Ramping up our R&D capabilities

To Take A Stand
Mario Antonio G. Lopez

Posted on February 02, 2016

We need to ramp up the research & development (R&D) capabilities of our government agencies, singly or in consortiums, substantially. We have to get them to collaborate and develop a strategic governance system for national R&D. This ramping up must ensure global competitiveness for our national economy and our education system.

Government leaders have challenged science and technology researchers, especially in the areas of agriculture, aquaculture and natural resources to produce results that impact two goals -- to help “stretch the envelope of knowledge” in our respective fields, and to help make life better for Filipinos by making our products and services globally competitive. The second goal means improving production and productivity, and helping the Filipino diversify his products and services for the global market.

In one of the Manila FAME Exhibitions that showcased the best in Philippine products for export, a big number of a very interested world and local market representatives come to see what we have to offer. Most of the products were gifts, house wares, furniture, jewelry, art objects and the usual range of processed food, incrementally improved.

Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) members attended to listen to a panel discussion that feature two US-based professionals, an architect and an interior designer, discuss their perceptions of our products. They often address the question of what it takes to make a national brand.

If I understood them right,

A brand is a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers,”; and,

A strong brand is invaluable as the battle for customers intensifies day by day. It’s important to spend time investing in researching, defining, and building your brand. After all, your brand is the source of a promise to your consumer. It’s a foundational piece in your marketing communication and one you do not want to be without.

A brand is important because it represents a promise to the persons procuring your product or service. To create that brand, that image, the two panelists said that,

1. Whatever you offer must first be attractive to the market. It is useful, valuable, and therefore desirable to the market;

2. The product or service must represent a quality the market wishes while being distinctly identified with Filipinos and the Philippines;

3. The product or service must be delivered with a consistency, that with every delivery the buyer can expect the same qualities; and,

4. The product must make a difference in the lives of those who avail of the service or use the product.

For our economy to grow, progress and prosper, Filipinos who make a living from or build businesses on agriculture, aquaculture, and natural resources exploitation must create products and provide services that both local and global markets desire. These product or service must offer something distinctly Filipino but of global use. These must delivered in consistent quality and with reliability. Hard work, desire and sincerity are not enough.

Our people worked hard at producing certain products and providing certain services. Our scientists and technologists have worked hard at helping them improve those products and many of the processes involved in producing the products and making the services available. Government has put in place a number of enabling and facilitating mechanisms. Yet, many of our products do not move as much as we want them to. What has been missing?

We need the collaboration of a network. We need the post harvest processors and the ancillary service providers, not just the agricultural; aquaculture and natural resources producers. We need the packaging and transportation people, the distributors and the retailers. We need excellent market researchers.

We need government at all levels of the market value chain, not just at the national level. National government establishes policy and provides the legal framework.

But the real test of government resolve to help business is at the municipalities and the barangay, where “the rubber meets the road,” and where government actions will ensure that the cost of doing business is minimized in more ways than is obvious so that the products our people produce can be distributed and sold competitively, first locally, then globally.

We need research and development, not just the kind our current network of scientists and researchers provide well. We need market research not only on our local markets but global markets. We need the research that will give us more efficient machines and tools to raise productivity from the harvesting to the retailing levels. We need researchers for packaging and food engineering. We need research dictated by market needs.

Let me give you an example from the last contest I was honored to be part of.

There was an excellent research on assaying virus of the abaca plant which would inform planters if a particular virus is present in plants in a plantation before it breaks out into a major blight.

While the research was appreciated by the people who use abaca fiber, they told us that what they really need now is how to make abaca fiber softer and stronger so that they could use it for designing high fashion clothes of distinctly Filipino designs which have become quite a rave in Europe and North America!

As a result of the experience, we encouraged Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD), and it leadership promptly responded, to train its pool of scientists and researchers in business thinking. We just finished training three batches of PCAARRD scientists and researchers from all over the country. It is possible for us to duplicate that training by region or even by province to allow greater focus on specific groups and specific products.

I think local government executives, governors and mayors, can take the initiative by encouraging businesses, not just the local business people but the national business people, to collaborate with regional and local academics and producers in identifying the kinds of products and services that they would need for their businesses; in what qualities and characteristics and in what quantities; they can work out growing and processing schemes to help our local producers ramp up to the levels of production quantities and qualities they require, sharing the risks with them while the small producers are crawling their way towards walking straight and then running fast.

Local government can also ease the burden on our fledgling enterprises by providing incentives such as lowering of fees and the abolition of certain “extraneous charges” -- corruption costs -- that tend to rack up the costs of produce. I believe people here know what I am talking about. The help you give your people will be returned sooner than you think, but way of trust in your administration and support for your initiatives.

In collaboration with national government, local executives can serve as their municipalities’ ambassadors to the outside world, not only for showing of their products, but in identifying partners overseas who will take care of marketing these products and even in investing in these businesses in their municipalities.

Mario Antonio G. Lopez teaches at the Asian Institute of Management and consults for business, government and civil society