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Cablegate: Ambassador's Visit to Los Banos Highlights Agricultural

VZCZCXYZ0001
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHML #0753/01 0861002
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 261002Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0236

UNCLAS MANILA 000753

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EEB
USAID PASS ROB BERTRAM, USAID/EGAT/ESP/IRB, JOHN WILSON,
USAID/ANE/TS, KRISTIN BORK, USAID/ANE/EAA
USDA FOR FAS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID ECON EAGR RP
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR'S VISIT TO LOS BANOS HIGHLIGHTS AGRICULTURAL
PROGRESS

1. Summary. During a March 10 visit to Los Banos, the Ambassador
attended three events that celebrated longstanding American support
for agriculture and higher education in the Philippines. At the
University of the Philippines at Los Banos (UPLB), she was
enthusiastically received as she spoke to over fifty U.S.-educated
scholars and researchers. The Ambassador marked the progress on
tests of locally developed, U.S.-funded biotechnology crops now
growing in confined field trials at the university's Institute of
Plant Breeding (IPB). Finally, the Ambassador met with the director
of the International Rice Research Institute to acknowledge the
USG's longstanding support of the institute and hear their concerns
for future funding. End Summary.

LOS BANOS, SCIENCE AND NATURE
CENTER OF THE PHILIPPINES

2. The college town of Los Banos in Laguna Province neighbors Metro
Manila and boasts a population of over 80,000. It hosts UPLB, along
with local, foreign, and international research centers, the most
prominent of which are IRRI, the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, and
the Philippine Rice Research Institute. Los Banos is home to
thousands of students, researchers and expatriates. The city,
nestled on the slopes of the densely forested Mount Makiling, is
also a popular tourist destination due to its natural hot spring
resorts with therapeutic hot baths. In order to protect the local
ecosystem, the national government has banned heavy industry in the
region, with only small scale industries allowed to operate. Chief
among these are furniture making, metal craft, garment production,
and food products processing.

UPLB: A CENTURY OF U.S. PARTNERSHIP

3. At the invitation of UPLB Chancellor Luis Rey Velasco, the
Ambassador delivered a speech to the school's leaders and over 50
U.S.-trained scholars and researchers currently working at the
institution. Noting the bi-national history of the school that
renowned American botanist and agriculturist Edwin Copeland founded
in 1909, Chancellor Velasco thanked the United States as the
school's most important ally and mentor. Since its founding, UPLB
has deepened its ties with the United States by developing an
exchange program with Cornell University, receiving research grants
from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, producing hundreds of
Fullbright scholars, and partnering with various USG agencies on a
range of development activities. The Ambassador's remarks
emphasized the history of cooperation and the continued support of
the United States for the University. She acknowledged the school's
plans to construct an "American Pioneer Professors" park on the
campus, and congratulated the school on its nearly one hundred years
of success.

U.S.-SUPPORTED BIOTECH DEVELOPMENT:
FROM GREENHOUSE TO FIELD

4. Highlighting the progress of a two-year, $1.1 million
USAID-funded program, and returning to the site where she signed the
initial agreement two years prior, the Ambassador spoke at a
ceremony at IPB. Hosted by IPB Director Dr. Jose E. Hernandez, the
Ambassador celebrated the successful migration from laboratories to
closed-fields for testing of locally developed biotech papayas and
eggplants that are resistant to viruses and pests. Filipinos
consume more papayas than any other fruit except for bananas, and
eggplant is the largest vegetable crop in the country. Should the
field tests prove successful, these new varieties could have a major
positive economic impact on the agricultural sector as well as
reduce the need for harmful pesticides. Dr. Hernandez anticipates
making these crops commercially available to farmers as early as
late-2009. The Ambassador complimented the talent of the local
scientists and expressed admiration for the Philippines' standing as
having the tenth highest amount of land--over 300,000
hectares--dedicated to biotechnology crops.

PROMOTING RICE FOR A BETTER WORLD

5. Ambassador Kenney met American Director General Dr. Robert
Zeigler at IRRI, located adjacent to UPLB. Established in 1960,
IRRI is the oldest and largest autonomous, non-profit international
agricultural research institute in the world. Its mission is to
reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and
consumers, and ensure the environmental sustainability of rice
production. Dr. Zeigler briefed the Ambassador on IRRI's research
and development agenda and led a tour of the select facilities,
including long-term trial fields and the International Rice Gene
Bank. The visit was capped by a lunch with the American community
at IRRI.

6. The IRRI visit included discussion of IRRI's current funding
situation. For over three decades, the USG, mostly through USAID,
has been a major supporter of IRRI, with cumulative contributions

since 1970 approaching $200 million, and USAID unrestricted core
funding averaging $3.4 million since FY2000. However, during the
week prior to the visit, USAID announced that funding would be cut
from $2.7 million in FY2007 to zero in FY2008. The prospective
funding cut, while not yet final, is due to overall reductions in
agricultural research combined with high congressional earmarks. In
response to IRRI's concerns, Ambassador Kenney and USAID officials
made several suggestions to Dr. Ziegler on how he might explain
IRRI's need for funding, and Dr. Ziegler announced that he plans to
visit Washington in April 2008 to meet with appropriate officials,
including senior officials at USAID and in the Bureau of Economic,
Energy and Business Affairs.

KENNEY

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