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Author: Dinah T. Cañero, SRS-II, PSTC-Tarlac

The Department of Science and Technology through the Science for Change Program is set to invigorate science, technology, and innovation initiatives in Tarlac province. Two projects with funding assistance amounting to almost P26 million pesos were approved and are now being undertaken by the province’s premier state universities. These are the projects of the Tarlac State University (TSU) under the RD Leadership program entitled: Strengthening Capacity towards Responsive Operation of the Food Technology and Research Center (FTRC) of the Tarlac State University in Bringing the Gaps in Food Technology Research and Commercialization, and the project of the Tarlac Agricultural University (TAU) under the Niche Centers in the Regions for R&D (NICER) program entitled: Sweet Potato R&D Center.

Under the R&D Leadership Program (RDLead), Tarlac State University will move one step closer to being a leading institution in the field of food science and innovation. This is the first RDLead program in Central Luzon. On the other hand, the Tarlac Agricultural University in Camiling seeks to become a leading sweet potato research and development center and to elevate the lowly camote into a major agricultural crop in the country through the NICER Program.

The RDLEAD Program will engage an expert /highly skilled professional with strong leadership, management and innovative policy-making proficiencies to help strengthen the research capabilities of TSU through the conduct of various capacity-building initiatives. This RD Leader will be engaged in the development of the university’s Food Technology and Research Center (FTRC) into a modern hub where food-based innovations can be conceptualized,  tested and later on offered to the industry for commercialization. It will also capacitate the university’s faculty in developing and packaging project proposals for external funding to equip the FTRC with the state- of- the art food technology equipment.

On the otherhand, the NICER program of TAU aims to increase and sustain the sweetpotato production in Central Luzon by optimizing the production of sweetpotato clean planting materials (SPCPM), establishing spatial information for SP insect pest and disease forecasting, and application of integrated crop management technologies for the SP production system.

Though Tarlac is one of the leading producers of sweet potato or camote, the total annual production is threatened by viral diseases and insect pests like weevil.  To address this, the ultimate goal of the TAU NICER program is to enhance the SP-CPM production protocol which is the best way to address the mentioned production problems. Ten (10) known viral diseases affecting SP in the Philippines had been detected following the molecular diagnostics and other indexing protocols, including the use of thermotherapy in the clean-up process. These  will result in the production of clean planting materials of various SP varieties.  Thousands of SP-CPM stem cuttings have been produced and distributed to farmers and five additional varieties of sweet potato have been identified, indexed, and added to the existing varieties produced in the center. These, however, still need certification by the Bureau of Plant Industry upon accreditation of farmer cooperatives engaged in this enterprise.

The studies also include the mapping of suitable areas for SP production in the region using the  Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and insect pests and diseases affecting sweet potato. It is also the objective of the program to diversify the varieties grown in the area by testing the agronomic performance and acceptability of NSIC registered and introduced colored varieties (yellow, orange  and purple) in the lahar and lowland areas of Tarlac and Zambales.

Later, studies will focus on the market, uses and nutritional/antioxidant properties of these varieties. Studies using organic fertilizer and the use of sweetpotato sex pheromone to monitor and manage the occurrence of sweetpotato weevil were done to come up with an ecologically friendly fertilizer and pest management technology. The use of atmometer-based water management is likewise being looked into in both scenarios to alleviate the effect of climate change.  These activities will lead to the development of an Integrated Crop Management for both the lahar and lowland areas of Tarlac and Zambales.

With all these, the program outcomes will highlight sweetpotato as a high value crop, and will develop 50 accredited SP-CPM producers and capacitate 300 students/farmers on SP-CPM and sweetpotato production in the days to come. Ultimately, SP virus incidence will decrease by 50% in Central Luzon, yield and income of farmers will increase by 20% through the use of SP-CPM and Integrated Crop Management technologies, 10% increase in land utilization for SP production (550-600 hectares) will be evident, and this will reduce environmental hazards due to the adoption of precision agriculture and utilization of organic farming inputs.

The RD Lead and NICER programs are two of the components of the Science for Change Program (S4CP) of the DOST. Others are the Collaborative R&D to Leverage PH Economy (CRADLE) and the Business Innovation through S&T (BIST) for Industry programs.

 

Picture from left to right:  Dr. Myrna Mallari (TSU President), Dr. Dennis V. Cantre (UPLB) and Marfy Luta (NRCP) during the ocular inspection on FTRC’s facilities. Photo credit to TSU OPA and OVPRES 

Picture from left to right: Dr. Tessie Navarro (TAU –VP), Dr. Lilibeth Laranang (Director –Rootcrops and Training Center/Program Leader), Dr. Max Guillermo (TAU-President), DOST Usec. Rowena Cristina Guevarra , Dr. Julius Ceasar V. Sicat (Director, DOST 3), Ms. Karen Y. Dañez (Provincial S&T Director-Tarlac) during the project visit and monitoring. Photos credit to TAU

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