The production and processing of different food products utilizing agricultural crops in Batac City, Ilocos Norte got a big boost following the recent launch of the Food Innovation Center (FIC) at the Science and Technology (S&T) Park of the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU).

By Julio P. Yap, Jr.

The FIC is intended to be a learning hub for research and development (R&D) on food production and the processing of various agricultural crops into high-value products which can be marketed locally and abroad.

The facility, which is housed in a newly constructed building inside the sprawling 1,300-hectare property of the MMSU, is a joint project of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through its Regional Office 1 headed by Dr. Armando Q. Ganal; MMSU; the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA); and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).

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From left: Liquid Foam Fill machine, Solid Foam Fill machine, and Spray dryer.

The center houses locally fabricated machinery and equipment used in food processing like the water retort, a manually operated pressure cooking vessel that processes food packed in sealed containers. The facility also houses a spray dryer that dries heat-sensitive materials, such as food and pharmaceutical products made of slurry paste gel or suspensions. Other equipment includes the vacuum fryer donated by the DOST; a vacuum packaging machine; liquid and solid foam fill machines acquired through the MMSU-NEDA-DBP project; and a ceramic-based water filter.

“With the creation of the Food Innovation Center in Ilocos Norte, we shift opportunities from Manila to the countryside and increase economic development in the regions,” said DOST Secretary Mario G. Montejo. With developments like the FIC at the MMSU, Montejo stressed that the Philippines is moving towards creating a vibrant food processing industry that can rival that of Thailand, which produces roughly 4,000 new products every year. He added that Filipinos are blessed because they have the creativity to come up with new products through science and technology.

It was learned that the Industrial Technology Development Institute or ITDI, an attached agency of the DOST, has committed to develop around 2,000 new products from a variety of agricultural crops abundant in the different regions. Aside from food production and processing, the DOST’s drug development program, which focuses on locally abundant herbs, will also use the center for research purposes. “The DOST’s ‘Tuklas Lunas’ program is one example of how (the machines) and equipment in the FIC are able to produce high quality and affordable drugs and health products using indigenous medicinal plants that are abundant in the countryside,” Montejo said.

A water retort.

As this developed, the provincial government of Ilocos Norte welcomed the setting up of the Food Innovation Center in Batac. According to Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, the FIC is expected to spur economic development in the region, and create employment opportunities for the Ilocanos, who are well known for being inherently hardworking, creative, and resilient.

“The Center is a milestone in our pursuit of excellence in science and technology that will unlock the doors to prosperity. (We need) innovation at ground-breaking ideas. (Take corn, which in its raw form is cheap and can be made into) chichacorn. (The price rises when it is processed.) With this, we create more marketable products using our harvest. (With) value-added production, we will earn more and it will create a vibrant food industry,” Marcos said.

For her part, Dr. Fe R. Franco, the officer-in-charge of the MMSU, said the FIC will pave the way for levelling up local S&T food products with those from our Asian neighbors. “The Center will provide (the) means for Mang Juan and Aling Maria (to achieve food security), and through this initiative, we will be able to encourage business owners to go into the food processing industry since we have the Technology Business Incubator program that will support this,” she pointed out. “With the equipment in our FIC, we can level up our S&T food products to become at par with those produced in the country and in our ASEAN neighbors.”

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(Counter-clockwise, from top right) MMSU also bakes tasty mango bread. Saluyot leaves and malunggay leaves are likewise processed at the MMSU. Oatmeal cookies produced by the MMSU. Seaweed kroepeck is another product of the MMSU.

“(As we) strengthen the research, development, and extension (RDE) programs of MMSU to intensify research and innovations, and to develop technologies to reach the grassroots, we will also strengthen…human capital by offering a BS in Food Sciences to hone more food innovators,” added Dr. Franco. The program, which supports the FIC, is designed to provide students with the necessary knowledge of the foundations of food technology, associated with raw food
materials and production management as well as food science.

It will also cover the scientific preparation, processing, and distribution of food, and the improvement of the food products’ flavor, appearance, and storage qualities, as well as in the control of quality changes during processing, marketing, and distribution. Students will be taught how to create food products, ingredients, and processing equipment.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s November 2015 issue.