Archipelagic Philippines and Japan both fall prey to Natural Disasters
Kiyosada Egawa, the CEO of Biotech Japan (BTJ), was riding the “Shinkansen” when the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 hit the Northern part of Japan. The train ground to a halt and was stationary for over 12 hours. As he sat waiting, while paltry rice crackers were being passed around to growingly restless passengers, he thought, “it would be so nice to have warm rice and a meal right now”. At this moment, the idea of producing “disaster rice” was formed.A few years later, in 2013, the damage wrought by super typhoon Yolanda, internationally known as Typhoon Haiyan, dominated news in Japan, with images of devastation streaming through television sets across the world. As he watched sordid statistics grow, lives lost –6,300; 4.4 million families displaced, 1 million homes destroyed, thousands of residents stranded in Leyte, without access to food, power or water, Mr. Egawa, like other concerned Japanese citizens, felt a deep need to help. He thought about how BTJ’s disaster rice would provide some sort of relief or solution. He started thinking about the Philippines as the site of BTJ’s first ever overseas venture.
BTJ’s Disaster RiceBTJ specializes in the creation of unique blends of lactobacilli using fermentation to enhance desired qualities of organic materials while removing unwanted ones (degrading components were extracted from rice). The technology developed ensured that the new product could be sealed in a microwaveable bag, stored for up to 3 years and easily heated for distribution during emergencies.
BTJ also manufactures similar products using fermentation for the functional food and agricultural market segments. Their low protein rice ECHIGO has been proven to improve the quality of life of chronic kidney disease patients. Their low glycemic rice GOHAN LITE which bulked up the fiber with less absorbable sugars, has also been acknowledged to allow patients with diabetes or hypertension to continue enjoying staple food.Following the success of these products in Japan, Mr. Egawa set his eyes on South East Asia. He looked for a country where his products could bring significant impact. After some research, he discovered that the Philippines is a country with a high proportion of lifestyle diseases. He remembered that like Japan, the country is plagued by natural calamities every year. To begin the expansion process, he approached Senator Edgardo Angara.
Senator Ed Angara, was a boy from Baler whose parents were allied professionals of the Philippine General Hospital. Among Senator Angara’s many groundbreaking achievements, was the creation of Philhealth and the passing of the Generics Act. To ensure that PGH continues to be the best funded medical institution in the country, he made sure that contributions (donations of equipment, laboratories and research grants) continued to pour in. During his brief time away from Senate, he took the reins of the Department of Agriculture. As Secretary, he introduced the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA), legislation meant to enhance food security and productivity. He facilitated programs and support services that resulted in among others, a bigger rice harvest. In short he understood the science of rice and the importance of excellence in medical care.
In Memory of Senator Edgardo Angara
Senator Angara recognized Kiyosada’s passion and sincere desire to help the country. He quickly brought together members of the public sector to aid BTJ’s venture in the Philippines. The first step was engaging local farmers. To help them use the local species of rice, Indica, instead of the foreign grown Japonica, Senator Angara introduced BTJ to the organization he founded, PhilRice,. Both agreed that creating a sustainable product tailored for local consumption was key. The second step was to assess the product’s effectiveness on Filipinos’ morphology. Through Ed Angara’s facilitation, BTJ partnered with DOST’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) and the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) where joint research was conducted to affirm the dietary benefit of low-protein and low-glycemic rice on Filipino patients. BTJ resident scientists met with Dr. Coralie Therese Dimacali, then President of the Philippine Society of Nephrology (PSN) and the Associate Dean of Academic Development of PGH, to discuss the various merits of the project. The third and final step was distributing BTJ products to the market. In 2018, BiotechJP became a Filipino company through a co-ownership with EEI Corporation, a premier construction company with forward looking aspirations for diversification.Today, the company has successfully built factories in Laguna and Tarlac, employing farmers and training food technologists. BTJ Philippines currently manufactures patented rice-based products for both domestic and foreign consumption. Their venture continues to help improve the quality of life of many Filipinos with chronic diseases. With R&D and Innovation serving as hallmarks of the company’s operations, the achievements of BTJ Philippines have been recognized by international bodies, the most recent of which is the Asian Export Award by Singapore Business Review and Hong Kong Business Magazine.
COVID-19, PGHWhile the world grapples with COVID-19, PGH stands out brightly yet again, through its call for unity in the service of humanity. PGH’s raison d’etre, the care of patients, without prejudice to social and economic station, is clearer than ever. Every day, PGH’s best and brightest take on the challenges of this invisible scourge, with excellence, dedication and fearlessness at the core of its activities, whether it be in training, in research or in medical care. Kiyosada Egawa earlier approached Senator Ed Angara’s only son Sonny, about his interest to donate his products, specifically Echigo and Gohan Lite in Sonny’s name. He quietly responded that he would like these to be donated to poor communities. Sonny was not interested in treating this donation as an event for political and personal propaganda. “I have made the Philippines my home. Treading in his father’s footsteps, I see a son carrying on his father’s legacy of public service, whether it be political, social, economic reform. As a survivor of Covid-19, he works harder today and approaches his duties with a renewed and even stronger sense of purpose. I am as impressed with the son as I was with the father. I hope that with this humble donation to PGH in memory of my friend Ed Angara, his work of touching the lives of many, will live on”.