“First of its kind in the Philippines!” Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara, undersecretary for Research and Development (R&D) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), gave this description to a nursery for indigenous and endemic plants soon to rise within the campus of the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) in Quezon City.
It’s worth P128-million, she revealed, for R&D, and without counting the building where it will be housed. Funding for the state-of-the-art “stand-alone small farm” comes from the DOST’s Innovation Council, or the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD), she added.
“The first R&D project that will be housed in the nursery is the Small Plant Production in Controlled Environments (SPICE) Project, a collaboration between the Institute of Biology (UP IB) and the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute (UP EEEI),” said Guevara, emphasizing DOST-PCIEERD’s support.
She told this journalist the P128-million funding is for three years, with P80 million on Year 1, all from PCIEERD, to conduct the R&D. Guevara said the cost of the building will be shouldered by the UP administration, and separate from the R&D budget.
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She feels confident the R&D facility will blaze the trail for the future. “This P128-million pioneering research will be a game-changer — promoting urban farming and high technology plant conservation. Modern farming methods such as vertical farming, micro-propagation, cryo-preservation, and hydroponics will be practiced in this nursery to grow native plants in an environment wherein climate, lighting, and irrigation system can be monitored, controlled, and changed real-time through the use of electronics, sensors, and automation,” Guevara, a former PCIEERD executive director, said.
She cited the project’s vital role in contributing to the protection of the country’s rich biodiversity of almost 14,000 species of plants. Half of the said plant species can be found only in the Philippines, she pointed out. “Project SPICE safeguards the balance of our ecosystems, and an instantiation of DOST’s strategy, Science for the People (SFTP).”
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Incidentally, SFTP also matches the acronym for “Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña” who is the head of DOST. Guevara believes the technologies will ensure the efficient production of crops at the same time introduce a new way of how farming is done.
The DOST official recalled that 1968 NSDB (the present DOST) scholar National Scientist and Professor Emeritus Dr. Edgardo D. Gomez of the UP Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) led a team in 2016 that initially conceptualized the nursery.
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On the other hand, Dr. Perry S. Ong of the UPD College of Science is leading the project. DOST-PCIEERD approved the project in 2017 during the term of its former executive director, Dr. Carlos Primo David, now back with the private sector.
Meanwhile, behind the high technology nursery project is a high-powered R&D team comprised of Dr. Carl Michael F. Odulio and Dr. Marc Rosales from UP EEEI and Dr. Jessica Domingo-Rey and Dr. Edwino Fernando from UP IB. Apparently, the government is reaping the fruits of its scholarship programs being implemented by DOST’s Science Education Institute (SEI) as Odulio, Rosales, and Domingo-Rey were scholars of DOST; Guevara herself was a DOST scholar.
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The graduates are giving back to the nation. Guevara on her Facebook update said DOST and UP held the groundbreaking rites on March 2 of the nursery project led by the Director of UP IB Ernelea Cao, with participation of UP EEEI Director Dr Richard Hizon.