Imagine living in a place hundred miles away from where you grew up— adjusting yourself to fit in to other people’s culture, compromising your lifestyle to cope with their daily lives, trying out food and activities you have never done before, and allowing yourself to feel homesickness and loneliness at times; all entirely for the benefit of another country.

What will make a person do that? For Dr. Truong Hoai Xuan, it’s passion.

Serving in a foreign country

Dr. Truong hailed from Vihn Long Province, Vietnam, but because of a scholarship from Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), his career path brought him to the Philippines.   

Ever since he was a kid, he has dreamt of rendering service in the science and agriculture field. Hence, when his good friend and first PhilRice director, Dr. Santiago R. Obien, offered him to work in Nueva Ecija, he immediately applied at PhilRice after his graduation in 1991. He started his career as a consultant.

A plant pathologist, he helps farmers improve their lives thru science. His work focuses on studying  pest and diseases and researching with the farmers thru on-farm evaluations.

“My goal as a researcher is not only to serve but more importantly, to learn from farmers. There are lessons to learn from farmers; lessons that we cannot learn from books or universities. Interacting with receiving appreciations from them make me happy,” Dr. Truong said.

Dr. Truong considers knowledge-sharing to farmers as his advocacy. His language and culture differences with the farmers were never a hindrance in  empathizing and building rapport with them. Even after his project with them, he spends time with them thru joyful chit-chats.

“Farmers exerting efforts to speak English just so we could talk inspire me. They often say that they have carabao English. I tell them not to worry because I have kambing English. Language helps us understand better, but our differences on this is never a problem,” the 75-year-old research fellow said.

His legacy

After 28 years of service at PhilRice, Dr. Truong will retire this August. As his last project, he supervises the development of a biofertilizer with multiple strains of Rhizobacteria. This type of soil bacteria is found at the root surface of a plant and helps in promoting crop growth.

“More than the concepts that experts had on this subject before, farmers need a tangible product that can help them with their needs. I want to develop something extraordinary for them,” he said.

He added, “Farmers need a biofertilizer that is effective, cheap, reliable, widely-available, and easy to apply. They also want it to be economical and environment-friendly. Meeting these criteria is the challenge that we intend to address.”

According to Marc Rubio, Dr. Truong’s co-researcher, biofertilizers can enhance the soil, water, and plant health. They are also antagonistic to pests and can function as biopesticides. Hence, the project hopes to reduce inorganic fertilizer application by 25%.

Rubio and Dr. Truong also said that they target to make biofertilizers as income-generating products so researchers can have sufficient funds to pursue relevant studies in the future.

Rubio also shared some of his experiences working with Dr. Truong. “He visits the farm to see the results firsthand, and ensures that the biofertilizers are effective. He also interacts with farmers and shows them how to use biofertilizers,” Rubio said.

Dr. Truong also did extensive work and studies on various topics including nutrition management and disease diagnosis kits. He has published about 15 ISI publications, and written and co-written seven book chapters and developed six technical bulletins on rice pests and diseases.

Sharing his accomplishments with his colleagues, especially the younger researchers, he advises them to go out of the comfort zone and explore their abilities while still young.

“I encourage them to make the best out of their lives from ages 21 to 35. Study while you are young. Apply for scholarships abroad. There is a big world to explore and many great opportunities to seize,” he said.

For Rubio and his colleagues, his supervisor’s passion, values, and work ethics are the legacies he will be leaving PhilRice.

 “My colleagues and I greatly admire Dr. Truong’s devoted work ethics and useful pieces of advice. He is not selfish; he is generous in sharing his scientific knowledge to us. Dr. Truong also urges us to be a risk-takers, especially when it comes to our dreams. He advised us to have a positive mindset, dream bigger, and work harder to achieve it,” his 23-year-old co-researcher said.

Beyond the years of service

With his retirement, Dr. Truong shared that he wants to enjoy his life. “Usually, the life expectancy is at 75 years old, and people mostly retire at the age of 65. That gives them around 10 years to enjoy their life and plan. But I don’t have that 10 years anymore, I already spent those years at PhilRice. I have no more plans. I just want to enjoy my life,” he shared.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture created through Executive Order 1061 on 5 November 1985 (as amended) to help develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute