Monday, July 10, 2006

Potentials of biopharming

It’s nice to hear that the government, particularly the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Science and Technology, are getting serious about biopharming. They have made the right move; it might just be among the most important things that could really make a difference in our sisyphian struggle for progress, respect, and recognition in the global community of nations.

We are not hyping here. No less than Henry Miller, biotechnology expert and a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Competitive Enterprise Institute would attest to the Philippines potentials in this emerging technology.

Biopharming refers to the use of “gene-splicing” techniques to program common crops plants like rice, corn, and tobacco to synthesize high-value-added pharmaceuticals. Plants are harvested and the drug is then extracted and purified for various applications including vaccines for certain ailments like typhoid fever, rabbies infection, and human immuno deficiency syndrome (HIV) as well as chemicals and lubricants.

In a dialogue with the local media a few months ago, Miller said that the Philippines has the critical mass of scientists and experts to go full blast in biotechnology. The country has actually generated a lot of success stories. One example is the papaya industry that was almost wiped out by the papaya ring spot more than a decade ago. In response, the Filipino genetic engineers responded by developing varieties that are resistant to the disease, thus saving the industry. Currently, we heard that Dr Nina Barzaga, a biochemist from the University of the Philippines Manila has made breakthroughs in developing possible cures and vaccines for typhoid fever, rabbies, and HIV-AIDs.

Recently, the DA has announced the successful production of the “Super Buffalo” through cloning as well as the development of pest-resistant variety of eggplant, better-tasting and faster-growing bangus (milkfish) and tilapia, vitamin enriched rice, and virus-resitant coconut and tomato.

In summary, the Philippines has the “intellectual capital” to succeed in this emerging sunshine industry. The truth is that we could actually be a major biotechnology center in Asia and the world if the country’s leaders in both the private and the public sector could really put their minds into it. Besides possessing the skills and science, the Philippines has the biodiversity, the flora and fauna, that could serve as inputs in biotech processes. All that the country needs is greater resources from the government and the private sector. If only the country’s taipan’s could really cough up more money for biopharming besides their investments in malls and real estate, these taipans might yet propel this country up the ladder of progress.

Remember that the Philippines has already missed the manufacturing revolution. More than 70 percent of the country’s merchandize exports are accounted for by electronics and semiconductors. The country’s services sector is also doing well, thus providing more boost to the country’s gross domestic product.

These industries are providing millions of jobs but by themselves they are not yet strong enough to soak up joblessness in the country. Simple: electronics and semiconductors are highly import-dependent; they don’t have significant linkages with the rest of the economy, thus constraining their job-creating capabilities. Also, jobs in the services sector are urban-based and require highy-skilled professional and technical staff, thus limiting the benefits of the sector’s its impressive growth to the professional and the middle classes. This trend suggests that other sectors, specifically the farm sector, should step up and provide more contributions in terms of value added and the creation of jobs. And what better way to achieve this than a more serious drive for excellence and competitiveness in biotechnology, particularly biopharming?

With biopharming, the country could have two birds in one shot. Surely, a vibrant biopharming industry could mean greater involvement of the rural sector while mobilizing the talents of the country’s pool of scientists.

Time is of the essence here. In the last few years, the Philippines has been suffering from the diaspora of skilled professionals including scientists. We have seen the hemorrhage nurses, doctors, doctors who became nurses, engineers, information technology professionals, pilots, aircraft mechanics, geologist, and accountants. If the country’s leaders from both the government and the private sector could take advantage of this opportunity, the country’s scientists may eventually leave especially if they have started to feel the absence of worthwhile biotech projects to work on. China, India, Singapore, Europe, and United States are scrambling on their feet to jumpstart their own biotech industries. Sooner or later, these countries will just harvest our local scientific talent pool if local scientists are not put to productive and rewarding use within the country.


Deany Bocobo said...

I wonder how long it will be before Obet Verzola and the Philippine Vegetables, err Greens, go on hunger strike again against the Frankenfoods and GMOs? The last time they did it, they had to quit and admit it was because of ... hunger!

Dave Llorito said...

ha ha ha. that's funny. indeed the resistant against biotech has become ridiculous.