Responding to Food Security Challenges: UPLB and DA vs FAW, ASF, and AI

  • Written by  Ana Margarita Palma and Czarlina May Magnata
  • Published in Features

In 2019, the Philippines recorded the first occurrences of Fall Armyworm and African Swine Fever – an insect pest and an animal disease that wiped out some of the country’s maize crops and swine population.

Left alone, these can threaten the country’s food security and the livelihood of Filipino farmers. For this reason, the Department of Agriculture (DA) tapped UPLB’s experts to take action and assist the country in recovering its losses.

Proactive stance against FAW

FAW is an invasive moth that feeds on different crops, such as corn, rice, and sugarcane – the Philippines' most valuable crops. It has spread nationwide since its first infestation on corn fields in Cagayan province last 2019.

Because FAW prefers areas with tropical climate, our country is more prone to its attacks during the dry season. According to the Bureau of Plant and Industry (BPI)-Crop Pest Management Division’s report, FAW feeds on plants as early as its vegetative state. As of December last year, FAW infested more than 2,600 hectares of corn in the country.

Experts from UPLB Institute of Weed Science, Entomology and Plant Pathology, and National Crop Protection Center have been actively working with the DA and BPI to control this invasive pest. Last January, DA consulted these experts for an action plan to control the FAW’s resurgence this summer and lessen its impact to the farmers' livelihood. UPLB immediately took action by establishing a committee to centralize all FAW research and extension activities, provide technical assistance, oversee testing of pest management mechanisms, and conduct awareness campaigns.

Strategies for the mitigation of ASF, AI, and other animal diseases

ASF is a severe and highly contagious disease affecting domestic pigs and wild boars of any age. Mortality rates may be as high as 100%. Although the ASF virus is not transmissible to humans, this is still a major problem for the country’s swine industry as approximately 30% of the swine population in the country has been decimated by the virus. Thirty-seven (37) provinces, mostly from Luzon, are already affected by the virus.

The Avian Influenza (AI) or more commonly known as Bird Flu is another animal disease which is a growing concern in the livestock industry. Although this is not currently as devastating as the ASF virus, AI is a major problem since this virus can be transmitted to humans. Aside from these diseases currently putting our country at risk, there may be existing and emerging diseases which may affect our agricultural sector in the future.

Amid these increasing problems, the Technical Advisory and Working Group (TAWG) on the Surveillance, Diagnosis, Control, and Prevention of the African Swine Fever (ASF), Avian Influenza (AI), and other economically important diseases, chaired by Dr. Jezie Acorda, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, was formed to provide technical support to the DA by pursuing research initiatives, providing technical services, and developing guidelines, policy recommendations, and knowledge materials with regards to the said diseases.

On 09 January 2021, some DA officials met with TAWG members to discuss possible strategies and collaborations that would tackle the problems regarding ASF.

During the said meeting, Dr. Leocaldo Sebastian emphasized key strategies that would address the country’s growing problems on ASF, namely: evaluation of test kits; data analytics to aid decision and policy making; and development of strategies for repopulation.

Additionally, the TAWG identified other possible areas that the group may explore to form a comprehensive program for addressing ASF issues. These include vaccine development, disease surveillance, and strategic communication. Proposals on these areas have been submitted to the DA for possible funding.

The University hopes to provide significant measures to mitigate and control the spread of ASF in the country through the TAWG’s initiatives and proposals. These proposals are also meant to be the starting point for the development of programs and activities for other animal diseases.

With the potential damages that FAW, ASF, and other animal diseases can impact the country’s food security, UPLB will take an active stance through the help of different stakeholders.

After all, “it is apt for UPLB to respond to the challenges faced by the agriculture sector,” as said by Chancellor Jose V. Camacho Jr. whose vision is to future-proof UPLB amidst these uncertain times.

This article was published in RDE Digest Volume 13 No. 1.