Ending hunger in the Philippines is among the aims in the creation of the Niche Centers in the Region for R&D (Nicer) of the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST).

Nicers, which are under the DOST-Science for Change Program (S4CP), enable the regional higher educational institutions to conduct quality research and boost regional economic growth. 

In a recent online symposium, the Nicers focused on food security, such as inland marine and aquatic resources, together with crop and livestock. They presented their latest breakthroughs to contribute to the achievement of zero hunger in the country, S4CP said in a news release. 

“We need to capacitate our regions to be ready for the challenges of the new environment,” said Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña. 

“Food security and safety are two sectors that propel our nation forward. We must invest in R&D [research and development] to end hunger and strengthen our food systems and sustain activities that support regional development,” he added.

Acknowledging the creation of Nicers, Undersecretary for Regional Operations Sancho A. Mabborang said: “The establishment of these Nicers are among the key strategies toward developing a more STI [science, technology and innovation]-driven, sustainable, resilient, and progressive countryside—stimulating the industry sector and contributing toward achieving zero hunger in the near future.”

The Nicer under the Inland Aquatic industry, the Isabela State University in Cagayan Valley Region hosts the Freshwater Fisheries R&D Center. 

The center has successfully increased the average weight of glass eels, or igat, by 204 percent. Their average survival rate also rose from 70 percent to 94 percent and established rearing facilities in 11 municipalities to grow ludong, or lobed-river mullet.

Besides these, it generated employment for the indigenous people, and established the Cagayan Valley Aquaculture Producers Cooperative, which encouraged the community to venture into eel and freshwater fish production. 

Under the Marine Resources industry, the Mindanao State University-Naawan in Northern Mindanao hosts the Sea Cucumber R&D Center. 

The center focuses on two species of sea cucumbers, the white teatfish, Holothuria fuscogilva, and sandfish, Holothuria scabra.

The white teatfish is still in its experimental stages of developing its spawning and larval rearing protocols, and the sandfish is up and running for its production and promotion for farming among community beneficiaries as their source of alternative livelihood.

This Nicer has recorded 58 commercial sea cucumber species across stations in Mindanao, and found that sea cucumber fisheries in sampling sites in Mindanao are generally small-scale involving 700 households with varying gathering methods depending on location and depth.

The Nicer under the Crops industry, the Pampanga State Agricultural University in Central Luzon hosts the Tamarind R&D Center.

This Nicer has increased the areas in Central Luzon planted with tamarind from 187 to 271.5 hectares in two years’ time.

Lastly, under the Livestock industry, the Marinduque State College in Mimaropa hosts the Markaduke R&D Center. 

This Nicer has achieved improvement in the number of piglets weaned from 13 to as high as 18 pigs weaned per sow per year.

It was reported that more genetic improvements are soon to be achieved having found favorable genes for litter size (Estrogen Receptor 1: 17 percent to 36 percent), growth (Myogenin: 14 percent), meat quality (Leptin: 86 percent), and disease resistance (Fucosyltransferase 1: 22 percent to 50 percent).

Its artificial insemination laboratory is equipped with state-of-the-art computer-assisted sperm analyzer to improve the reproductive efficiency of the male breeding pig (boar).

The technology on feeding and husbandry practices are in line with the low-cost, low-input production system to be adaptable and practical under the house-hold farming condition.

With these achievements, the DOST pushes to sustain their efforts by lobbying for the passage of the Science for Change Program bill which seeks to address the disparity in R&D funding in the Regions and lack of R&D in the private sector. 

Once approved, the S4CP bill will promote inclusive, equitable, and sustainable development through the optimal use of the R&D budget equitably and systematically in all regions in the country. 

The S4CP bill also aims to achieve self-reliance in various sectors including the food sector, manufacturing sector and health sector, among others.

“The Nicer program introduced R&D interventions to enhance agricultural yields in the regions to spur economic growth and contribute to food security,” said Undersecretary for R&D Rowena Cristina L. Guevara.

“DOST intends that these Nicers will produce and attract the leading experts in high-impact sectors in support of the creation of regional hubs for the technology transfer and commercialization of R&D outputs,” Guevara added. S&T Media Services

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