The first regional scientific symposium for northern Philippines initiated by the Outstanding Young Scientists, Inc. (OYSI) was held recently at Benguet State University, La Trinidad, Benguet Province from April 20-21, 2009. OYSI is a registered group of young scientists-awardees of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST). With the theme – Global Environmental Changes and Local Challenges- the two-day scientific meeting of young Filipino scientists with researchers and scientists from the northern part of the country the forum discussed the global environmental changes including climate change as these relate to local issues. Specifically, the meeting was convened with the following objectives, namely: (i) to discuss the priority issues and concerns on the environmental changes affecting the local vegetable industry; and (ii) to identify possible collaborative activities such as regional training for capacity development, joint research projects, and technical assistance needs to address the priority issues and challenges.

A select group of distinguished Filipino international, national and local researchers participated in the regional symposium by presenting scientific paper on the theme. Dr. William D. Dar, Director General of the India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) gave the keynote speech where he talked abbout global challenges concerning food security. Dr. Dar urged everybody to work towards achieving the status of being a food-secured nation in order to competitive in the global arena. He suggested ways on how to build a resilient food system like promoting pro-poor agricultural growth, reducing extreme market volatility, and expanding social protection and child nutrition action in support of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Dr Segmund Serrano, Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture, urged for everyone to be vigilant of the decisions made by the government in relation to agriculture. He also talked about investing in agricultural infrastructures for long-term effects and sustainability in food security.

On the other hand, Dr Antonio C Laurena, a Research Professor of the Institute of Plant Breeding in the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), and Dr Miriam E Pascua, President of Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU), presented what the two institutions have been doing to alleviate problems in food scarcity. Moreover, Dr Jinky Lu, a Research Professor of the National Institute of Health in the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM) talked about pesticide residues and related health problems affecting the vegetable industry stakeholders of Benguet. Meanwhile, Dr Conrad Balatero, Research and Development Manager of the East-West Seeds based in Bulacan, discussed the contribution of the private sector to the vegetable industry. Dr Carlito P Laurean, Director of Research at the Benguet State University, presented a similar study on toxic wastes in Benguet. Ms Linda Picpican of DOST CAR outlined the initiatives undertaken by the institution to help the people of the province and the nearby localities. Governor Nestor Fongwan of the Province of Benguet discussed the issues affecting the livelihood of the people of Benguet and the initiatives the local government have undertaken to address the issues.

Symposium participants were able to identify the weaknesses and strengths of research, science and technology programs in the region as well as prioritized the environmental issues, the research and development gaps, and the imperatives for local action. Priority challenges include, among others, soil nutrient and water resource depletion, water scarcity, inadequate post-harvest technologies, increased use of highly toxic chemical pesticides due to higher pest incidence, scheduling of crop supply with the demand due to climatic variability, and lack of public education on proper use of pesticides and fertilizers and its effect on human health and environment. It was also noted that there is lack of awareness on safe and responsible use and benefits of modern biotechnology, and the weak interaction among various sections/stakeholders (e.g. local governments, government agencies, the academe, and private sector groups).

Research gaps and information needs identified include the lack of information on the use of inorganic, organic and mineral fertilizers in several crops, fragmented empirical data on pesticide and toxic waste hazards on vegetables, and the nutrient management needs in some crops. It was also noted that there is need to identify potential sources of mineral fertilizers, need for wider and laymanized dissemination of research results to end-users especially the human health aspects and environmental effects of pesticide residues in vegetables.

The regional forum also listed down some priority local actions and initiatives to be undertaken. These include the promotion of good farming practices on vegetable production, nutrient management, and integrated pest management, water resources use and management, and also the synchronization of crop production with the demand for agricultural products considering the prices and also climate variability. Active and sustained multi-stakeholder collaboration is also noted particularly in information sharing, technical training, and appropriate technology dissemination. Consequently, as follow up activities to the regional symposium, OYSI together with other stakeholders in northern Philippines including the state colleges and universities, research and development agencies, the local government are drafting plan and programs to implement the identified priority activities. In addition, OYSI plans to hold a similar symposium focused on aquaculture and fisheries in late 2009 in southern Philippines.