a regional information center in the Asia-Pacific region. It is to provide a venue for systematic institutional cooperation for a complementary process of infusion and diffusion of information on a wide range of modern and practical technologies addressing the needs of small-scale farmers in the region. Its mandate is to act as an intermediary between the national and international agricultural organizations in the region, serving as a resource hub for agriculture in the Asia-Pacific region to deliver the much-needed information to agricultural researchers and extension workers. And its unique function is to act as a catalyst for information flow and creative exchange of mature practical and applicable agricultural technologies as well as to deliberate on the emerging issues common to the region rather than engaging directly in research and development of any particular agri-food problems per se.
In the past four decades, growth in agricultural productivity in the Asia-Pacific region has been significant, largely as a result of the extension and consequent adoption of agricultural technologies developed and improved by the national and international agricultural research systems, in which FFTC plays a part. However, the region is still facing multiple and complex challenges. It has to produce more, diverse and safe food for a growing population, meet specific needs in the agri-food chain, contribute to overall development in the agriculture-dependent developing countries, adapt to climate change, adopt more sustainable production methods, etc. On the other hand, a contextual factor that FFTC confronted was a decreased financial support from its member countries. The resulting challenge: the ‘lean’ center created in 1972 is to address the complex issues faced by the small-scale farmers.
Against the aforesaid background, FFTC’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) meeting in 2014 recommended the “conduct of an impact assessment of the FFTC programs and activities to identify gaps and areas of improvement.” Accordingly, the present review seeks to evaluate FFTC’s effectiveness in carrying out its mandate, and recommend areas of improvement and modifications that would enable it to best use its limited resources for maximum impacts in the region.
The ERT conducted the review according to the terms of reference (Annex 1). Given the mandate of FFTC, the logic model of technology deployment through information diffusion was employed as a tool in this review exercise. It was used to review the effectiveness of FFTC as a facilitator of information exchange and technology diffusion in the region.
The dynamics of information diffusion for technology deployment usually go through five stages: 1) awareness; 2) search for additional information; 3) decision-making; 4) early adoption; and 5) institutionalization (Table 1). This pathway provides a visual road map of the causal relationship between inputs (resources dedicated to the project), activities (what the project does with inputs to fulfill its objective), outputs (the volume of work accomplished by the project), outcomes (benefits of changes for participants during or after project activities), and impacts (the long-term consequences of the intervention).
The effective deployment of technology through information diffusion depends on socio-cultural environment, the characteristics of the target technology beneficiaries and technologies per se as well as means of communication. Although some of these factors may be managed through proper design of the project interventions such as selection of target beneficiaries and mechanisms for communicating with them, these differences can inevitably lead to different outcomes or impacts. Therefore, for the purpose of undertaking this very program review, several indicators were developed for each of the different stages of information diffusion (Table 1). From the very start of the review, it was determined that this was the only realistic approach for the ERT.
The ERT recognized from the beginning that its task would be ambitious, given the constraints in time. However, to carry out the assignment within a short period of time and tight schedule (Annex 2), the ERT did the following in line with the aforementioned:
- Performed a desktop review of all documentation (FFTC Self-Assessment Report, Notes on the FFTC External Review, workshop proceedings, newsletters, technical bulletins, FFTC website, and other documents made available).
- Conducted group discussions with professional and supporting staff to discuss points pertaining to the review.
- Interviewed FFTC project partners and farmers in Taiwan and Vietnam to obtain their views on FFTC's activities and effectiveness in undertaking its functions.
This external review basically concentrates on four key evaluation criteria: relevance of the activities, their effectiveness, quality of outputs, and outcomes and impacts of activities. The results of the evaluation serve as the basis for formulating recommendations that may help FFTC’s present and future administrations in coming up with their strategy and action plans.
The small-scale farmer (SSF) sector is in the Asia-Pacific region is highly complex and diversified. The diversity spans the whole range of commodities. And the complex overlaps the value chain of different commodities from commodity improvement and production, through postharvest processing and marketing, consumption as well as food safety and human nutrition. Henceforth, in an effort to fulfill its mission of promoting the exchange and dissemination of technical information and experience on agricultural food production so as to achieve increased outputs and higher incomes for SSF in the region, FFTC has undertaken a wide range of program subjects directly or indirectly addressing the SSF’s problems under different environmental conditions in the past decades. Nevertheless, through the course of the center's endeavor, FFTC has faced a constant challenge in determining the most effective and manageable structure for its program activities.
Among FFTC's various project undertakings that the ERT has opportunities to have in-depth interaction with the concerned staff and partners on four specific project areas. And Table 2 provides a summary of the very interactions using the outcome indicators shown in Table 1. Based on this approach, the ERT reviewed FFTC's other thematic programs. Below are the ERT’s observations.
FFTC's crop production activities in the past decades seem to follow the economic development and dietary change for diversity in the Asia-Pacific region. This thrust is different from the program at the early stage of FFTC when staple food crops received major attention. Below are some of the ERT's observations and suggestions under different subject areas.
FFTC has engaged in a very wide range of topics related to crop production management in the past decade. They included: transfer of Taiwan's elite corn varieties to the Philippines (from 2006 to 2010), and workshops on urban and peri-urban agriculture for reducing poverty and enhancing food security (2006), small-farm mechanization (2006), environment-friendly green technologies (2009), preservation of functional biodiversity such as natural enemies and pollinators at farm level (2010), edible mushroom production (2010), and management and utilization of plant genetic resources for crop improvement (2011). In addition, two workshops on the use of biomass as renewable energy source (2008) and biofuel production (2014) were conducted.
For FFTC's future crop management activities, the ERT would like to suggest the following strategic directions:
- Most technologies selected are those which have been proven to be effective under their specific socio-economic and natural environment in certain countries. To deploy these technologies to other countries, it is necessary to undertake adaptive research to determine their suitability in these target countries. One example is hybrid corn in the Philippines. Although the hybrid corn varieties proved be adapted to the Philippine conditions; however, the improved yield proved still to be less attractive than GM corn.
- It is very important that new crop production technologies undergo systematic adaptation trials to determine their suitability under different environmental conditions. Unfortunately, very few of the projects that have been implemented had undergone this process and there is very little, if any, information on the performance of the introduced technologies. Mechanisms should be instituted to ensure that performance of these technologies under different environmental conditions in different target countries are recorded and disseminated for easy reference.
- Crop production technologies need multifactor consideration. A change in one practice may require changes in other cultural practices. It is recommended that the information on the characteristics of these types of technologies be organized and written into a knowledge type database. Given this, it will be easier to link related information from different sources. In this regard, online chat rooms to exchange experiences could also be used.
- Workshops and/or training courses can be organized even during the initial stages of technology diffusion. They can be organized in countries (or regions) where the technologies have been successfully adapted so as to serve as a venue for sharing experiences among partners.
In cooperation with SEARCA and National Taiwan University, FFTC has conducted a series of training workshops on agricultural biotechnology from 2007 to 2010, which attracted more than 100 participants from eight Southeast Asian countries. A wide range of modern biotechnology techniques and their applications on crop improvement and protection, and animal production were demonstrated and practiced. The effort has equipped the agri-biotech manpower in the region to meet the challenges arising from climate change, natural resource constraints, food security and sustainable development. This again is the consensus view among participants in the Asian food and agribusiness conference jointly organized by FFTC, APO and APAARI in 2013. For future related activities, it is suggested that training workshops or seminars on molecular marker-assisted crop breeding for tolerance to climate change-induced stresses would be very important.
It has been reported that 40 per cent of food crop plants are lost globally before harvest due to pests and diseases, causing significant losses to SSF and threatening food security. Unfortunately, the incidence of plant diseases affecting food crops has increased dramatically in recent years. Contributory to this trend are: agricultural intensification brings on outbreaks of plant disease; increasing long-distance trade connects far-flung regions to promote disease spread; and climate change causes the emergence of new infectious plant diseases and the plant vulnerable to diseases.
FFTC has focused its efforts on utilizing the latest approaches in controlling the most destructive diseases such as citrus HLB in Southeast Asia. This includes the implementation of a pathogen-free nursery system, and the use of breeding to combat banana Fusarium wilt. FFTC has also provided training to extension officers in crop protection. In the past decade, for example, FFTC has conducted workshops on whitefly management for controlling emerging virus diseases in vegetables (2005), pathogen-free tissue-cultured banana seedlings (2005), insect pest management (2006), use of biopesticides (2007), control of major plant pests (2008), citrus virus disease management (2008, 2012), emerging food crop diseases under climate change (2012), and networking to control banana Fusarium wilt (2013). Each of the workshops/thrusts have reinforced the impact of the others to keep crop damage below the economic threshold level.
Tropical fruit offer a significant opportunity for SSF in the Asia-Pacific region. Among the key factors that can strengthen the position of SSF in the tropical fruit value chain is the access to superior plant materials, and improved production and postharvest technologies. Very timely thus was the conduct of a two-year survey study that was initiated in 2014 to understand tropical fruit production and marketing in Southeast Asia that included the prevailing constraints to production and distribution of superior and healthy materials. The study should also be able to provide baseline information that would be a basis for FFTC to develop the strategic directions for increasing production and enhance the market potential of tropical fruit in the region. Workshops conducted in 2014 and 2015 that attracted 10 self-supported participants from the region as well as the USA to discuss the production and marketing potential of pitaya (dragon fruit), was a testament to the center's right approach.
HLB- a curse on citrus
FFTC was first to recognize citrus greening (HLB), a destructive bacterial disease transmitted by psyllids and grafting, is prevalent in major citrus production areas in Southeast Asia. Since early 1990s, FFTC has continuously supported studies on its pathology, detection and epidemiology as well as conducted a series of activities, in cooperation with Taiwan NARS, to facilitate the transfer of technologies in controlling HLB to NARS partners in Vietnam and Cambodia, and then the Philippines.
Key technologies disseminated included rapid and accurate pathogen detection, production of disease-free seedlings, IPM in seedling nurseries, micro-grafting of shoot tips, and crop management for preventing re-infection technologies. On top of these efforts by FFTC, the NARS partners have also started their national initiatives to rehabilitate their own citrus industries by disseminating acquired technologies and establishing pathogen-free nursery systems in their respective countries. Among those most active in the transfer of acquired technologies are SOFRI and Plant Protection Research Institute in Vietnam with support from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The same technologies have also been further extended to Lao PDR and Myanmar through FFTC’s partner organizations. It is commendable that FFTC's continuing commitment and financial support in the past two decades have resulted in significant gains to control this destructive disease in Southeast Asia (Table 2).
The impression obtained from the ERT's on-site visits near My Tho in southern Vietnam is that, citrus farmers would eagerly adopt the new technology of using disease-free seedlings if they find it profitable. However, it is apparent that there should be more effort to control the spread of HLB in the region in view of the declining trend of the overall citrus production and unit land yield in Southeast Asia in the past eight years. One of the solutions that can be drawn from the ERT's on-site visit to Vietnam is that there should be an extended and strict use of disease-free citrus seedlings, demonstrations and incentives for SSF to use disease-free citrus seedlings, and well-planned sanitary measures in the seedling nursery to prevent the re-infection of HLB and its vectors. Moreover, an enforcement of quarantine measures to restrict the movement and introduction of insect vectors and infected plants is imperative. In this case, national quarantine systems need to be further reinforced and regional cooperation established for harmonizing quarantine and phytosanitary procedures in the region.
Soils and Fertilizers
One of the necessary measures to meet the escalating food needs in the Asia-Pacific region is the efficient use of chemical fertilizers to further increase food crop production. This has been one of FFTC's strategic directions since its inception. Nevertheless, the excessive use of chemical fertilizers would normally cause environmental pollution such as ground water pollution with NO2- and/or NO3- and green-house gas emission, like N2O gas. Nowadays, it is imperative to stress the importance of environmentally sensitive and responsible use of chemical fertilizers. It is expected to use minimal amounts of fertilizers to meet crop plant nutrient requirements and to replace the nutrients that have been absorbed by plants.
FFTC has actively engaged in the information diffusion on plant-soil nutrition cycle, nature of chemical fertilizers, soil types, soil testing and plant analysis through workshops and publications in its early stage of operation. They are used as the basis for formulating the fertilizer recommendations that include information on the kind, amount and proper timing of applications. Other project activities have provided information on soil management based on improved fertilizer applications, cropping systems and water management. On the other hand, FFTC projects and activities have also covered sustainable soil management, especially in the very difficult soils of the tropical uplands. This often entails the use of compost to improve soil properties. In the tropics, compost usually supplements rather than replaces applications of chemical fertilizer. Over the years, besides appropriate fertilizer applications, FFTC has also collected and disseminated a huge databank of information on sustainable farming systems for tropical slopelands.
In the past three decades, organic fertilizers or biofertilizers such as farmyard manures and composts of various organic matters or crop residues have been recommended to meet plant nutrient requirements while protecting the agro-environment. However, the approach is not to nullify the use of chemical fertilizers but to avoid excessive use. It is to find a holistic way of applying chemical fertilizers in combination with other organic fertilizers. This is necessary because organic fertilizers need to be decomposed to release N, P, K and other macro- and micro-nutrients in inorganic forms so that crops can uptake those inorganic nutrient elements. Plants cannot absorb organic forms of those elements, like amino acids, proteins, nucleic acids or their partially decomposed forms etc. The use of chemical fertilizers can quickly address plant nutrient deficiencies which are critical for plant growth and yield.
From 2005 to 2015, FFTC implemented 12 workshops related to soils and fertilizers. Topics include soil and water conservation (2005), soil rhizosphere system (2006), biofertilizers (2007), heavy metals (2007), soil information system (2008), fertilizer policy (2010), soil carbon sequestration (2010), agricultural N emission (2011), soil information system oriented nutrient management (2012), biomass and biochar (2013), heavy metals and radioactive materials (2014), and smart use of fertilizers (2015). A cursory assessment of the past activities seems to suggest that "fertilizer technology" is the flagship of FFTC's endeavor. However, a closer look into these activities also suggests that the workshop themes were selected on an ad hoc basis to promote awareness and share the concern of the chosen issues. As a case in point, the 2014 workshop on heavy metals and radioactive materials appeared to address the remediation of rural soils damaged by the giant earthquake and tsunami that occurred in Japan on March 11, 2011.
To further outcomes and impact from the aforementioned project activities, the ERT recommends the following strategic directions and measures for FFTC's future project activities:
- Conduct of follow-up studies on the outcomes and impacts of the aforementioned workshop activities. The results could also be used as benchmark information for determining the issues or topics that should be addressed or reiterated in the succeeding project activities so as to ensure that the long-term goal of FFTC's "fertilizer" component would be achieved.
- Creation of a centralized expert database system on nutrient requirements for selected food crops with different soil types under various environments based on FFTC's accumulated information and the available data from the countries in the region. This will be a fundamental for knowledge-based applications of fertilizers, or smart-use of fertilizers to improve food crop yield as well as to protect agro-environment.
- Organization of a series of training workshops related to the simple soil analytical methods, estimation of nutrient/fertilizer requirement of selected food crops under different soil types, use of expert database system, etc.
Growing populations, rising disposable incomes and progressive urbanization in the Asia-Pacific region have spurred rapid growth in the consumption of animal source foods, particularly meat. This is reflected in the dramatic shift from diets that were formerly predominantly vegetable-based towards those of animal protein that had made a significant contribution to the nutritional and economic wellbeing of millions of people in the region. The fact is that the Asia-Pacific region has generated more than half the gains in global livestock production since the early 1990s, which is expected to continue in the foreseeable future.
Despite the scaling up of livestock production in many parts of the region, smallholder producers continue to be an important and critical part of livestock production systems and market chains to meet extremely diverse animal-product eating habits. To respond to this unique situation and to address the need of small-scale animal farmers, FFTC has produced technical bulletins on the diagnosis and treatment of major animal diseases, improved feeding and management, and integration of livestock and crop production in its first three decades of operation. From 2005 to 2015, FFTC has implemented eight workshops and one training course related to animal production. Topics include improving swine production (2005), reproductive biotechnology for buffaloes (2006), improved duck production (2007), increased production of meat and dairy goats (2008), sustainable management of forage-based feed resources (2009), utilization of native animals (2010), sustainable management of livestock wastes (2011), improved swine breeding (2014), and dairy herd improvement with reproductive biotechnologies (2015). These later activities have reflected complementary partnerships between technology-advanced countries and technology-disadvantaged states. As a case in point, the Philippines has provided an excellent training facility for trainees from more than 10 countries across the Pacific on dairy herd improvement by the use of reproductive biotechnologies that drew on experts from Japan as trainers.
On the other hand, fish is a vital source of high-quality protein for people in many coastal, island and lake-laden countries in the Asia-Pacific region. But to address the shortfalls in inland or coastal capture fisheries, aquaculture production—fish and shellfish farming—has grown rapidly as a viable alternative. Moreover, aquaculture can buffer water use in agriculture and represents the most efficient method to convert feeds, which usually does not compete with animal feeds, to edible protein. It is to be praised that FFTC paid attention to this aspect of food production by conducting workshops on coastal aquaculture (2008), fishery bio-products as functional foods (2010), aquaculture development (2011), and quality evaluation of fishery products (2011).
But to continue exchanging these information for the improvement of diverse livestock and aquaculture production systems for SSF in the Asia-Pacific region, the ERT recommends the following strategic directions in FFTC's future project activities:
- While it is recognized that there is a great need to increase the productivity of the livestock industry to meet the food and nutrient requirements of a growing population, there is also great concern about its impact on the environment. Concerns about the generation of GHG, soil degradation and water pollution from livestock agriculture are increasing. Currently, the sector is estimated to be responsible for about 18% of the total worldwide GHG emissions. Therefore, a responsible and responsive livestock industry must recognize these situations and find means to minimize negative effects. Towards this direction, FFTC may create the opportunities for the exchange of the ideas and recent developments on how: 1) to properly manage GHG emissions from livestock production systems; 2) to undertake the challenge for generating future climate-change mitigating strategies from livestock production systems; and 3) to strive for best effluent management systems.
- Due to increased feed efficiency, advancements in hen housing and manure management, egg farms now use less water and energy on a daily basis and release less GHG emissions. Every aspect of the egg production process, from producing feeds to raising the laying hens, has produced less GHG per unit basis than those of white or red meat (based on unit weight of meat or protein), thus leading to a reduced environmental footprint. Considering these facts, therefore, it would appear desirable for FFTC, if resources are available, to engage in the diffusion of mature technologies related to increasing productivity as well as decreasing GHG emissions from egg production.
- South Asia is the world’s largest holder of dairy cattle and milk production, a major protein source for the population. The dairy sector in the region is basically village-based with one to three milking animals per household. Only scores of dairy farms have more than 20 cows. The prevailing production system in the region is vulnerable to heat stress caused by global warming; milking cows cannot conceive resulting in low milk production. Hence the improvement of milking cows to be able to produce more milk under heat stress is an urgent task for small-scale farmers. In this regard, embryo transfer and related technologies provide efficient ways to breed genetically superior animals resistant to heat stress. Therefore, FFTC may consider providing a venue for the exchange of ideas and training on embryo transfer and related technologies to facilitate the application of these techniques. Furthermore, this is an opportunity for FFTC to connect and partner with NARS in South Asia, especially India.
- Of the transmissible animal diseases listed by OIE, foot-and-mouth disease of cattle and buffalo, classical swine fever of pigs, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, bird flu, Newcastle disease of poultry, anthrax of domestic herbivores, rabies of warm-blooded animals, haemorrhagic septicaemia of cattle and buffalo and Aujeszky’s disease of pigs should be addressed to sustain livestock production in Southeast Asia. Responsible use of vaccines and vaccination in farm animals in developed countries have had, and continue to have, a major impact not only on the prevention of these transboundary animal diseases and improved production but also on human health through increasing safe food supplies and preventing animal-to-human transmission of infectious diseases. Thus, FFTC, whenever possible, may like to facilitate the dissemination of these proven technologies to less developed countries in the region.
- Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing food production sectors in the Asia-Pacific region. But its development has directly contributed to the loss of important ecosystem functions through land and seascape transformation, and also more indirectly through pollution. Hence the regional workshops on the development of sustainable aquaculture that address not only maximizing benefits and food safety, but also minimizing accumulation of detriments, as well as other types of negative impacts on natural and social environment may be desirable.
Agricultural Food Safety
Agricultural food safety as a hidden quality involves management at both the production and post-harvest stages. This encompasses primary production of raw products on farms, during transportation, and at the facilities involved in handling and processing of raw products. Food safety risks can arise from improper management practices at any stage of the agri-food supply chains. Poor controls over the use of agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines during primary production may result in dangerous levels of chemical residues in raw products. And raw products could also be exposed to harmful biological or chemical contaminants during handling, transportation, storage and retailing because of problems with facilities, hygiene, temperature control and handling practices. Traditional markets and agri-foods produced and consumed by smallholders in developing countries particularly have high levels of hazards.
In the past decade, FFTC has conducted various workshops and training courses on topics such as GAP (2005), safe aquaculture food (2006), traceability systems in fish and fish products (2007), agrochemical residues in food and fish product traceability (2007), water management for green food production (2008), reducing hazardous chemical compounds in food (2009), pesticide residues in environments and their effects on food safety (2009), rapid bioassay of pesticide residues (2009, 2010, 2011), mycotoxins (2011), safe seafood production (2012), benefits and risks of GM food crops (2013), ICT-oriented management of supply chain of organic products (2013), safety of fresh fruit and vegetables (2014), and novel technologies for food safety (2015).
The use of pesticides is widespread and increasing, often overuse and misuse, in the Asia-Pacific region. The ERT thus commends the outstanding outcome on the adoption and institutionalization of Taiwan-developed rapid bioassay method (RBPR) for organophosphates and carbamate insecticide by NARS in Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam for their respective fruit and vegetable marketing systems. This rapid bioassay, based on the inhibition of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase by organophosphate or carbamate insecticides, is a low-cost alternative to chemical analysis to achieve quick test results for pesticide residues. To further its impact, the ERT recommends that FFTC continues its assistance to strengthen in-country capacity of adopting this low-cost but effective technology by other NARS in the region.
FFTC's endeavor to improve agri-food safety in the Asia-Pacific region through the aforesaid activities on prevention, detection and control initiatives is laudable. Nevertheless, agricultural food safety is the responsibility of all actors in the whole agri-food supply chain, from farm to table, between exporting and importing countries; and its efficient interventions often require coordinated action throughout the agri-food safety chain of the country or region. It requires more than just technological infusion. Accordingly, it calls for an enabling policy environment and capacity building to provide the requisite administrative manpower to cope with the standards agreed upon at the regional level. GAP, HACCP, traceability and other system principles, as adapted to the developing country context, could serve as an ideal model for managing risk along the entire production-consumption continuum. In this connection, it would be good if FFTC could collect and collate these information and made available to NARS so as to encourage farmers and other value chain actors in poor settings to produce quality and safe products in the Asia-Pacific region; facilitate effective education on farmers' agri-food safety knowledge, perceptions, behaviors, and information on NARS' policies and official control systems; and set the stage for dialog to establish regional agricultural food safety standards and measures.
With global climate change comes high temperatures, precipitation anomalies, and increasing frequency and intensity of unpredictable extreme weather events. The floods in the Philippines and persistent drought in Thailand are just two current examples of the types of events that climate change makes more likely. Impacts of heat, drought, salinity, flooding, and outbreaks of a wider variety of infectious diseases and pests due to climate change are already being felt by SSF in the region. This is affecting about 30% of the 700 million poor in tropical and sub-tropical Asia alone who live in rainfed rice-growing areas. These environmental stresses affect crop growth and development and reduce yields. They also increase livestock’s vulnerability to diseases and parasites, and reduce fertility and milk production. Higher temperatures also affect food safety, for example milk storage. As a result, climate change imposes a threat to food security and safety, and nutritional security, and undermines the livelihood of poor people with limited adaptive capacity. As global warming continues, these effects will be aggravated. However, the cultivation of crops and livestock for food not only suffers from the impacts of climate change, but is also responsible for a significant amount of global GHG emissions, which contribute to global warming. To stabilize crop and animal productions under unstable weather conditions, the SSF in these areas will not only have to adapt their farming methods, but also mitigate greenhouse gases emissions.
In the past eight years, FFTC has implemented six workshops related to climate change. Topics included renewable energy sources (2008), green technologies (2009), adaptation and mitigation for climate change in horticultural crops (2011), resilience of slopping land ecosystems (2011), improved water management in rice and upland crop production areas (2012), climate-smart crop production (2013), and adaptation measures against climate change in rice-based agriculture (2015). The ERT commends the effort of knowledge sharing among researchers in the Asia-Pacific region being conducted. Nevertheless, the ERT feels that "adapting to and mitigating climate change" could be embedded as one of the long-term goals in all of FFTC activities. This would provide a clear message to donors and the public of how the wide-range of FFTC's activities fit together as a coherent effort to cope with climate change in the region. Towards this end, the ERT deems that FFTC may systematically collect, collate and disseminate information; and serve as a catalyst to facilitate the regional deliberation on the following topics related to adaptation and mitigation technologies:
- Modern methods to improve breeding efficiency: Breeding for crop varieties with increased tolerance to heat, drought and salinity stress, and resistance to pests and diseases is critical for managing current climatic variability and for adaptation to increasingly changing climate, thus reducing farmers’ vulnerability to crop loss. Crop breeding programs could employ both traditional techniques and modern biotechnology such as genomic breeding to identify strains with traits related to heat tolerance, drought tolerance, salt tolerance, disease resistance, etc.
- Evaluation methods of agronomic management practices for improved agro-environmental sustainability: Improved crop management practices such as adjusting planting schedules, rotating and diversifying crops, improved water use efficiency, conservation agriculture, and improved nitrogen management should enhance input efficiency and contribute to climate change mitigation.
- Temperature regulatory methods for animal production: Heat stress can greatly affect growth; milk, egg, and meat production and quality; reproductive performance; immune response; and the overall health and mortality of livestock. Climate change will therefore increase the importance of using temperature regulation technologies to lower ambient temperature and thus prevent economic losses.
- Improved feed efficiency methods: Livestock feed can be altered to improve its digestibility and provide needed nutrients, while reducing the amount of biological waste and GHG emissions. They should offer adaptive benefits by increasing the effectiveness of feed and the resilience of livestock to climate change, in the meantime, lower the feed costs.
Within the context of globalization and climate change, many countries in the Asia-Pacific region are currently facing various issues and challenges that include: food and nutrition security, pricing of agricultural products and rural income, marketing and societal demands, international trading competition and protection, diversification of the diet, food safety, farming education, agricultural cooperatives, bio-security such as pests and diseases, infrastructure development, management skills and labor supply, coordination among various players, research and technology development, access to resources such as land and water, climate change, biodiversity and environmental sustainability, etc. This underlines the importance of a continuous process of formulation and re-formulation of appropriate agricultural policies to support the agro-food sector to meet these challenges. In this regard, learning from the experiences of other countries is especially valuable. Information of the outcomes of the policy initiatives taken by other countries would be most useful for any country contemplating to institute such policies. In the past decades, FFTC has conducted workshops on self-help agricultural marketing units (2005), agricultural cooperatives (2006), empowering women farmers (2007), food policy reforms to address food security (2009), strengthening local food systems for SSF (2011), threats and opportunities and free trade agreements (2013), and agricultural technology transfer for commercialization (2013). Considering the importance of policy aspect for the agricultural development in the Asia-Pacific region, the conduct of these workshop activities is a worthwhile effort.
However, the deliberation on such a wide range of current and emerging issues in the agri-food systems, many of which are complex and interconnected, in the face-to-face workshops would be quite a challenge for a small institution to manage and thus not so effective. To overcome this constraint, the ERT considers FFTC's new initiative of the Agricultural Policy Platform set up in 2013 for web-based direct dialogue approach as timely and relevant. FFTC's effort to gather together static and dynamic information sources on the respective national agricultural policy initiatives in the region for sharing and exchanging across different countries by overcoming languages is laudable. A accumulative number of 564,737 visits all over the world to this web-based platform that contains 47 articles on general agricultural policies, 58 on food security and safety, and 48 on marketing policy contributed by 19 partners from nine countries in the Asia and Pacific region as time of this review attests the merit of this platform.
The ERT sincerely hopes that this platform could contribute to the likely formation of mutually agreeable agricultural policies on common issues at the regional level in the near future. Toward this end and to improve the quality this platform, the ERT would like to suggest the following steps of action:
- Aside from the papers that are currently being submitted and uploaded online, it may be useful also to upload the original policy documents that the readers can access. This will allow them to make their own evaluation or assessment of these policies.
- An inter-country comparative analysis of the policy strategies and impacts of these strategies may provide useful information for decision makers.
- Development of an interactive mechanism where partners can freely communicate and share information would add value to this platform. This mechanism should allow for feedbacks and suggestions for follow-up activities. In this regard, online surveys should be conducted periodically to determine the major policy issues that are of interest to the member countries. The mechanism should allow for online discussions of major agricultural policy issues. The chat room would allow members to ask questions and others to provide answers to those questions.
- Provision of the guidelines for the content of the agricultural policy articles is necessary. The guidelines would provide uniformity to the content of the articles.
- The articles should be prepared with the audience or reader in mind. If the intended readers of the article are policy makers, then the articles should be written in a manner that can be understood by them. In the same manner, the presentation would be different if the intended readers are researchers who are trained to read more technical materials.
- It may be helpful to get the services of a technical editor to go through and edit the articles if necessary. FFTC's incumbent information officer may not have the necessary training to edit the technical materials.
- FFTC should identify agricultural policies that have been instituted in certain countries within the region that have been proven to be very effective, and disseminate them to other countries that are facing with similar conditions.
- Papers submitted by contributors to the Agricultural Policy Platform should contain analyses of why the policies are necessary or significant, and their corresponding implications.
- Provisions should be sought and created so that the decision-making personnel from government agencies are to easily avail themselves of the full benefit of the web-based agricultural policy platform.
Agricultural technology diffusion involves the dissemination of technical information and know-how and the subsequent adoption of new technologies and techniques by the farmers and other end-users (Table 1). FFTC has engaged in technology diffusion of the subject matters mentioned in the last chapter by collaborating with different NARS partners and regional forums in the Asia-Pacific region through diverse processes (e.g. workshops, seminars, symposia, training courses, etc.) and via a range of products (e.g. print publications, database, and web). The specific approach taken depends on target audiences, particular problem, scientific versus practical, time, and location.
National Agricultural Research Systems
The World Bank broadly defined NARS that include government ministries, agricultural research institutes, universities, extension agencies, NGOs, the private sector, and various farmers’ organizations which undertake agricultural research and extension. Despite the difference in their effectiveness, the national agricultural research systems in the Asia-Pacific region offer FFTC provisions of better understanding SSF’ problems; interactive institutional linkage; channel for disseminating the information, knowledge and technologies to SSF; site to verify the effectiveness of transferred technologies; and conduit to communicate with policy makers. Besides, they made available resource persons, participants, and on-site staff and facilities for FFTC’s workshop activities.
In order to maximize the marginal value and impact of FFTC's technology diffusion actions in a coordinated fashion, the ERT deems it important that FFTC should seek the active participation of NARS in the determination of most appropriate interventions that would bring about the most benefits and impacts; and the design of targets, potential partnerships entailed, and implementation plans. All these are essential for the continuing relevance of FFTC. In return, identifying regional targets can be useful catalysts in helping NARS to revisit their R&D objectives and frameworks and examine how the best regional partnership might help deliver desired national outcomes.
Among different components of NARS in the region, the private sector, often acts as a knowledge-intensive agribusiness sector, is one of the key suppliers of seeds and agricultural chemicals, and after services for SSF. More and more its business activities span across the agricultural value chain, and plays a crucial role in the demand (pull) side for knowledge, tools and technologies that usually result in high rates of adoption to produce high quality agricultural products—either for marketing and processing locally, or storage and transportation for export. Therefore, the ERT encourages FFTC helps facilitate complementarities and cooperation between the public and the private sectors of NARS to deliver mature technologies to SSF with mutual benefits between SSF and the private sector in mind.
The agricultural sector in the Asia-Pacific region is now facing increasingly complex issues. It not only has to provide food in sufficient quantity, diversity and quality for an ever increasing and urbanizing population, but also has to do this in an environmentally responsible manner, while at the same time contributing to the income generation for the small-scale farmers. No single institution working alone can address these important issues. Hence there is an obvious need for FFTC to form effective strategic partnerships with other regional information-based forums. The regional partnership brings valuable expertise and resources to FFTC, while providing an opportunity for each stakeholder to maximize their contributions to agricultural development. Effective regional partnership is essential to avoid disparate and conflicting approaches in addressing issues in the agri-food R&D system. It requires investment of time and attention and equitable relationships that have to accommodate vastly different scales of resources and very diverse perspectives, knowledge and contexts.
In the past, FFTC has partnered well with APAARI and SEARCA to transfer the technology of rapid bioassay of pesticide residues to NARS in Southeast Asia; APO to conduct seminars on sustainable farming systems, appropriate use of fertilizers and agricultural biotechnology; and APAARI on smart use of fertilizers. This modality of partnership is proven to be cost effective and well-suited to the regional needs. Hence the ERT deems that this modality, whenever possible, should be a norm of modus operandi for FFTC.
Networking and interaction among the NARS researchers and extension agents at regional level are essential means for the diffusion of agricultural technology and knowledge for decision making and follow-up actions. Therefore it is commendable that FFTC has harnessed opportunities and invested much of its resources in organizing various regional or international workshops, conferences, seminars, symposia, and training courses where NARS researchers, extension agents, and government officials could update the knowledge, develop the capacity, cross-fertilize ideas, share expertise, or develop R&D collaborations for problem solving. (Since there are no clear FFTC definitions for workshop, conference, seminar, symposium, and training workshop, a generic term of "workshop" is used for this report.)
Unfortunately, much of FFTC workshops resulted mainly in information sharing among participants. Although more than 60% of the respondents of the center's recent online survey indicate that the FFTC workshop themes were relevant, the desired outcomes of improving the participants’ work efficiency, or enticing them to engage in the follow-up activities such as subsequent technology transfer seemed were below expectations. This may due to a fact that many workshop activities were initiated and fully financed by FFTC alone, with the role of NARS partners confined to nominating participants upon the request. In very few cases, the workshop themes were decided in consultation with NARS partners before the event. However, it should be reminded that the diffusion and adoption of new technologies are affected by many cultural, economic, political, and social factors. Hence, to generate significant impact from the workshop activities, the ERT suggests that the FFTC management considers the following steps of action for the future workshop activities:
- Instead of conducting workshops on a diversity of fields and problems, and on a one-time basis, it would appear desirable for FFTC to focus on a few priority agri-food issues that are discussed and concurred between FFTC and its NARS partners, and conduct a series of related workshops in tandem and in a more systematic manner so as to bring the greatest benefits and impacts in the region such as have been done for HLB.
- FFTC should create a mechanism where a selected number of the NARS partners could jointly participate in the process of determining the major issues, more specifically, the themes, objectives, contents, keynote speakers, etc. in the proposed workshops. This mechanism shall encourage NARS partners’ ownership of workshop activities, and facilitate effective dissemination of new information and mature technologies.
- There should be established criteria for inviting participants that will be provided financial support to attend the workshops. And for the workshops that implicitly entail follow-up activities, the invited participants should include both the researchers and the middle-level policy makers. This would smooth the process of decision making for the agreed follow-up activities.
- Whenever possible, the workshop should be open to all who are interested in the workshop subject matter and will cover their own expenses to attend. The number of self- or third-party-supported participants would be a valuable means to gauge the relevance and quality of the said workshop. To entice these types of participants, the workshop theme should address R&D issues that are important and relevant to improving agricultural production, nutrition and quality of life, and sustainability of the environment. Moreover, the workshop may have to be planned and publically announced at least one year before the event to attract more participants.
- FFTC should administer the ex-post surveys among the workshop participants, maybe half-year or one-year after the event, to evaluate the relevance and outcomes of the conducted workshops, and to gauge the participants’ commitment in follow-up activities. Some of the indicators in Table 1 could be used or modified for determining adoption of introduced technologies, continuing deliberation of the subject matters, increased farmers’ awareness, usefulness of acquired information, initiation of collaborative R&D, changes in institutional investments, farmers’ changed attitudes, compliance with the introduced procedures, etc.
- Many NARS partners who had participated in the FFTC workshop activities are now working on priority agricultural topics in their respective countries. Thus, it is proposed for FFTC to establish an alumni network using the prevailing forms of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LINE, Instagram and other applications. This should foster better collaboration among the alumni and FFTC in working towards the dissemination of proven agricultural innovations and enhance the chances of success in the adoption of these technologies.
- Organizing successful workshops to exchange and/or diffuse agricultural technology information/technology has been at the heart of FFTC's efforts for more than 40 years. To sustain its efforts, it is imperative for FFTC to establish its in-house core competence to: 1) prioritize among many urgent agri-food issues and desirable interventions; 2) decide the best type of technology diffusion mechanism (e.g., seminar, conference, workshop, training, extension, etc.) in line with the technology diffusion process (Table 1); 3) identify the target audiences; 4) define expected outcomes from the workshop activities; and 5) plan post event follow-up activities.
Technical Bulletins and Extension Bulletins
Both types of bulletins were culled from the proceedings of the conducted workshops. Based on the number of requests for hard copies and the respondents’ feedback in the FFTC online survey, they appeared to be relevant to a variety of NARS and target audiences that include individual researchers, extension professionals, teachers, trainers in agriculture, etc. FFTC published 10-15 bulletins annually. Nevertheless, due to the cost of printing and mailing, these publications were discontinued in 2013. Instead, all past technical and extension bulletins were digitalized and posted in the FFTC website.
FFTC publishes a quarterly newsletter in print form and distributes to the NARS libraries, FFTC alumni and other interested individuals. From the middle of 2015, it is converted into digital format and posted in the FFTC website. The FFTC Newsletter, either in print or electronic form, basically carries FFTC’s news and events, and summaries of FFTC’s workshops. Nevertheless, the ERT suggests that FFTC solicits article contributions on agricultural technology development from its NARS partners for the FFTC Newsletter so as to make it in parallel with FFTC’s web-based agricultural policy platform.
The suggested reformatted FFTC Newsletter is meant to ensure the widest possible dissemination of down-to-earth information relevant to the agricultural technology development, in order to fertilize ideas and allow them to germinate. It may include in-depth report on a particular topic, short articles and snippets of agricultural technology information (with features similar to FFTC's previous technical leaflets), interviews, reviews of agricultural publications, etc. The ERT believes that this form of FFTC Newsletter shall help advance FFTC’s mission to strive for “technology” development in “food and fertilizers”, and raise FFTC’s visibility because of the stakeholders’ participation. The ERT also suggests that FFTC should explore the possibility of gathering information from RSS (Rich Site Summary), and disseminating information coming from FFTC partners and stakeholders.
It has been the practice of FFTC to produce and distribute the soft-cover copies of the workshop proceedings at the start of their workshops. The distribution of these printed proceedings has been quite effective in facilitating the dialogue and interaction in these workshops. After the workshops, the printed proceedings are also made available to the other interested people. The digital form of these proceedings is also uploaded on the FFTC website to cater to a wider audience. However, due to resource and time constraints, there is no opportunity to review and edit the submitted papers for the proceedings before they are published or uploaded in the website. The papers are printed or uploaded as submitted.
To enhance a sense of authority on the subject matter and value of these technical materials as a source of information, it is suggested that FFTC publishes the materials from the workshop proceedings in book form, one or two books annually. The printed book will be a more engaging and accessible source of technical information, especially for those who are actively engaged in research (as indicated in the FFTC online survey). But to ensure the highest quality of the printed books, the book articles should be subject to peer review and technical editing. And to establish FFTC brand recognition, the printed books should have a consistent aesthetic design and layouts, and are registered under the International Standard Book Number.
Website and Database
FFTC has developed its web-based database in 2001 to serve as a tool for communicating information on its activities (organization, service, strategic plans, activities, coming events, etc.), as well as to serve as a repository for information on agriculture. Since then, the database was expanded from a simple listing of publications to a massive repository of information on agri-food issues, innovative and practical technologies, mostly coming from FFTC’s organized workshops and lately, agricultural policies contributed by NARS partners. From 2004 to 2010, the FFTC website registered an impressive performance from 75,896 hits in 2004 to about 9.5 million hits in 2011. From January 1 to December 31, 2014, the website registered 166,655 visits. The recent online survey revealed that nearly 60% of respondents regarded the FFTC website as very relevant to their work. However, with regards to the agricultural policy website, although this has the highest proportion of access with over 1300 registered personal members, sharing with other colleagues of acquired information on agricultural policy is relatively low at about 40%.
Information is uploaded on the FFTC website on an “as is” and “as available” basis, and not benefitting from any external review. The ERT thinks however that effective communication can no longer be seen as information dissemination alone. Communication is two-way process rooted in principles of participation and ownership. Thus, FFTC should have capabilities to communicate the right information to right user at the right time in the right format and in turn enable all its audiences and stakeholders to use FFTC communication system to interact among themselves. There should also be a good repository content management system that is compliant with international standards for sharing with other agricultural databases. Towards this, the ERT would like to suggest that FFTC considers the following recommendations:
- Review of the information needs by conducting outcome and impact assessment of communication products and services to know which products and tools are hitting their targets, how audiences receive them and how their perception of FFTC might be changing, etc.
- Employment of Web 2.0 technologies so as to allow FFTC partners to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators of user-generated content in a virtual community.
- Linkages with other agricultural information repositories maintained by various international and regional organizations so that FFTC database will be accessed by wider audiences. Options are the Agricultural Technology Information Network in Asia, Asia-Pacific Agricultural Research Information System (APARIS), CABI, the Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development (CIARD), AGRIS under the umbrella of CIARD, and other institutional knowledge repositories in the region.
- Applications of open access repository tools such as AgriDrupal for FFTC database content management in compliance with widely adopted library standards, and OAI-PMH (Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting) for an easy access to FFTC's archived database.
- Linkage with the Agricultural Information Management Standards (AIMS), which is a portal with information about and access to standards, technology and good practices; and a forum for connecting information management workers worldwide.
- Establishment of an interactive mechanism where the FFTC database users can provide feedback on the relevance of specific database and offer suggestions for improvement. Alternately, online surveys could be conducted periodically to determine which products and tools are meeting their needs, how audiences receive them and how their perception of FFTC might be changing, etc.
FFTC was established in 1969 as a regional agricultural information center “to promote, among and in the countries of member governments of the center, the exchange and dissemination of technical information and experience on agricultural food production and, in particular, on the use of chemical fertilizers and the adoption of related modern farming methods, so as to achieve an increased output and higher incomes for farmers in the Asian and Pacific region.” The basic premise of this mission statement is still valid to this day. In this regard, the ERT is impressed by FFTC's past and present management teams who have employed various strategies and actions in line with the FFTC mission statement to diffuse proven technologies and appropriate information and knowledge to its NARS partners, thus trickling down to the small-scale farmers in the Asia-Pacific region.
Agriculture however is now faced with several emerging challenges such as food and nutrition security to meet increasing population growth, climate change, land degradation, reduced access to natural resources (including genetic resources), bioenergy demands, transgenics and international trade. Addressing these challenges would require special efforts and investments in the diffusion of new knowledge and proven technology. Agricultural knowledge and technology are crucial in supporting the actors of different levels of the agri-food sector—from farms to tables, from national to regional—to improve rural and urban livelihoods and the environment. Over the past two decades, a shift has also occurred in agricultural policies and strategies from a NARS perspective focuses on the generation of agricultural knowledge and technology to an agricultural knowledge and information system perspective that stresses the actual application of such knowledge throughout the agri-food sector.
With this context, the ERT was commissioned to assess the extent by which FFTC's long-term goals and short-term objectives have been achieved, and identify the areas which need to be improved. Much of the ERT's observations and recommendations are in line with those of the 1992 FFTC external review (Annex 3) and the TAC's biennial meetings from 2006 to 2014 (Annex 4). In addition to the suggestions mentioned in the previous chapters, to best achieve FFTC's long-term goals and short-term objectives on such a broad front, the ERT would like to reiterate the following observations and recommendations.
For agricultural information access, some useful information such as how to analyze symptoms of plant nutrient deficiencies and properly apply fertilizers to remedy the problems in a specific environment can be found scattered in the entire database without any structured format. Moreover, the rapid increase in the amount of information has come to a point that it is more difficult to find the desired information amidst a huge amount of data that is not structured. Consequently, the problem of text mining, i.e. discovering useful knowledge from unstructured text, is becoming an increasingly important aspect of knowledge management.
FFTC has created a bank of documented information on agricultural technologies and policies, which is expanding, through communications, data collection, and workshops in the past four decades. However, it would appear desirable that FFTC move from appearing like an information storage or supply-driven center to being an attractive and vibrant demand-driven source of solutions to major agri-food issues in the Asia-Pacific region. This implies that the proactive search of strategic information and development of explicit knowledge management approach about key constraints will form the basis for coming up with solutions.
Unless transformed into an open format, the documented information would remain untapped and lost to the maze of information. To make the best use of the documented information, however, whatever is stored in this expanding bank of information on selected domains such as soils and fertilizers should be structured, explained, classified and indexed via analytical and critical thinking process. Furthermore, they should be made available to NARS in the region using efficient delivery systems. There are open data for solving problems in agriculture, which FFTC may like to refer to and emulate. To name a couple: “Plantwise” hosted by CABI to deal with plant health issues, and “AgriTrials” hosted by CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security to address drought tolerance, heat stress, etc. Both knowledge tools enable farmers to make critical decisions.
Among its focused areas for diffusion of proven technologies, FFTC may very well face its best funding opportunities in smart use of fertilizers towards a more sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture. Climate change is of great interest in the international community, and FFTC has accumulated a large database related to soils and fertilizers through its four decades of endeavor. Towards this end, FFTC needs to develop its in-house competence in the management of documented soil and fertilizer information, which requires enhancing the professional capacity of its core staff as well as judicious employment of an expert who can support this effort.
FFTC's Strategic Plan for 2012-2016 provides an overall view of the center's direction in response to a changing agri-food environment, while the Strategic Action Plan for 2015-2016 provides a clear portrayal of what FFTC would like to do as well as shows the center's aspiration of thematic activities and desired outcomes. Both plans were the results of the interactions with NARS partners, and endorsed by FFTC's TAC and approved by its Executive Board. These plans would naturally avoid any ad hoc activities and duplication, capture synergies with NARS partners and promote greater efficiency. On the other hand, these plans along with other printed documents would be valuable means of communications with the donors to ensure that FFTC merits their confidence for long-lasting relationships that are mutually beneficial to the center's donors and FFTC.
While the ERT endorses FFTC's aspiration to play an active role in tackling a wide range of technology and policy issues of the agri-food sector as set in these two plans, it cautions that FFTC should not engage in the activities and fields where its effectiveness is compromised by lack of critical mass of expertise, or limited amount of funds. As much as possible, FFTC should lay out its annual work plans with target audience and expected outcomes, budgets and professional staff assignments reflecting what have been articulated in both plans, given available resources.
For the preparation of next five-year strategic plan and two-year action plan, the ERT recommends that FFTC adopts a participatory planning process with the representatives of FFTC member countries and major NARS in the Asia-Pacific region so as to ensure that the plans reflect the changes in the socio-economic scenario, physical environment, IT advancements, and most important of all, the urgent needs of NARS partners. The process involves benchmarking with NARS and other regional forums in order to identify the strategic and realistic areas of focus for FFTC. And for this purpose, two representatives, one decision-maker and one researcher, from each FFTC member country and other NARS could be invited to join in the deliberation and preparation. To save travel costs and stay in touch with partners on a regular basis during the preparation of the plans and for future collaborative activities, FFTC may like to deploy advanced technologies in its conference room for videoconferencing.
The future strategic and action plans, whenever possible, should integrate both workshop activities and knowledge management activities with defined objectives and expected outcomes. This should include also stakeholder mobilization, financial procurement, and proper indicators to monitor the progress of technology diffusion.
An external review (ER) is the periodic assessment of the relevance, performance, efficiency, and impact (both expected and unexpected) of the project in relation to the institution's stated objectives. In this connection, FFTC's last ER was conducted in 1992. The ERT recommends that FFTC conducts ER, ideally once every five years. FFTC's ER could be designed to: 1) provide an objective basis for assessing the performance of programs, projects, and processes in line with strategic and action plans; 2) identify both achievements and obstacles to progress; 3) help provide shared accountability (with FFTC's donors and NARS partners) for the achievement of the center’s objectives; and 4) improve the center's operations by identifying the lessons learned and by making recommendations drawn from ER findings.
If possible, evaluation of the center's performance should be based on outcomes rather than inputs and outputs such as number of activities. It would be desirable to focus on results-based projects that have better chances of generating outcomes through the technology diffusion chain. Important also is the use of appropriate information channels for the dissemination of technical information. And to measure outcomes imply the selection and use of indicators that are based on reliable data, and on the capacity to systematically collect and analyze that information. In this regard, well-designed online surveys and questionnaires that have advanced analysis features can help. Ideally, follow-up online surveys are conducted to measure project outcomes one year after the completion of the project. Among the outcome indicators are the agricultural knowledge service delivery indicators (access, use and satisfaction, and individual, institutional and system responses and durable behavioral changes.
Reflecting the diversity of issues and quantity of activities that FFTC would like to address and carry out, a total of 12 employees (five professional staff, five supporting staff, one part-time consultant and one research assistant) is obviously understaffed despite the competence, motivation and commitment demonstrated by these staff members. To augment this very lean staff of 12, depending on the nature of planned activities, the contract-based experts may be recruited from the Asia-Pacific region to implement specific tasks or assistants hired to backup the present professional staff whenever possible. Also the professional staff should be encouraged to participate in the regional or international meetings of their areas of expertise so as to facilitate future cooperation in project development.
Moreover, considering the ever increasing importance of knowledge management in the agri-food sector, the ERT recommends that a bona fide knowledge and information management officer is recruited to enhance: 1) FFTC’s core competencies in technology information management and effective use of communication mechanisms to generate outcomes along the technology diffusion chain; and 2) FFTC's “technology hunting” mechanism to identify technologies which are beneficial to SSF with capacity for evaluating potentials of mature technologies to be adopted.
With its current staff and resources complement, FFTC has limited capability, even in partnership with its NARS, to fully implement its strategic and action plans. Thus FFTC needs to gradually grow, financially and professionally, to be able to effectively implement its plans. Although FFTC benefits from continuous substantial support from the Council of Agriculture, Taiwan’s Executive Yuan, it is imperative for FFTC to expand and diversify its funding base to strengthen its international image and better serve a wider audience in the region. An essential part of this drive is to bolster FFTC’s core expertise and establish its relations both with funding agencies and NARS partners. In this regard, the ERT encourages the FFTC management with support of the FFTC Executive Board to: 1) undertake efforts to screen and evaluate funding opportunities; 2) have a clearer understanding of priorities of the potential funding agencies; and 3) establish linkages with funding agencies that can provide financial support to FFTC’s outcome-generating projects with provision for budgeting human resource costs.
Where possible, resource mobilization could also be made with FFTC’s NARS partners, should both parties have complementary capacities as well as a mutual willingness to share resource evenhandedly. Either way, FFTC needs to prepare a document that lists all evidence-based outcomes of the center's recent endeavor and proven cost effectiveness of FFTC’s approaches, and brings it along with strategic plan to the potential donors. For a start, FFTC may like to approach two of its former member countries, Australia and New Zealand, for special project support for improving food crop techniques under saline soils in the Pacific island countries, and improving dairy production in South Asia based on the expertise of these two countries.
The relevance of FFTC within the regional effort in "an increased output" in general, and "higher incomes for farmers" in particular, is not in doubt. However, in trying to continuously pursue this effort, it must not lose sight of its clear niche in which it has acquired a unique comparative advantage. Demand for assistance to the large populations of SSF in the Asia-Pacific region will continue for decades to come, leading to the question: will FFTC be able to play the role of providing premier agricultural knowledge in its field – in which its NARS partners look for continued and increased leadership? This depends largely on sustaining the progress in the areas discussed in this report. The ERT is also aware that this will only be possible if FFTC has at its disposal the necessary financial and human resources. FFTC is not unlike any crop plant or livestock animal: if it is to carry out well its multidimensional tasks, it will need sufficient and continued nourishment that enables it to sustain the scope and quality of work that its NARS partners expect.
Moving forward under this circumstance, FFTC needs to strengthen its partnerships with current member countries and NARS in the region while renewing its linkage with its former member countries. Likewise, it should continually seek the support of both international and other national donors, and reap the full benefits of modern information and communication technologies for its efforts in technology diffusion and knowledge management.
Annex 1: Terms of Reference for the External Review
More than 20 years has passed since the first and only FFTC external review was undertaken in 1990. Since then, the rapid change in the international development environment has taken place, and is forcing many countries in the Asia and Pacific region to face various new challenges in agricultural development and food security. In view of this, the FFTC TAC in its biennial meeting in June 2014 recommended that the center conducts another external review to review the center’s programs, and assesses its project activities, outputs and outcomes to identify gaps and areas of improvement.
1. Review the Center’s programs, and assess its project activities, outputs and outcomes.
2. Evaluate the rationale of project activities and assess whether they should be sustained, expanded or discontinued; and
3. Formulate recommendations on what appropriate courses of actions the Center should undertake.
Scope of the Review
The ERT was tasked to undertake a review of the programs of FFTC for the period 2005-2014, specifically:
1. The outcomes of various projects and activities conducted;
2. Appropriateness of information deployment mechanisms that include various types of publications, website, etc.; and
3. Applications of new information technologies and interactive multimedia to possibly improve the Center’s overall performance.
Profile of the ERT Members
Dr. Samson C.S. Tsou, the Team Leader, is the Honorary President of the Taiwan Agricultural Science and Technology Resources Logistics Management Association. He, a biochemist by profession, has served as the Director General of AVRDC-The World Vegetable Center for eight years, and later a three-year stint as its Board Chairperson. As the Deputy Director and then Senior Consultant of the Science and Technology Policy Research and Information Center of Taiwan’s National Applied Research Laboratories, he has undertaken consultancies for various government agencies in Taiwan on the areas of foresight, strategic planning and impact assessment.
Dr. Shuichi Asanuma is a Professor Emeritus of Nagoya University in Japan, and a council member of the Japanese Society for Tropical Agriculture. He, a soil microbiologist by profession, has worked in the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria and Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences, and undertaken consultancies for the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Presently he is a research supervisor of Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) program supported by JICA and Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST).
Dr. Roberto F. Rañola, Jr. is a Professor at the Department of Agricultural Economics, College of Economics and Management, UPLB. He has served as vice chancellor for administration of UPLB, a position he held for six years and as visiting research professor of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto, Japan. He is currently serving as chairman of the board of trustees of the Philippine Association of Agriculturists, the accredited professional organization for licensed agriculturists in the country.
Mr. Ronald Mangubat, the FFTC Information Officer, was acting as a secretariat for the ERT.
Annex 3: Synopsis of the 1992 External Review Recommendations
- Articles of incorporation: It is felt that in their present, original form, the articles of incorporation are too narrowly focused on the use of “chemical” fertilizer. It has therefore been suggested that the purpose or the mandate or the functions of the Center are widened and that the name of FFTC is changed into “Agricultural Development Center.” Though this may not be possible due to legal reasons.
- Change of logo: As most users of FFTC publications seem to remember ASPAC but not FFTC, it is suggested to change the logo, putting the letters FFTC (or ADC) in bold into the center of the logo and have the letters ASPAC in small letters on top.
- Personnel: Considering the work load, the Center is certainly under-staffed. The Center should have one senior staff position for a soil and fertilizer specialist and one for an agronomist.
- Future activities: Regardless whether the Articles of Incorporation and the name of the Center are changed or not, it is strongly suggested that the Center should focus again more sharply on the basics of sustained food production, that is sound soil fertility management and related problems.
Points of Concern
The Center has to be aware of the two contrasting scenarios in its area of operation:
- Japan, Korea and Taiwan, with their highly diversified and industrialized economies, very low population growth rates, and rapidly diminishing needs for increased food production. All three have problems with overproduction of some staple foods and excessive use of fertilizers.
- The developing countries of Southeast Asia, with rapid rates of population growth, shrinking soil resources and a weak industrial base, necessitating an expansion of agriculture, not only to provide adequate food, but also to provide employment. The focus of the Center’s activities should therefore be directed on development of agriculture among its needy Southern neighbors. The suggested overall theme for the next decade is “Sustained Agricultural Development.”
Selection of Topics
- Avoid or minimize duplication of effort by not selecting topics that are mandate of other existing and well-funded institutions in the region (e.g. IRRI, AVRDC, etc.).
- If topics related to rice, vegetables, etc. are chosen, the activity should be coordinated with the respective organization.
- With the dissemination of research findings rather than generation of new research being the mandate of the Center, cooperation with other international, regional, or national institutions should be strengthened.
- Too specialized topics that are not directly related to the mandate of the Center should be avoided.
- Multidisciplinary programs and approaches should be promoted.
- Quality of activities is far more important than quantity.
- More use could be made of outstanding farmers for training and demonstration.
- Project preparation, execution and evaluation should be strengthened.
- Activity should primarily benefit the small farmer.
- Increased efforts should be made to establish good contacts with professional societies in the region (soil science society, crop science society, etc.) and other viable non-governmental organizations.
Soils and Fertilizers
It is suggested that the following topics and subjects are included in future FFTC activities:
- Understanding soil fertility and fertilizers: Creation of a booklet for extension workers, decision makers and farm leaders that explains in simple language the basic concepts of modern soil fertility management for sustained soil productivity. Stress should be on the combined use of organic and inorganic fertilizers rather than one or the other.
- Fertilizer and sustainable agriculture: “Soil building” rather than “soil mining” by means of proper use of fertilizers.
- Fertilizers and the environment: Discussion of positive and negative effects and how negative effects can be avoided and minimized.
- Maximizing fertilizer use efficiency: Importance of proper nutrient balance, combination of organic and inorganic fertilizers, interaction of fertilizers with other factors—variety, spacing, water management, etc.
- Nutrient cycling: The necessity and the limitations.
- Biofertilizers: Their potential and also their limitations.
Annex 4. Summary of the TAC's Recommendations, 2006-2014
The 18th TAC Meeting, 2006
- Set priority-setting mechanism of missions, topics and activities, in consideration of FFTC’s limited financial and human resources;
- Define missions and operational strategy in terms of clear and focused activities and outputs beneficial to small-scale farmers in the region;
- Make representatives of partner countries commit themselves to provide inputs in terms of urgent concerns significant to the agricultural situation in the region.
The 19th TAC Meeting, 2008
- Intensify working with partner institutions in each country in terms of project formulation and identifications.
- Expand partnership and collaboration with other potential research and academic institutions in the region through better communication/information exchange.
- Transform FFTC’s outputs from various activities into usable, practical, retrievable information, in the form of database, where such elements as subject, relevant technology, and experts can be stored and be made readily available to all users in the region.
- Develop and institutionalize an appropriate and systematic mechanism for performance evaluation.
The 20th TAC Meeting, 2010
- Develop programs and strategies on how to better serve small-scale farmers as beneficiaries of scientific and technological advancements in the region;
- Update and revise the current strategic plan;
- Craft new policy and institutional strategies to further strengthen the Center’s international collaboration and partnership with the ASPAC; and
- Adopt the network approach for a kore effective and efficient technology transfer program and activities in the region.
The 21st TAC Meeting, 2012
- Utilize and maximize FFTC’s core strength and competence in information, knowledge and networks;
- Highlight self-sufficiency in the proposed framework;
- Include the themes of “food losses and food wastes” in the proposed section on food safety;
- Consider using ICT and develop online training programs in the FFTC website to the small-scale farmers
- Maximize FFTC’s partnership with NARS country representatives for language translations of its technologies;
- Consider disaster preparedness in agricultural areas as part of its seminar or workshop themes;
- Look for excellent and competent speakers in FFTC seminars and workshops;
- Ensure that FFTC’s workshop topics should always be science based; and
- Translate FFTC’s thematic issues into action issues considering the Center’s limitations of manpower and resources.
The 22nd TAC Meeting, 2014
- Conduct an impact assessment of FFTC programs and activities to identify gaps and areas of improvement.
- Collect knowledge and experiences of member countries on impact evaluation and make this the baseline for FFTC’s impact assessment.
- Develop further a knowledge platform, in collaboration with international organizations for key crops and animals of technologies required for SSF and make this available in usable formats.
- Clarify target beneficiaries and their needs.
- Enhance international young farmers’ exchange programs to expand their vision and thinking.
- Strengthen leverage on international agriculture research centers and member countries for funding and networking.
- Develop activity to celebrate the International Year of Family Farming
- Strengthen the soil and fertilizer components by developing activities anchored on those topics.
- Enhance the consultancy system to improve the impacts of FFTC programs.