Written by Martin Gummert
In RIPPLE May-August 2009, we published the article “PRPC engineers test and evaluate DA flat-bed dryer.” It was brought to our attention that this article created some controversy and may have influenced some decisions about outscaling the flat bed dryer technology in the Philippines. In this article, I provide a clear context for our previous article and seek to clarify misconceptions raised by the article.
When the testing of the dryer was undertaken, the implementation of the flat bed dryer promotion program of the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) was in full swing. It was the Philippine Rice Postproduction Consortium (PRPC) who initiated the testing activity. At IRRI, we received feedback from the users of these dryers, mainly complaints to the effect that the flat bed dryer technology did not work. We were asked whether we approved of such an inefficient technology. Although some recipients of the dryer were pleased with the performance of their dryers, the “reputation” of the flat bed drying technology in the Philippines was at risk. With more than 6,200 units of similar flat bed dryers in Vietnam (RIPPLE October-December 2008), the increasing private sectordriven installations in Myanmar and Cambodia, and the reported benefits from using flat bed dryers in Indonesia (RIPPLE April-June 2008), we know that the technology is sound and the reasons for failure have to be sought somewhere else.
The Philippine study
It is important to demonstrate that a good flat bed dryer works well if it is constructed and operated according to design specifications. The PRPC requested IRRI to lead the testing team. The team was provided access to two dryers that were installed under the guidance of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice). Both operators, an irrigators association and a private owner, reported some problems with grain quality and drying time. These were attributed to high temperature in the first case and to low fan speed in the second. In both cases, the dryers performed to expectation once the management problems were corrected. The PRPC Steering Committee submitted a proposal to test dryers installed by the Bureau of Postharvest Research and Extension (BPRE), but BPRE management did not respond. Our article in RIPPLE (May-August 2009) concluded that the flat bed drying technology is “both functionally and technically sound” and stressed the importance of training. We felt that our message was important to safeguard the reputation of the flat bed dryer technology.
What the article did not mention was the involvement of different institutions involved in the installation of flat bed dryers. Some members of the testing team wanted to test the dryers installed by other institutions but the necessary contacts and access were not provided. Many of those other dryers were supposedly of poor technical quality and some recipients reported not receiving any training at all.
About 2 years later, I was informed that the RIPPLE article had been taken out of context and was used to “rubber stamp” the activities of the dryer promotion program, regardless of the source of the dryer and the quality of manufacturing. This apparently alienated some at the government level, who advocate a better program.
Two major lessons can be learned from this development:
• We researchers need to be more vocal not only about technical issues of our research but also how research outputs are being used. We need to be cognizant of sensitivities of national programs but at the same time be able to provide objective advice.
• We need to have more dialogue with and feedback from decisionmakers and policy specialists who design national outscaling programs. The aim is to reduce the potential for misunderstanding and possible misuse of scientific reports.
I personally apologize for any negative effect the article might have had on the design of the program in the Philippines. I encourage our readers to actively give us feedback on any of our articles and activities, and bring to our attention policy and social impacts we have not anticipated (be they positive or negative).