• Grahame Dixie, Executive Director, Grow Asia

Grow Asia Learning Alliance: launching the conversation in Manila

MANILA – On 3 May 2018, Grow Asia ran its first Learning Alliance workshop in Manila to explore the potential and need for linking agricultural researchers with agribusinesses in the Philippines.

Our goal for this initial meeting was to understand whether facilitating these kinds of conversations might better enable agribusinesses to reach out to the research community and look to use the new technologies that they are developing. On the other side of the coin, would these linkages better enable researchers to focus their skills, efforts and resources on the real issues and opportunities in the sector?

The workshop convened 13 research institutions, universities and think tanks from across the Philippines – all of which were presented with the opportunity to share their action research programs with the others in the room. What stood out were two things: the diversity of the programs, and that the different groups found the presentation very useful because they learned, often for the first time, the relevant work that each other was doing. In many cases, they had not even met each other before, suggesting that there is likely to be great scope for facilitating conversations between knowledge producers and agribusiness.

Their research programs covered a diverse range of topics, with much of their work being field focused – albeit at a relatively small scales. This included supporting social entrepreneurs; promoting resilient and climate smart agriculture, including vegetable seed selected for compatibility with local conditions; pro-smallholder policy advocacy; promoting calamansi lime production; propagation of sweet jackfruit; seeking ways to identify and manipulate the genes of crop plants to produce chemical-free products; and evaluating the genetic material of elite varieties of cocoa, coffee, and mud crabs.

Their constraints and goals for connecting with agribusinesses were generally aligned. Participants agreed on the need for increased capacity to network with and pitch research ideas to the agribusiness community, the need for funding for their work, and the need for a community of practice. There was also a need for building trust with the agribusiness community, and to feel that their intentions are going beyond making additional profit.

That same evening, the Grow Asia team met with a group of Filipinos interested in agribusiness. This community meets once a month to share ideas on the sector, award prizes for breakthroughs in agribusiness, and arrange part-time courses for young professionals. The group comprises academics, co-operative experts and innovative agribusiness people. They were reminiscent of the meetings of diverse industrialists and thinkers that launched the industrial revolution in England – who met in coffee and chocolate houses to share ideas and innovate collectively. This group promotes an agro-industrial revolution in the Philippines. Underpinning all of its work, however, is the importance of agribusiness as a driver to improve livelihoods in the Philippines rural space.

Looking back on the day, it strikes me that there is a huge amount of potential for leveraging the knowledge and business minds already out there for the benefit of the agriculture sector. Imagine if we can bring the best researchers together with groups of smart, technologically savvy and well-intentioned agribusiness to combine forces.

Next steps for the Grow Asia Learning Alliance

Our goals for the Grow Asia Learning Alliance (GALA) are to foster a collaborative approach to research, increase access to knowledge and facilitate stronger ties between the private sector and research institutes.

This initial workshop was the first step towards Grow Asia establishing a regional network of agricultural researchers and businesses which will allow us to do this. The discussions have helped Grow Asia understand how GALA in the Philippines should be structured and run. This encompassed the vision and mission statement, objectives, and short-term strategy map for GALA – which we hope will provide the other countries we operate in with a blueprint for forming their own.

Establishing a regional network of knowledge producers will allow us to encourage action-focused, impact-oriented research, and ensure it is in the hands of those who can make best use of it.

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