2 Launchings, 2 Models, 2 Tactics
L-R: Miriam Pascua partly hidden (MMSU President), Mariz Agbon (DA Undersecretary), Belum Reddy (ICRISAT Scientist), Teodoro Solsoloy (BAR Assistant Director), William Medrano (CHEd Executive Director), Joy Eusebio (PCARRD Crops Director), Santiago Obien (BAR consultant). Dark shirt, Pat Faylon (PCARRD Executive Director).
Outside the auditorium, the scenery was drab; inside, the scene was subdued. Nothing unexpected was expected within those old walls. Even humor seemed out of place.
Early this week, some 250 delegates from the countryside and the cities were in attendance that first day of a national conference set March 12-14 in the City of Batac in northern Philippines, and the first thing MMSU Professor and Emcee Josie Domingo said was, ‘Ladies & gentlemen, we’re making history!’ Far at the back of the PhilRice-NTA auditorium, I heard her loud and clear. I also noticed nobody did clap. I didn’t. It seemed a hyperbole worth not a laugh but a cold shoulder.
I said nobody noticed. We were about to launch the Grey-to-Green (G2G) Revolution in the country and nobody was excited. I wasn’t. It must be that history is in the head, not in the eyes. History is not in the sight but in the foresight, more in the hindsight. You don’t see history – you view history. You don’t take a photograph of history with a flash bulb but with a flash of insight. Later, not sooner.
Or perhaps the delegates were (I know I was) thinking about the 15th of March, the day after the conference, the ides of March, the day Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was assassinated, ‘a day of infamy’ (Jennifer Vernon, 2004, nationalgeographic.com). Would the first days of the launching prove to be in fact the last days of the National Sweet Sorghum Program of the Philippines, as in the case of the imperious Caesar who was slain by those who called themselves ‘the liberators’? Perhaps, as when you wake up to reality, sweet dreams must die.
Today, March 15, the ides of March, as I begin to write this, I realize we were making history, even if nobody else noticed. We were in fact launching a Revolution, even if nobody called it that – and with a crop hardly anyone talked about in the Philippines until last year. And the place where the unofficial declaration of the Revolution was made was as unpromising as can be: It is the auditorium of the complex that houses one of the stations of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) as well as accommodates the National Tobacco Administration (NTA), and it is located within the campus of the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU). When you declare a sweet sorghum revolt in the land of rice and tobacco, what do you expect? I can imagine blank stares and empty thoughts.
Most of the delegates had been to conferences before. Officially titled ‘First National Sweet Sorghum RD&E Review and Planning Conference’ – where R is research, D is development and E is extension – the Batac conference was sponsored by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR), Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (DoST-PCARRD), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), and MMSU. That was a motley group that seemed unlikely to agree on one agenda, much less a modern-day Revolution.
ICRISAT scientist Belum Reddy came for ICRISAT Director General William Dar. CHEd Executive Director William Medrano was in attendance. And so were Executive Director Pat Faylon and Crops Director Joy Eusebio, both of PCARRD. MMSU President Miriam Pascua was there. Provincial Agriculturist Norma Lagmay came for Ilocos Norte Governor Michael Keon. As National Team Leader for Sweet Sorghum as well as MMSU VP for Planning & External Linkages, Heraldo Layaoen was in effect directing the whole show. DA-BAR Assistant Director Teodoro Solsoloy attended for Director Nicomedes Eleazar. DA-BAR Consultant Santiago Obien came, being the brains behind the conference. I came with the brains.
Have you ever heard of a revolt launched with so many distinguished individuals armed only with seeds of an undistinguished crop foreign to a country? Sweet sorghum was going to change the lives not only of the Ilocanos in the Ilocos Region but other Filipinos in the quiet countryside as well as the noisy cities of the Philippines. The City of Batac was silently challenging Imperial Manila, raucous as ever, to behave intelligently. Cities now in competition, the crop of Manila was sour grapes; the crop of Batac was sweet sorghum.
I heard the Father of ICRISAT’s sweet sorghum Belum Reddy call it the ‘Wonder Crop.’ ICRISAT Director General William Dar already calls it a ‘Smart Crop.’ I shall now call it the ‘Sweetheart Crop.’ We are referring to the same species: sweet sorghum. A witness to history made this week, I assure you Miracle Rice was never as good as this.
Yes, Miracle Rice happened in the Philippines, in the municipality of Los Baños, Laguna. And yes, the Sweetheart Crop happened in the Philippines, in the City of Batac, Ilocos Norte, at the campus of the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU). Miracle Rice gave birth to the Green Revolution in Asia; it was wrought by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The Sweetheart Crop is giving rise to the Grey-to-Green Revolution declared by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). The Green Revolution happened in the time of President Ferdinand E Marcos, the Grey-to-Green Revolution is happening in his birthplace. Another heroism, another time.
At the city plaza is a huge sign that says, ‘Batac, Home of Great Leaders.’ A leader is an initiator, a guide, an inspirer, a commander all rolled into one. Ferdinand Marcos was one; I call him the Benevolent Dictator. During his presidency, inside what he called The New Revolution: Democracy, science flowered in the Philippines. I know that personally: I worked as the Chief Information Officer of the Forest Research Institute, which he created by presidential fiat; he created many others, including the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) and of course the MMSU, which he named after his father. Gregorio Aglipay was another great Bataqueño; he was a Catholic priest who joined the revolutionary movement called the Katipunan (Society) against the Spanish colonizers. Katipunan General Artemio Ricarte was yet another; when everybody had been stilled or stopped, he never quit, fighting the American invaders until he was captured. And in contemporary times, Santiago Obien built the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) from scratch paper in the 1980s to a world-class institution in the 1990s that Asian governments have come to respect and IRRI has come to recognize as a rice force by itself. In achieving such a feat, Obien almost single-handedly elevated rice science management in the Philippines. Batac should be prouder still.
If you visit the Ilocos Region in March, you will note that almost all of it is dry, drab, grey. The soils are poor in health and starved of moisture. They have been in such a poor state for ages. They are perfect for what I now refer to as the official launching of the Grey-to-Green (G2G) Revolution in the Philippines. Sweet sorghum is perfect if you want to go from grey to green because this crop has multiple uses (see my ‘The Smart Revolution,’ frankahilario.com) and it thrives even on impoverished soil, which makes it indispensable in greening the earth to mitigate climate change. With sweet sorghum, you grow your crop, you replenish the earth.
In fact, the G2G Revolution was born and raised in Patancheru, India, within the campus of ICRISAT, with William Dar as Captain of Team ICRISAT (see also my ‘Al Gore Of Science, frankahilario.com). Sweet sorghum coming to the Philippines is like William Dar coming home to Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur. In 2000, Dar became the first Filipino (and the first and only Asian) to be the leader of ICRISAT, one of 15 centers for agricultural research that the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) advocates for and administers. Belum Reddy is the Principal Scientist on Sorghum Breeding of ICRISAT; with the innovative leadership of William Dar, Team ICRISAT has successfully diffused the technology to a private investor so that now thousands of Indian farmers are growing sweet sorghum canes for Rusni Distillery (see my ‘To Harvest The Sun,’ frankahilario.com), and everyone is harvesting from inspired inputs and learned labors. Science with a human face.
News on the successful Rusni-Team ICRISAT virtual partnership reached the Philippines last year; subsequently, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and even President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had been enthused into advocating sweet sorghum as the source of bioethanol as gasoline substitute for Philippine vehicles to help mitigate global warming. (See also my ‘GMA’s Indian Summer,’ frankahilario.com).
Now then, the G2G Revolution has crossed the seas and landed on our shores. This is the story so far, as I can see it in Numbers:
2 Launchings, 1 Program
2 Models, 1 Resource
2 Tactics, 1 Revolution.
2 Launchings, 1 Program
On March 12, Wednesday, within the PhilRice-NTA complex at the MMSU campus, Philippine Agriculture Secretary Arthur C Yap officially launched the sweet sorghum bioethanol program of the Philippines through his Undersecretary Mariz Agbon. My photo shows officials witnessing the ritual of crushing sweet sorghum canes using a big crusher run by a big tractor. The crusher used in the MMSU demo is in fact calibrated for sugarcane stalks, which are thicker than sweet sorghum; this inappropriate technology results in a lower extraction efficiency for sweet sorghum – not enough of the juice is pressed out by the rollers because their clearance is designed for thicker canes. Sammy Franco, Team Leader of the MMSU Sweet Sorghum Project, and who happens to be an engineer, now has a design of a new crusher in mind.
On March 13, Thursday, in the village called Bungon just outside the city proper of Batac, the same sweet sorghum bioethanol program of the Philippines was launched through former Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Montemayor, in his capacity as President of the Federation of Free Farmers of the Philippines, as they are interested in the village-level potentials of sweet sorghum. The crusher used in the Bungon demo is a smaller version of the MMSU crusher and also imported. When the delegates arrived at Bungon, the farmers were already cooking the juice from some sweet sorghum stalks they had earlier crushed. I dipped the makeshift bamboo ladle into the vat, waited for the liquid that stuck at the end to solidify and bit the deep brown substance – that was sweet. In fact, it was sweeter than sugar because I happen to believe that sweet sorghum is more fit as a farmer’s crop than sugarcane.
I attended both occasions mentioned above; the details are correct; my story is right: 1 program, 2 launchings. To understand how that could be right, read on.
2 Models, 1 Resource
History was indeed made last week in the unpretentious little City of Batac in northern Philippines with an exotic crop the scientists love to call Sorghum bicolor. The name of the species, bicolor, literally means two colors, referring to the colors of the grains of cultivars that range from pale yellow to dark brown (plantzafrica.com). That history made comprised these launchings:
(1) The sweet sorghum distillery model was launched, a pioneer in the Philippines.
(2) The sweet sorghum village model was launched, also a pioneer in the country.
With those launchings, the whole 3-day conference was intended to launch the sweet sorghum program for the Philippines, and that is exactly what happened.
The distillery model was the one launched at the campus of MMSU with Undersecretary Mariz Agbon representing Secretary Arthur Yap. This model could be like the one Rusni Distillery has put up in India in collaboration with Team ICRISAT. The crusher will be producing ethanol in large scale. The theme adopted for the Batac conference emphasized the big-scale model: ‘Synergizing linkages for a commercially viable and sustainable bioethanol industry in the Philippines.’ Big is beautiful.
The village model was the one launched at the village of Bungon within the city limits of Batac. Farmers own the crusher, and they would be turning the sweet sorghum juice not into ethanol but into jaggery for sale as well as for products that the markets of food, feed, forage, fuel and fertilizer would demand in small to medium scale. The theme adopted neither mentions nor implies village-scale sweet sorghum-based income generators, but these did come up during the conference anyway, as they should. This crop is for both gas and cash. Sweet sorghum is for the capitalist with his ethanol distillery as well as for the small farmers with their village-level multiple products. Small is beautiful.
2 Tactics, 1 Revolution
The owners of the big distillery can take care of themselves, either supplying or accessing capital for the enterprise; but they still have to be convinced that sweet sorghum is worth the financial risk. The village model is designed for small farmers who need to pool their resources so that together they can have access to capital as well as management skills. One tactic they can employ is first to form a cooperative; as a matter of fact, the Bungon farmers have already done that, as the village head told us during the Bungon launching.
The distillery model makes sweet sorghum a capitalist crop, the capitalist with his big dreams. The village model makes sweet sorghum a farmer’s crop, the farmer with sweet dreams.
In June last year, I called sweet sorghum ‘a rich man’s choice of a poor man’s crop’ (see my ‘ICRISAT & The Profits Of Boom,’ frankahilario.com). Along the same lines, now I’m thinking of these creative areas as my reason for calling sweet sorghum a Sweetheart Crop for the big businessman as well as the small farmer:
(1) distillery for bioethanol and by-products of processing
(2) jaggery for sweet products
(3) grains for feeds, forage or foods
(4) bagasse for fuel or organic fertilizer.
On the second day, participants were divided into separate workshop sessions. I joined the Information, Education & Communication (IEC) group; with my friend Rudy Fernandez, we had 2 writers. Josie, yesterday’s announcer of making history, was with us. With her firm but gentle guidance, we agreed that IEC was a small part of a bigger thing we could conveniently call Social Mobilization, which was composed of 5 parts: Advocacy, Networking, Community Organizing, Capability Building, with IEC in the middle connecting people (with apologies to Nokia), tying up everything. That to me was a minor achievement. We of the IEC did not look up to ourselves, did not assume that we were entitled to a separate agenda.
It was Josie Domingo who gave our session’s report, as our Chair Marlowe Aquino had left for abroad. She was too serious for me. If I had made the report, because we would report last, I would have joked:
I admire all of the previous groups’ reports. They were all excellent. But, you know, as good as you are, we IEC people will cover all of you. (Pause.) We will all be on top of all of you! I hope you’ll like it.
The ides of March for sweet sorghum? Close, but not quite. Plainly, communication was a problem during the Batac conference; problems with people, places, procedures and practices were noted and may remain for some time. Nonetheless, I have faith that the G2G Revolution in the Philippines, as initiated by Team ICRISAT led by William Dar in India and MMSU led by Heraldo Layaoen in Ilocos Norte, will succeed. In fact, Team ICRISAT is looking at the Philippine program as the Asian model for fuel – bioethanol for cars and trucks. And I, the eternal optimist, am looking at the Philippine program more than the Asian model for fuel – for the distillery and for the homes; it is The Sweetheart Species, the F5 crop: food, feed, forage, fuel and fertilizer. (To differentiate: Grains as component in the ration make feed; grains given as they come make forage). Thus, I see that sweet sorghum is on top of American corn (also F5 but is quite more expensive, as it has to be imported), and sweet sorghum is above Brazilian sugarcane (only F3 – cannot provide feed, cannot provide forage; even as food it is limited, as it has no grains).
We thank the advocates and the organizers for our participation in a historic event. As Belum Reddy repeatedly said, we thank William Dar above all for his vision, leadership, inspiration, including his instructions. We must remember to thank also the MMSU Nasudi Cultural Troupe for entertaining the delegates during the conference. They provided some refreshing moments and highlighted the talents of the students of MMSU as well as their mentors. I heard that just recently, a Nasudi member placed 1st runner-up in a national TV show open dance contest and I read that MMSU students placed 1st runner-up in the national cheerleading open competition. There is talent in dem dar hills!
Thinking along these lines, I can see in my mind’s eye that in the global challenge called climate change, rising above all will be sweet sorghum, the champion.