To be called progressive, any country must ensure development at the grassroots level, says National Scientist Dr. Lourdes Cruz, echoing the expert opinion of economists.
Following this principle, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) launched its new campaign called AKBAY, or “Agham Para sa Kaunlaran ng Bayan”, to better bring the benefits of science to the country’s poor communities through a set of simple proven technologies. At the helm of AKBAY is the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP), Asia’s pioneer and DOST’s basic sciences research arm which officially launched the program during its 79th anniversary celebration last December in Bicutan, Taguig City.
“AKBAY helps alleviate poverty by offering communities relatively simple, manageable technologies—often locally-developed—that can support food, fuel, and livelihood needs,” says Dr. Cruz, who also currently serves as president of DOST-NRCP.
The country has produced excellent technologies through its research and development (R&D) programs over the years, and engaging poor communities to use these science-based tools has remained a challenge, she added.
AKBAY opened with four select technologies suitable to individual or group of households, namely mushroom culture, worm culture, aquaponics, and biogas production.
Mushroom expert Claro M. Santiago, formerly with DOST’s Industrial Technology Development Institute, led the demonstration of mushroom culture during the launch of AKBAY. Households can grow their own mushrooms through prescribed, relatively uncomplicated methods, he said, using simple ingredients such as discarded or dried banana leaves and rice straw. Upon harvest, the mushrooms can be sold to augment income, or simply eaten, as there are several ways to prepare the nutritious and rather succulent fungi.While he recommends cultivating Volvariella and oyster mushrooms, he alsoassured that the method he prescribes would not spawn other or unwanted types of mushrooms.
Worm culture or Vermiculture
Dr. Rafael Guerrero III, former executive director of DOST’s Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Developmentled the demonstration on proper worm cultivation. Worm culture or ‘vermicomposting’ is not only economical, but is also a safer, sustainable, and more environmentally sound method of fertilizing soil, according to Dr. Guerrero.
Earthworms speed up soil decomposition, and in effect, enhance soiltexture and condition. The resultingnatural compost could substitute for chemical fertilizers, which makes vermicomposting a valuable technique for both farming and simple backyard cropping.
The word “aquaponics” is derived from “aquaculture” which means “raising of fish”, and “hydroponics”, which refers to “planting without soil”. An aquaponics system uses a non-sophisticated contraption or structure that could sustain both fish and plants. The process involves the filtering and recycling of waste water from the fish tank through continuous tubes that pass a long series of plant roots, which by principle “cleanses” the water from impurities that would otherwise pollute the fish tank, resulting to nourished, adequately watered plants and healthy fish culture.
Dr. Chito Sace, aquaponics expert from the Central Luzon State University, said that the technology is suited to raise tilapia, prawns, and other freshwater fish, and grow leaf vegetables like pechay, lettuce, kangkong, and other crops like tomatoes, bell peppers, etc., for food. It is a form of “smart agriculture” because it is virtually self-sustaining and requires minimal space for ordinary backyard setup.
AKBAY’s fourth featured technology is biogas production which involves using organic matter like decaying food, kitchen scraps, animal and human wastes, among others, to produce methane. A combustible or flammable gas used for household heating, cooking and lighting, methane gas is odorless, colorless, and burns with a clear blue flame similar to that of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas).
Technology package for households
“These four were foremost among other well-established technologies we can identify for the AKBAY Program—they complement each other, are manageable, and form an ideal livelihood package”, said Dr. Cruz.
In what way do these technologies work together to form a livelihood package? Simple.
Left-overmushroom beddingsfrom the spent stack of dried banana leaves can be added to enhance earthworm culture. Vermicast from earthworm culture can be extracted with water to produce “vermitea” that can be added to the aquaponics set-up to give the plants additional nutrients and growth hormones—speeding up vegetables’ growth for harvest. Earthworms can be fed tp fish. Effluent from the biogas digester can be used as liquid fertilizer or as a medium for growing Azolla, a high-protein water plant that can be used as supplementary feed for fish in the aquaponics system.
Several high schools and universities in Taguig City and eight barangays, namely, Ibayo, Tipas; Upper, Lower, and New Lower Bicutan; North and South Daang Hari; and Tanyag, were the first to learn about the program’s initial technologies during the launch.
Meanwhile, Dr. Cruz also announced that these featured technologies of AKBAY will be expanded. “During the first half of 2013, we will develop the exhibit in DOST-NRCP as a permanent demo site that can be replicated in different regions or provinces in the Philippines, she said.
Dr. Santiago, also called “Mr. Mushroom Expert”, (far right) demonstrates the proper method of growing mushrooms to Taguig locals. Mushroom culture consists of stacking dried banana leaves and rice straws and evenly placing or sandwiching mushroom spores in the stack. The setup would not spawn unwanted types of mushrooms, he said. (Photo by George Robert Valencia III, S&T Media Service, STII)
Dr. Rafael Guerrero, one of the country’s most prolific vermiculture expert, shows students some earthworms. Vermiculture, or growing earthworms, produces vermicompost, or waste coming from earthworms. Vermicompost is invaluable to planting as it provides excellent, nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. (Photo by George Robert Valencia III, S&T Media Service, STII)
Dr. Chito Sace explains to students how an aquaponics system works. The contraption mainly comprises a freshwater fish tank, leafy vegetables, and tubes that hold a series of plant containers. Waste water from the fish tank cascades down a set of pipes holding a series of leaf plants or vegetables which clean the water. By the time it completes the cycle (back to the fish tank), water is already purified and oxygenated. It is defined as a smart “green technology” as it requires minimal maintenance and is self-sustaining. (Photo by George Robert Valencia III, S&T Media Service, STII)
Agriculturist Porfirio Rodriguez (right) demonstrates the prescribed process for biogas production to efficiently derive fuel for heating, lighting, and cooking from organic sources, including human excrement. (Photo by George Robert Valencia III, S&T Media Service, STII)