Science and Technology (S&T) plays a vital role both in economic and social development, as it is considered a key driver of the long-term growth of an economy. Advances in technology are beneficial to both industry and individuals, as these can lead to significant improvements in productivity. These can also help address the needs of society, most especially the vulnerable groups and those in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDAs).

For the Ilocos Region, S&T has also been a priority. In fact, a chapter in the Regional Development Plan (RDP) 2017-2022 focused on science, technology, and innovation (STI), discussing the priority strategies and outcomes needed to increase the region’s potential growth through innovation, which will build the foundation for a globally competitive knowledge economy.

In order to increase growth potential in the region, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Regional Office I spearheaded the implementation of various programs and projects that have become instrumental in promoting and accelerating technology adoption and stimulating innovation. One of these is the Engaging Local Communities through Science, Technology, and Innovation for the Development Project under the Community Empowerment thru Science and Technology (CEST) Program. This project aims to implement a whole-of-government–approach intervention using S&T to uplift the socio-economic condition of the people in the End Local Communists Armed Conflict (ELCAC) communities of Ilocos Sur. This project also aims to provide interventions in Livelihood, Human Resource Development, Health and Nutrition, and Disaster Risk Reduction Management which will further discourage engagement in terrorism activities in the countryside.

The project provides a holistic approach to engaging locals through S&T. One of the project sites – Cervantes, Ilocos Sur, was showcased since the municipality is a beneficiary of interventions in three entry points, namely: Economic Enterprise Development, Human Resource Development, and Disaster Risk Reduction Management. The DOST provided technical assistance to the beneficiaries, specifically in developing potential products and abundant resources in the community that would create livelihood opportunities for the people. For Cervantes, mushrooms, coffee, and rice were the products tapped to be developed.

RPMC-I monitoring team with the beneficiaries, LGU-Cervantes officials, and DOST team at the project site in Brgy. Remedios, Cervantes, Ilocos Sur

One of the beneficiaries of the project is the Cervantes Mushroom Growers and Processors Association. The project site in Brgy. Remedios housed the mushroom production and processing area. The association, which only has 19 members composed of 11 females and eight males, claimed that their income increased and they have acquired additional food source for their families. Through the mushroom growing house that was established, farming wastes, such as hay and dried banana leaves, were utilized in the production of mushrooms. Also, with the aid of the inoculation chamber, a technology introduced by the DOST, productivity in pasteurizing around 200 bags of mushroom substrate will be improved from 6 hours to only 3 hours.

Moreover, with the trainings provided by the DOST, the beneficiaries were able to acquire new skills that they could use in other areas of farming, and their agricultural practices improved. The residents, both association members, and individual adopters were also able to maximize the resources available in the locality. In addition, the beneficiaries said that mushroom production is relatively easy since this is conducted indoors and out of the sun, and takes less time. The time they are not in the field is used in the association’s activities, such as hay shredding and bagging, which also provides an avenue for community building among the mushroom growers.

Engr. Jordan L. Abad, DOST-Ilocos Sur Provincial Director and CEST Program Coordinator (left), demonstrates the operation of the inoculation chamber, a DOST-developed technology.

Additionally, due to the high probability of project replicability in other areas in the municipality, mushroom production provided an opportunity to have a more consistent source of income for the residents, with production or harvest cycles lasting about 2 to 3 months. There is also good demand for mushrooms, despite their relatively high prices. Considering the benefits, some residents have already adopted the technology and started their own mushroom production in their backyards.

In another perspective, the project is also gender-responsive based on the Harmonized Gender and Development Guidelines (HGDG) – Gender and Development (GAD) checklist for Project Implementation and Management, and Monitoring and Evaluation (PIMME). The DOST’s management has been very supportive of the GAD component of the project, as shown in their mobilization of resources to address gender issues during the project implementation, such as preference of male farmers as beneficiaries in agricultural-related projects The agency has also mainstreamed GAD from the proposal stage, implementation, and documentation, and sex-disaggregated data and information are also available. In addition, the project team was responsive to the needs of all the association members by hearing their thoughts and needs and treating everyone equally. Likewise, some of the women and senior citizen members claimed that they felt their self-worth increased since members had an equal opportunity to earn, regardless of age, sex, or financial status.

Ms. Enriqueta Dangsian, Municipal Agricultural Technologist (middle), narrates how mushroom spawn (upper right photo) are acquired and seeded in substrate bags (lower right photo).

However, challenges on sustainability sometimes arise during project implementation which can even derail its success. This project of the DOST is no exception, as the project team reported some issues relative to support and resources that they encountered during the first year of implementation. Nonetheless, these setbacks could be addressed when projects are properly monitored and evaluated, and results of which are communicated to appropriate offices.

To move forward, we should always see to it that no one is left behind, and endeavor that the technological advances shall benefit society, especially the vulnerable groups and those in the GIDA communities. To this end, we should strive to work together and maintain our momentum, as we inch closer toward a matatag, maginhawa, at panatag na buhay para sa lahat.

The Engaging Local Communities through Science, Technology, and Innovation for the Development Project implemented in Cervantes, Ilocos Sur was subjected to a Project Benefit Monitoring (PBM) by the Regional Project Monitoring Committee I (RPMC-I) monitoring team last 14-15 November 2022. Focus group discussions (FGD) were attended by the CEST program coordinator and staff, the Local Chief Executive and other LGU officials of the Municipal Government of Cervantes, and the project beneficiaries.