PHL tackles food security through UK’s Newton Fund

Rice researchers, scientists and funding partners from the Philippines and the United Kingdom, along with those from China, Thailand and Vietnam, converged early this month at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Los Baños, to collaborate and share issues in sustainable rice production.

Thirteen projects funded through the Newton Fund UK-Philippines-China-Thailand-Vietnam Sustainable Rice Programme presented the current outputs of their research which address real-world problems as varied as lowering the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases for rice consumers, to increasing rice plant drought tolerance.

The three-year research projects began in 2016 and will continue until 2019. The Newton Fund Sustainable Rice Programme showcases an innovative mix of regional and country approaches that aim to help solve core challenges in global food security.

About 60 researchers, joined by representatives from the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and each of the country’s funding partners came together to explore ways to collaborate further, including sharing resources, lessons learned and data that can add value to their current projects and strengthen links with their counterparts from participating countries.

Deputy Ambassador to the Philippines Nigel Boud, in his welcome remarks to the delegates, said: “This is the first regional research program that we are running under the Newton Fund and it brings together countries to collaborate on work that is so important, like the sustainable production of rice. It demonstrates the kind of work that we want to be doing in the Newton Programme in the years ahead.”

Together with Dr. Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general of IRRI, the delegates noted the significance of rice research to the country and the region, noting the importance of rice and the regional collaboration being achieved through the projects.

Of the 13 projects, four involve scientists from the Department of Agriculture (DA)-Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice). Two projects are working on improving the nutritional quality of rice and the other two focus on creating greater resilience of the rice plant to diseases and environmental stresses due to climate change.

One PhilRice researcher involved in the projects, Dr. Riza G. Abilgos-Ramos, said: “Our work will help to provide part of the solution in preventing type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular diseases, by increasing dietary fiber and enhancing rice-grain properties that would help to manage or prevent spikes in blood sugar increase after meals.

“The Newton Fund gives us the chance to do this with experts from different countries and allow us to expand our network in the UK and Southeast Asia.” Ramos is a supervising science research specialist in the Rice Chemistry and Food Science Division of PhilRice. The IRRI visit was highlighted by a tour of the research facilities, group presentations, poster-sharing sessions and clinic sessions.

Representatives from partners DA-PhilRice, Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-Philippine Council for Agriculture Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Science, and Thailand National Science and Technology Development Agency were among the delegates.

The Newton Fund builds scientific and innovation partnerships with 16 partner-countries to support their economic development and social welfare, and to develop their research and innovation capacity for long-term sustainable growth. It has a total UK government investment of £735 million up until 2021, with matched resources from the partner countries.

In the Philippines the program is known as the Newton Agham (Science) Programme to reflect the collaboration between the UK and the Philippines in science, research and innovation.

The UK delivery partners and the UK government, through its embassy, works with Philippine science and innovation institutions and funders, such as the DOST and the Commission on Higher Education, to codevelop and implement program that strengthen science and innovation capacity and create solutions to development challenges in the Philippines and in the region.

– Published in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

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