On 9 February 2021, NSTDA President Dr. Narong Sirilertworakul, along with executive directors of four NSTDA research centers, held a press conference highlighting NSTDA R&D achievements and outlook into the future. As NSTDA is celebrating its 30th year anniversary in 2021, this press conference is the first of a press conference series to feature NSTDA’s work over the past three decades in various facets. The focus of this event is on agriculture and food sector.
Dr. Narong explained that NSTDA R&D in agriculture and food aims at making improvement on productivity and quality of farm commodities and products, reducing production costs for farmers and manufacturers, enhancing competitiveness and minimizing environmental impact. Priorities are given to economic crops and farm animals such as rice, cassava, sugarcane, poultry and aquaculture. Achievements over the past three decades were provided as follows:
- A number of new rice varieties have been developed with improved yield, better disease and pest resistances and climate resilience. These include flash flooding tolerant Homcholasit, blast-resistant glutinous Thanyasirin and blast-and-blight-resistant Nan 59. The effort is led by BIOTEC-NSTDA in collaboration with universities and government agencies, employing advanced molecular breeding technique. Some new varieties have been registered with the Department of Agriculture and these include RD51 and RD73. Riceberry and Sinlek are examples of nutritious rice that have already been certified as new varieties. A genetic database of 250 Thai rice varieties and a breeding management system (BMS) have been established to support rice breeding program, along with the development of a mobile application for diagnosing 12 rice diseases.
- Pirun 1, Pirun 2, Pirun 4 and Kasetsart 72 are among new improved cassava varieties with high starch and low cyanide contents. Novel cassava-based products have been introduced such as gluten-free flour and bio-compostable plastic bag for food waste. An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for the detection of cassava mosaic disease, as well as tissue culture and mini cutting techniques which enable rapid mass production of disease-free plant materials, were developed and introduced to cassava farmers to curb the catastrophic outbreak of cassava mosaic in 2019.
- Molecular marker associated with sugar content in sugarcane has been identified, which led to the development of Phu Khiao 2 and Phu Khiao 3, both of which have been certified as new sugarcane varieties by the Department of Agriculture. A farm management model employing artificial intelligence (AI) has been developed for industrial-scale sugarcane farms. Dextran test kit developed by NSTDA research team is used for the management control of the sugar production process, enabling the reduction of product loss.
- R&D concerning rubber industry at NSTDA extends across the production process from upstream to downstream. Innovative solutions have been developed, including a preservative for extending shelf life of fresh natural rubber latex and a variety of new rubber-based products.
- To promote the seed industry, new vegetable varieties have been developed for chili and tomato to enhance flavor and disease resistance. A training program for new seed producers was initiated to increase the number of seed farmers. These efforts have contributed to 10% export growth per year.
- A number of plant disease diagnostic tests (e.g. PlantSmart for multiplex detection and a strip test for a causative agent of fruit blotch disease in cucurbit), biocontrol products to replace chemical pesticides (e.g. VipPro protein for controlling beet armyworm and cutworm, Beauveria bassiana for controlling brown plant hopper and mealybug and NPV for insect pest control) and digital farm systems (e.g. an agricultural registration system TAMIS and an agricultural management tool Agri-Map) have been developed to support farming activities.
- A wide range of innovative products and technologies have been developed to support food and feed industry. Examples include enzyme-based technology to accelerate fish sauce fermentation process; starter culture technology for Thai fermented sausage, pickle mustard green and fruit vinegar; protein drink, low-fat sausage, pasteurized egg whites, gluten-free bread, fermented animal feed, feed enzyme and a mycotoxin binder as a feed additive. The first industrial-scale microbial production facility for animal feed was established.
BIOTEC Executive Director Dr. Wonnop Visessanguan further highlighted R&D achievements in 2020 which include the discovery of 47 new species of insect-pathogenic fungi adding to its unique microbial collection which holds more than 90,000 microbial species. These microorganisms have potential applications in food and agriculture sector such as biocontrol products. Production technology for biocontrol agents for controlling pests and weeds such as Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium anisopliae have been developed and transferred to enterprises and farmers. As for food and feed industry, BIOTEC has been collaborating with industrial partners to create products and technologies that have successfully reached the market. Examples are a feed preservative eLysozyme for shrimp feed industry, the production technology of beta-glucan and yeast probiotic for animal feed industry, the fermentation technology of fruit vinegars (mangosteen vinegar, pineapple vinegar, coconut vinegar and black garlic vinegar) and production of mushroom as an alternative protein source. These projects have generated over 180 million THB investment from the private sector and contributed to the country’s economic growth. For 2021, the center will continue to work on rice breeding and employ participatory varietal selection approach to facilitate new variety adoption of glutinous Hom Naga, Hom Jinda and Thanya 6401. Two new tomato varieties from the collaboration with Maejo University will be released this year.
MTEC Executive Director Dr. Julathep Kajornchaiyakul elaborated on MTEC rubber research that has created over 10 billion THB socio-economic impact. The preservative developed by MTEC is designed for extending shelf life of fresh natural rubber latex for rubber sheet production. It offers an alternative to toxic ammonia and sodium sulfite, commonly used preservatives. The center also developed a novel latex concentrate for mixing with asphalt cement for road construction. The material was used to build 4,610 km of road covering 73 provinces. A novel process developed by MTEC to recover rubber solids from sludge waste and reuse them enables circularity in Thai rubber industry. MTEC also employs its expertise to help the industry design rubber with properties meeting certain specifications at competitive production cost and provide solutions to over 50 companies. New products and technologies to be released in 2021 include a coagulant for rubber cup lump coagulation, removal of allergenic protein in natural rubber latex gloves and other new products such as educational toys. The center will also focus on developing green processes for rubber manufacturing and engage in the standardization of rubber and rubber products to increase the competitiveness of Thai rubber industry and facilitate its participation in global trade.
NANOTEC Executive Director Dr. Wannee Chinsirikul discussed the 2021 R&D strategy that the center will focus on chelation technology, in combination with nano chemistry and nano characterization to improve quality and productivity of economic fruits such as durian and mango and provide innovative solutions to the animal feed industry. The technology enables the development of amino acid chelated foliar fertilizer and amino acid chelated trace minerals for the feed industry. R&D will be conducted to develop different amino acid chelated mineral formulae specific to each type of farm animals, i.e. pig, chicken and dairy cattle. The center will be working with Mitr Phol Group to implement nanosensor-based dextran detection test in 7 sugar mills owned by Mitr Phol Group to mitigate dextran contamination and improve efficiency in the sugar production process.
NECTEC Executive Director Dr. Chai Wutiwiwatchai explained that the NECTEC’s work in food and agriculture involves the application of IoT, AI and sensor technology to facilitate smart farming. Examples are a smart aquaculture system AQUA GROW, Agri-Map, precision-farming HandySense and farm management system WiMaRC. Agri-Map system has been accessed over 43 million times, and the model has a 90% accuracy in predicting the productivity and sugar content of sugarcane. Its Thai School Lunch – an AI-enabled automated system enabling schools to self-plan nutritious lunch menus at an optimal budget – have 58,046 users covering schools nationwide and will soon have an additional feature to link with logistics system to supply farm products to schools. The center will also explore the use of terahertz technology in food inspection and quality control.