TAU- DRD in the New Normal: Coping, Surviving, Thriving

By: Leslie C. Lopez

Tarlac Agricultural University 

Excellence. Integrity. Service: these are the three core values that serve as the moral compass and representations of all that Tarlac Agricultural University stands for and consistently endeavor to embody, notwithstanding the challenges brought about by the calamitous event, COVID-19.

Evidently, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only claimed millions of lives but has also drastically changed the “normal” way we navigate through life. It has turned our lives upside down and left us groping for ways to cope and survive.

 

People, various institutions, and industries alike are all forced to realign, reimagine, revitalize, and remediate their plans, programs, thrusts, priorities, and strategies not only to curb the overwhelming negative impact of the pandemic, but also, and more importantly, successfully thrive in the “new” normal.

In the Tarlac Agricultural University, the pandemic has greatly affected its normal delivery of services including the areas of research and development. Delayed implementation of ongoing research studies, data gathering concerns, conduct of capability enhancement training, and completion of ongoing studies within the time frame, are just few of the salient challenges TAU-Department of Research and Development (TAU-DRD) has to overcome in the face of the pandemic, not to mention the additional problematic areas to be addressed such as the impact of COVID-19.

Thus, in response to the remediation and reimagining of plans and strategies in order to cope with the needs of the current time, the TAU-DRD rigorously endeavors to devise ways, mechanisms, and strategies to surmount these challenges.

Change of Communication Modality

First of these coping mechanisms is the shift in modality from face-to-face mode to computer-mediated communications (technology-based). Technology has become the primary ally of academic institutions to continuously deliver its services. Face-to-face meetings, information dissemination, and strategic planning have been transported from the four corners of the meeting venues, to the four corners of the computer screen. Almost all of the operations and activities of the DRD are communicated online. In fact, group chats are created for a prompt dissemination of advisories and announcements; meetings and consultations are held via zoom (or Google Meet); and meetings of college research coordinators and other stakeholders are all done virtually. Other important matters such as the re-calibration of the Five-Year Research Strategic Plan (2021-2025), the review of the TAU Research Agenda, and MOU /MOA signing between TAU and funding agencies were also conducted online.

Capability Enhancement Training & In-House Review

No pandemic could ever hinder TAU-DRD in providing capability enhancement programs that would further capacitate faculty members in doing research. Relative to this, workshops and training are also conducted through webinars and webinar series. Just recently, the TAU-DRD conducted a three-day capability enhancement webinar series on Writing Research Proposals for Funding and Collaboration which was actively participated in by the faculty members of the University.

Moreover, despite the limitations posed by the pandemic, TAU-DRD was able to successfully conduct its first ever online Agency In-house Review of the Completed and Ongoing Research and Development Projects which was graced by luminaries in the field of research and development. Completed and ongoing research projects in Research, Development, and Social Science categories were presented and scrutinized for refinement, an annual research and development activity by the TAU-DRD.

Strategic Planning Development

Dr. Maria. Elena T. Caguioa, the visionary and hands-on director of the Research and Development Department, spearheaded strategic planning workshops online in order to recalibrate the TAU RDE Agenda to be more responsive to the effects and impact of the COVID-19. Strategic Planning allows for more streamlined strategies and direction in keeping with the relevant concerns and the needs of time.

In effect, studies zeroing in on mental health, exploration of the effectiveness of blended/flexible learning, sustainable and smart agriculture, climate-proof and nature-inclusive farming, and market and entrepreneurial studies to boost economic and business enterprises are just some of the areas of inquiry added to the current RDE Agenda of TAU. One particular project by the TAU- Department of Psychology titled “A Mental Health Program for the Students of Tarlac Agricultural University: A Response to the Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic” was approved for internal funding by the DRD. This is in recognition of the role of the academe as an ally of the government in providing research-based evidence for policy making to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

The Department also conducts a quarterly meeting with the research coordinators in each college via online in order to closely monitor the progress of each faculty member’s research engagements. Further, such meetings are also conducted to check the accomplishments against the targets in the Strategic Plan and Department Performance Commitment Review (DPCR). Through this frequent monitoring, the conduct of ongoing research projects is likewise updated regularly. This addresses the problem of some delayed project implementation and unfinished studies/projects within the allotted time frame.

Health Standards and Safety Protocols

TAU is one with the government in fighting against and containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Thus, in compliance with the standard health protocols, the TAU-DRD devised a strategy that would still enable the continuous implementation of the research and development projects while assuring the safety of the researchers and the stakeholders. Before entering the research premises, the collaborative members of the research projects must comply with the safety protocols and requirements set by the TAU Anti-COVID 19 Task Force Triage. This includes scheduling their research visits, proper sanitation of hands and shoes, wearing of complete protection gears such as masks and face shields, and undergoing temperature check.

Ongoing Research Projects Responsive to the Needs of Time

Now more than ever, the role of research and development to propel forward technological advancements and engender prompt solutions to the needs of the community, the country, and the world over has never been immensely emphasized and acknowledged. TAU-DRD unfailingly strives to do its crucial role in nation-building through research, especially amidst the impact of the COVID-19.

Despite the pandemic, several ongoing research projects and programs are still in place and are still being conducted. TAU continues to collaborate with government agencies for fund generations to successfully implement its programs and projects.  One of these programs is the “Sweetpotato R&D Center in Central Luzon”. TAU is known to be the Sweetpotato center in the region. This program, which is funded under the NICER project, is currently implementing its project titled “Establishment of Spatial Information for Sweetpotato Production in Central Luzon.” The activities under this project were implemented following the standard health protocol. Focus Group Discussions as well as other meetings were done virtually, and Training on UAV Operation, Software Processing and Basic Tool Troubleshooting was attended by the researchers with strict compliance with the protocols. 

Capturing UAV and Spectral images of Sweetpotato Production in Tarlac and Zambales

 

Training on UAV Operation, Software Processing and Basic Tool Troubleshooting on May 18-20, 2021 in Department of Crop Protection - College of Agriculture, CLSU, City of Munoz, Nueva Ecija

Another ongoing research project is “Transforming Backyard Chicken Production into a Viable Enterprise” which aims to make small to medium enterprise doable through simple technologiesand establish the market on chicken products thru partnership with the industry for potential commercialization that in turn may increase the income of farmers especially now in the time of crisis. This project is in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture- Bureau of Agricultural Research.

Seminars and inspecting the sites were conducted by the project leader, Dr. Ma. Asuncion Beltran, VP-RET, together with the project members, observing social distancing and other health protocols. 

Dr. Ma. Asuncion G. Beltran discussed with the beneficiaries of the NAMAAT Cooperative of the research project: Transforming of Backyard Poultry Production into a Viable Enterprise at Camiling Municipal Hall, Camiling, Tarlac last January 2021.

Still driven by the Department’s commitment to uplift the quality of life of Filipinos, the phase 2 of the project titled “Rainfed Rice-free Range Chicken and Livestock Integration: Enhancing the Livelihood of Rice Farmers” is also being implemented. This project’s main objective is to enhance the livelihood of the rainfed rice farmers with integration of poultry and goat production.

During the workshop on concoction making at the Cabaruan Barangay Hall, Dr. MGBeltran discussed the procedures in making the different concoctions as an alternative medicine for the chickens and goats.

Moreover, the project titled “Off-Season Tomato (Kamlong) Production Technology Towards Enterprise Development” continues its implementation amidst temporary delays in observance of health protocols. The project aims to extend necessary business support services for higher productivity and income to ensure sustainable business operation. An undeniably timely endeavor as business sectors currently suffer the blow of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the project titled “Pilot Support for Market Analysis and Competitiveness of TAU Agri-based Products” led by the Dr. Amy Rico, Chief of the SMART Agriculture Center, together with faculty researchers from the College of Business and Management (CBM) and College of Education (CED), is also an ongoing market and competitive analysis that is geared towards the assessment market potentials and opportunities of selected commodities of TAU towards establishing business development plan for a sustainable and profitable operations of said commodities.

 Dr. Rico and CBM researchers conducting interviews and online meetings for the project “Pilot Support for Market Analysis and Competitiveness of TAU Agri-based Products”

Aside from these highlighted programs and projects, there are also projects and studies being implemented about education, marketing, and engineering, among others.

Other Research and Development Initiatives and Engagements

TAU researchers also have various research engagements apart from conducting their projects and studies. Recognizing the importance of disseminating research results, TAU researchers, albeit virtually, continuously attend research conferences and present research results whether in international or national fora. Not only that, TAU researchers led by Dr. Ma. Asuncion G. Beltran,VP-RET, also served as speakers and lecturers in international research endeavors such as “Researcher and Research Student Enrichment Program (R2SEP)” in collaboration with Institut Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember (Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology), a public University in Surabaya, Indonesia.

Further, a group of College of Veterinary Medicine Faculty researchers also conducted lectures on “Awareness Campaign on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR). Be Informed. Be Responsible” aimed to spread awareness on antimicrobial resistance.

Dr. Ma. Elena T Caguioa was also invited by the Pangasinan State University- Research, Extension, and Innovation Division in Binmaley, Pangasinan as one of their esteemed evaluators during their virtual In-House Research and Extension Proposal Review for 2022.

Similarly, Dr. Benny S. Soliman, Director of the Office of Student Services Development, in collaboration with Camarines Sur Polytechnic Colleges, was requested to be one on the evaluators for their “Review of Research Proposals via Peer Review” which aims to undertake an independent review by assimilating in-depth analyses of research proposals in the College.

TAU researchers acknowledge the fact that knowledge, skills, and expertise should be extended and shared in order to realize the goal of uplifting the lives of Filipinos. 

The poster for the R2SEP or the Researchers and Research Student Enrichment Program where Dr. Ma. Asuncion Beltran, TAU-VPRET, was a resource speaker.

The College of Veterinary Medicine faculty members initiating an “Awareness Campaign on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR): Be Informed. BE Responsible”.

The program and the Certificate of Recognition awarded by the Pangasinan State University to Dr. Ma Elena T. Caguioa, one of the evaluators during the Virtual In-House Research & Extension Proposals Review for 2022

Various colleges of the University also conducted their annual research capability enhancement training such as the College of Arts and Sciences: “Writing Qualitative Research”, College of Veterinary Medicine: “Writeshop on Research Methodology, Thesis Outline, and Outline Defense”, College of Engineering and Technology: “Training on Experimental Design and Data Management in Agricultural Research Using STAR”, and College of Education: “Empowering Mentors in Leading Change”.

In the Pipeline…

Several plans and activities may have been deferred and put off because of the drastic changes in the DRD operations, but the Department is resolved to rise above these changes and difficulties. Proofs of this unstoppable resiliency are the plans of the Department that are currently underway.

One of these is the 1st International Agriculture, Biosystems and Technology Conference. This a two-day international conference that aims to convene researchers, young scientists, academicians, and other stakeholders to showcase the scaling of their leading-edge agricultural innovations that will enable farmers to engage in transformational technologies as the key to farm level profitability, generating sustainable and climate-resilient agricultural systems and technologies, and linking farmers to market through productive alliances.

Moreover, the highlights of the conference include the messages from the invited internationally renowned plenary speakers, technical paper presentations, the Young Scientist Forum, poster presentations, and valuable messages from concerned government agencies.

The 1st International Agriculture, Biosystems, and Technology Conference Primer

In addition to that, the DRD is presently gearing up for the 32nd Agency In-House Review of Ongoing and Completed Researches and Development Projects which will be held virtually via zoom. This annual activity will be participated in by the TAU researchers for the refinement as well as enrichment of their ongoing and completed research projects. Well-regarded researchers from CLAARRDEC, DOST-3, and TAU’s own social science research experts are also invited to serve as the panel of evaluators.

The Poster for the 32nd Agency In-House Review of Ongoing & Completed Researches and Development Projects

No one was prepared for the crippling impact and major setbacks this pandemic has brought to the world and humanity. But as humans, we are predisposed for survival; we endlessly look for ways in order to continue existing in spite of and in the face of adversities. This pandemic may have been a nudge or a grave wake-up call from nature, directing our attention to what is important and to what we are losing sight of. TAU-DRD is cognizant of its vital role in assisting the nation to bounce back from the enormous crisis that beset us all. Through cutting-edge, responsive, and relevant research and development projects, the country and the world over could recuperate from the hard blows caused by the pandemic. 

 

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