MANILA— Philippine agricultural workers have concluded training under a P1.1-billion program funded by the United States that aims to immediately detect and fight emergent agricultural diseases in the future, the US Embassy said on Thursday.
In a statement, the embassy said the 5-year project with the Philippines seeks to ramp up the country’s disease surveillance capacity and response, laboratory security, and “biological threat reduction capacity.”
This includes early detection and observation for the local presence of bird flu and the African swine fever (ASF).
The country is currently reeling from the loss of agricultural production due to ASF, prompting an increase in the price of pork due to limited supply.
“These labs are a central line of defense against dangerous pathogens affecting agriculture, including those with potential to affect humans,” the statement read.
The US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) collaborated for the project.
Aside from this, the two agencies were able to renovate 7 Regional Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratories nationwide under the project, the statement read.
The DA explained separately in its website that such laboratories are relevant to detect major animal diseases, outbreaks, and provide tests, surveillance, and training for veterinary clinicians.
Program chief Dr. Ada Bacetty praised the project for its contribution to the country’s agricultural sector.
“We are proud of the work this partnership has achieved since 2016 to strengthen the Philippines’ capacity and capability to detect, diagnose, and report dangerous pathogens... Now that the Philippine government is operating these labs at full capacity, we look forward to the next opportunity to work with [the country]” Bacetty was quoted as saying.
Her counterpart, Agriculture Undersecretary William Medrano said the goals of the biosafety and security project were fulfilled.
“We were able to modernize some laboratories and we were able to institutionalize quality management, which is very important when you manage laboratories,” he said.
The project also provided training to the Regional Institute of Tropical Medicine through equipment fielding, according to the embassy.
The Philippines is among the world's biggest meat importers and consumers, with chicken, pork and beef all a mainstay in the Filipino diet.
Avian flu outbreaks are a recurring concern for the agriculture department and the local poultry industry, having recorded outbreaks in 2017 and 2018.
Philippine pork production, meanwhile, was estimated to have dropped 20 percent last year as the highly infectious ASF prompted the culling of more than 300,000 pigs, or about 3 percent of the hog population, based on government data.
Aside from increasing pork imports, the government is embarking on a massive pig re-population program to boost domestic meat supply.