Mall-based surgery center to lower cost of medical services, eye checkups through Eyesite

October 6, 2014

Mall-based surgery center to lower cost of medical services, eye checkups through Eyesite

Mall-based surgery center Qualimed has lowered the cost of medical services in the country through standardization of services including eye checkups administered by the  Asian Eye Center affiliate Eyesite.

A partnership between Ayala Land Inc. (ALI), Mercado General Hospital (MGH), and Asian Eye Institute (AEI), Qualimed is revolutionizing local health care, making it more accessible to poorer population.

“We are on a constant lookout for prospective partners who share the same commitment as ours—of providing high quality and affordable healthcare for all markets. Be they partners in technology systems or medical professional services,” said Dr. Edwin Mercado, MGH president, in a mall clinic launch recently.

QUALIMED OPENS OUTLET AT FAIR VIEW TERRACES – Shown at the ribbon-cutting  (from left):  David San Pedro , Ayala Land Inc. head of corporate planning, ALI President-CEO  Bobby O. Dy; ALI Chairman Fernando Zobel de Ayala;  Oscar Lopez,  Asian Eye Institute Chairman;  Dr. Edwin Mercado, Mercado General Hospital Inc. President-CEO;  and Benjamin K. Liboro,  Asian Eye Institute President-CEO.

First, the clinic in the mall already gives customers convenience and easier accessibility to health checkups as malls are familiar and happy places for most people.

Qualimed just opened its outlet in Fairview Terraces in Quezon City  which is first of its mall-based branch that has an Eyesite.

The services in the mall clinics include multi-specialty consultation, dialysis, dermatology and aesthetic services, one-stop eye care, and optical service.

The multi-specialty consultation includes those for internal medicine, pediatrics, general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, EENT (eye, ear, nose, and throat), among others.

However, aside from the convenience advantage, what the ALI-MGH-AEI partnership is doing is revolutionizing health care through cost reduction.

For the equipment, the surgery center has partnered with Siemens in volume purchase of equipment.

It is bringing in more equipment at bulk purchase, consequently lower prices.  This will be in line with the group’s expansion in malls in the next five years.

Among the equipment are for digital mammography system, computed tomography scan, X ray, ultrasound and cardiac system, and fluoroscope, among others.

Eyesite will similarly adopt cost-reduction programs for patients.

“The Asian Eye Institute serves a premiere market.  But through Eyesite, we’ll get to serve all Filipinos.  It will be a vehicle to serve a broader,” said AEI President Benjamin K. Liboro.

A cost-reduction factor is the standardization of service across all mall clinics and other surgery clinics and hospitals that have yet to be constructed over the next five years.

What Qualimed is doing is to employ some family medicine or internal medicine specialists.

In order to ensure quality of professional services, it is accrediting health professional groups.

Because of these efforts, Qualimed health services may be 10 to 40 percent lower in cost compared to other hospitals and clinics especially compared to premium hospitals.

Eyesite is also employing eye specialists.

“Our doctors do not practice anywhere-else.  We have a model –all our doctors are full time employees rather than consultants.  That allows it to control pricing regardless of location. When patient volume grows, we would be able to bring down what we charge patients,” said Liboro.

Eyesite will have published tariffs.  .  Price will not vary from doctor to doctor.  For instance, a pre-screening service will cost P300.  Adult checkup will be charged around P500 which is 50 percent lower compared to some eye services elsewhere.

Qualimed and Eyesite will also tap the services of state-run Philhealth in order to reach out to the masses.

Key services are pre-screening for cataract, glaucoma, retinal and corneal disease, chalazion (cyst in the eyelid or kuliti) removal, treatment of dry eye and pterygium (corneal growth experienced by people who are often outdoors), and treatment of other corneal, retinal, and external eye disease treatment.

It will offer pediatric opthalmology and  pediatric genetics (to test if young children are predisposed to certain diseases).  It will have a specialist on treating adult strabismus or heterotropia where patient’s eyes are not properly aligned with each other.

The health group will accept patients that have HMO (health maintenance organization) cards—thereby making services more accessible.

While most people spend money for devices like mobile phones that are expensive, more people are expected to spend for health care services through HMOs.

Alwyn Sta. Rosa, AEI vice president, said Eyesite will have its own advocacy.

“Eyesite is not just medical eye center. It’s also about advocacy.  One in 10 Filipinos do not know they have eye threatening conditions.  Our problem at the Asian Eye Institute is patients find out their problem when it’s too late,” said Sta. Rosa.

ALI is now partnering with HMO Philcare in order to provide HMO services to its lower-income employees including janitors, according to ALI Corporate Planninig Head David Y. San Pedro.

“We’re finding a way for janitors and people earning P7,000 to P10,000 to avail of health services. This is our commitment in affordability,” said San Pedro.

Philcare is now the fifth largest HMO in the country.

Qualimed will also have services on preventive medicine, vaccinations, and pre-employment services.

It is establishing hospitals and base hospitals. It will offer minimal invasive services like- outpatient laparoscpopy, infertility programs, and other services with bundled rates.

Over the long term, AEI plans to make available to more people LASIK (Laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis) eye surgery.

“Now the biggest hurdle in LASIK is price second to fear.  If we can address price, more patient will enjoy life without glasses,” said Liboro.

Optical shops will also be present in Eyesite.

What Eyesite will be able to offer to more people are its services for cataract surgery which comprises more than 70 percent of all eye-related operation.

Qualimed is a network of health care facilities run by MGH and is co-owned by ALI by 36 percent.

New surgery centers will rise in ALI malls in TBD (Manila), three sites from 2015 to 2017; Bldg 6, Taguig, 2915; UP Town Center, Quezon City, 2016; Balintawak (hospital), 2017, and Arca South, 2018 (hospital).

Outside of Metro Manila, the expansion for the clinics will be in Altaraza, Bulacan, 2014 and Abreeza and Centrio in Mindanao, 2016 and 2017.

For the hospitals, expansion will be in North Point, Nuvali, Laguna, 2016; Liberty, Cavite, 2017; Davao, 2018; Cebu, 2018; North Point and Atria in Visayas, 2014 and 2015; and Alviera, Pampanga, 2018.

Clustering of rice farms pushed

October 6, 2014

Clustering of rice farms pushed

The government should restore clustering in rice farms to build scale and bargaining power thereby improving farmers’ competitiveness in light of the South East Asian (SEA) integration.

According to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice), adoption of the Nucleus Estate Strategy (Nuestra) will provide an incentive for farmers to become entrepreneurs rather than just farm laborers.

Nuestra is the creation of farming communities which have a nucleus center where farmers may have easy access to technologies and services such as credit.

With trade liberalization, there is a threat that Filipino farmers will plant rice on smaller  areas.

“If farmers cannot cope, liberalized trade could lead them into planting less area.  Ways to boost farmers competitiveness are therefore being proposed,” according to Philrice researchers Aileen C. Litonjua and Flordeliza H. Bordey.

While the Philippines still maintains a quantitative restriction (QR) policy which limits rice importation, the government also has a commitment for a minimum access volume (MAV) of 805,200 metric tons (MT).

The MAV allows for a lower tariff rate of 35 percent compared to the tariff rate of 50 percent outside of MAV.

With more importation and over the long term without the QR, rice price will be dampened. This threatens farmers’ livelihood.

“Reduced price and income can discourage some farmers from planting rice.  Only competitive farmers can sustain rice production under a more liberalized trade,” said Philrice.

The clustering strategy was once implemented by the Department of Agriculture (DA) during the Decade 2000.   Agriculture technicians encouraged formation of an ideal 100 hectares of clustered farms where each unit was provided with various government assistance and intervention.

Many farmers in rice granary Nueva Ecija benefited from this program.  Some of the clustered small farmers have put up a common rice mill like the Nagkakaisang Magsasaka Agricultural Primary Multi Purpose Cooperative in Brgy. Tabacao, Nueva Ecija.

“Farmers in clusters are better off because of greater bargaining power in buying inputs and marketing of produce. Success stories report that farmers were able to avail of less costly inputs, access better marketing channels and farm-related information and services,” noted Philrice.

Without the present QR protection under a completely liberalized trade, farmgate  price of paddy rice (palay) will drop to P12.59 per kilo, according to the Philrice study.

This is from the present farmgate of P18 to P20 per kilo, depressing farmers’ income. This is despite the presence of a 35 percent tariff.

Furthermore, areas harvested will decline to 4.588 million hectares compared to 4.73 million hectares with a QR.

While lower rice prices will be beneficial to consumers and also temper smuggling, the plight of small farmers is at risk.

With clustering and adoption of Nuestra, farmers may cope better with free trade.

“Philrice pilot tests this strategy by operating its branch stations as model nuclei,” said Philrice.

“Nuestra establishes agribusiness nuclei near farming communities that will offer technologies, services, and strategies that can promote crop diversification and intensification.”

The cost of paddy rice production in the country is high at P11.05 per kilo. DA had earlier planned for “10-5” or raising yield to 10 metric tons (MT) per hectare and lowering production cost to P5 per kilo.

This goal has so far been proven achievable in hybrid rice areas.  But hybrid rice areas just account for around five percent of total rice hectarage in the country.

Weaving, Pandan as livelihood crop

August 27, 2014

Weaving, Pandan as livelihood crop

by Melody M. Aguiba
June 29, 2014

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The native weaving and food crop “Pandan” are being developed as a livelihood and plantation crop in calamity-affected communities in Bicol.

Albay communities are now taking advantage of the extra income from a highly abundant crop “Karagomoi”, more popularly known as pandan, as a weaving material for handicraft items.

Their products include bags, slippers, placemats, table mats, picture frames, bones, and wall decors.

Pandan is very adaptable to the local soil and readily grows in backyards, shorelines, and in uplands.  It may easily be intercropped with coconut and tree plantations.

A project which will improve the quality of Albay’s pandan products has been pursued by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture Aquatic Resources Research and Development.

This is the Integrated Research and Development Project for Karagomoi to Create Agri-industrial Business Opportunities in Albay.

“In a calamity-prone area like the Bicol region, pandan is a source of hope and a symbol of resilience for many.  Making handicrafts provides livelihood and enhances people’s creativity in developing novel products,” reported Meryll Kyla Irader in Farmnews.

Farmers need to be trained on plantation development for pandan in order to achieve economies of scale in handicraft production.

Pandan is usually harvested three years upon plantation development.

Aside from backyard farming, the lowly pandan can now be planted in marshlands, shaded areas under forest trees and as intercrop with coconut and anahaw.  It may also be planted along creeks and river banks.

Farmers are discouraged from planting pandan together with commonly growing trees like Ipil Ipil and Isis as this causes prevalence in diseases in pandan such as leaf spot and scars.  Farmers are encouraged to clean the farms especially in intercropping sites.

Planting materials that are clean or disease-free are being reproduced.  Suckers are obtained only from healthy mother plants.

A drying system may also need to be developed since drying pandan takes around two days.  On sunny days, pandan leaves are easier to dry by exposing them to the sun the whole day.



World Fish distributes improved tilapia specie in Yolanda areas

August 27, 2014

World Fish distributes improved tilapia specie in Yolanda areas

by Melody M. Aguiba
August 25, 2014

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World Fish is growing what is described as excellently-bred genetically-improved farmed tilapia (GIFT) in Yolanda-inflicted areas even as it foresees a serious fish species depletion in South East Asia amid climate change threats.

A specie developed in Malaysia, GIFT is being brought by World Fish to more than 10 tilapia growers in Eastern Samar.

“We’re distributing 75,000 fries to tilapia growers in Lake Bito in Eastern Visayas,” said World Fish Regional Director-Asia Maripaz L. Perez.

World Fish is distributing GIFT as it has been known to outperform other fish species including those developed in the Philippines.

“It outperformed even our GET (genetically enhanced tilapia) Excel,” Perez said in an interview.

Around 1,000 families will be benefited by the program.

World Fish is predicting a 12 to 47 percent fish species richness depletion in Southeast Asia by 2050 compared to 2010.

Increasing temperature, particularly sea surface temperature, will cause deterioration in marine resource condition.  That will result in a decrease in fish production.

The Philippines should breed new fish species with salt water survival, said Perez.

“The more developed fishing system is mariculture.  We love marine water culture.  But it’s for the rich.   For the poor, it is tilapia and bangus.  Bangus is also  in brackish water.  We should start breeding new fish species with salt water survival,” she said.

Perez said the National Poverty Commission reported that for a family of five to survive, they should harvest an average  of five kilos of fish.  Unfortunately, the harvest in the country is only around 2.5 kilos now.

“Storm can worsen poverty.  There will be increased risk of fishing accidents. Some predators will affect indigenous species or cultured farms,” she said.

On aquatic culture systems, there will be increased harmful algal blooms, decreased dissolved oxygen, increased disease incidence, and altered spawning and migration patterns.

There will be changes in fishery businesses’ operational costs and production levels.

Because of increased changes in acidity level in the environment and increased carbon dioxide emission, certain fish food, phytoplanktons, fish habitat like corals, crustaceans, and mollusks will be adversely affected.

Climate change is predicted to result in decrease in reduction of available water including those in ponds. Freshwater supplies will be changed.

“There will be damage to harbors, vessels, homes, and coastal installations,” said Perez.  “Some houses are known to be eaten up by the ocean.”

Saline water intrusion into freshwater aquaculture areas will reduce cultured fish availability. Severe flooding will destroy ponds and marine culture systems.

Increased intensity of storms will reduce fishing opportunities especially for small fishers in aquaculture systems.  It will cause damage to facilities, prop up capital costs for stronger cage moorings, jetties, and will push up insurance costs. Predator species may increase during floods.

Formerly the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management, World Fish was established in 1977 through the Rockefeller Foundation. It is headquartered in Penang Malaysia and 354 scientists in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific.


Poultry sector not competitive – URBA

August 20, 2014

Poultry sector not competitive – URBA

by Melody M. Aguiba
August 10, 2014

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The United Broiler Raisers Association (UBRA) has urged government to undertake a comparative study on the support it has extended to the local poultry industry as against the subsidies granted by other neighboring countries to their respective industries to gauge the competitiveness of the locals when the ASEAN integration comes into force by next year.

UBRA President Elias Jose Inciong said the governments of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia have subsidy programs for their farmers. The United States Farm Bill has approximately $500 billion subsidy for its farmers and consumers,

“Our problem is domestic support. Artificially cheap prices of poultry in Canada and US enable smuggling and unfair competition. We’re not prepared to compete. We’re not profiling our competitors,” said Inciong in a broiler industry update.

“Trade remedies and fair competition are a basic responsibility of government.”

Unfortunately, this profiling should have been done as early as in 1995 when the Philippines joined the World Trade Organization.

“What are others’ incentives? What are our incentives? This should have been done in 1995,” he said. “If you read the WTO trade policy review, you will see heavy subsidies in China.”

The private sector could simply not compete with other ASEAN private sector as their government supports them.

“There are lots of companies prepared for integration – big ones, small ones in the broiler industry. But we have a handicap because our competitors are competing not only as private companies but they compete together with their government. Our government is playing catch up,” Inciong said.

In light of the ASEAN economic integration next year, other socio-economic conditions will have to be studied by the government. These include environmental issues, water for crops and people, credit, crop insurance, National Land Use Plan, and the corn-soya paradigm.

Climate change may bring about more disruptions in production. Corn and soybean will be more expensive in the future, sending feed prices higher.

A basic disadvantage is the Philippines does not even field adequate number of agricultural attachés to ASEAN.

“How many agricultural attachés do we have for ASEAN? ” he said.

“The IRR (implementing rules and regulations) of the Food Safety Act is being drafted only now.”

Food security should be anchored on local production rather than dependence on importation.

UBRA also recommended focus on the production whole chickens at smaller sizes as the bigger-sized are of less desirable taste. Take advantage of domestic preference for the better taste of chickens at lighter weights.

The association has also asked government to focus on the issue of sustainability through Confined Animal Feeding Operation. The safe transfer of wastes for the efficient use of crop agriculture should be a priority.

Government is also urged to adopt innovative compliance with the Food Safety Act through the use of certain organic agriculture practices.

IRRI expands tech that cuts farmer’s water expense, greenhouse gas emission

August 20, 2014
IRRI expands tech that cuts farmer’s water expense, greenhouse gas emission
by Melody M. Aguiba
August 19, 2014
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The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is expanding use of alternate wetting and drying (AWD) technology among Angat farmers to help cut irrigation expense and reduce emission of methane to the environment.

The practice of withholding irrigation for rice farms at certain stages has been proven to significantly cut farmers’ water use by up to 30 percent.

Farmers around the Angat area in Bulacan should take advantage of AWD as they experience water dearth.

“They get less and less water, so farmers have the interest to save water,” said IRRI Climate Change Head Reiner Wasman in a climate change workshop.

Angat water’s priority is for household use, for drinking.

As climate change worsens, manifested in increased occurrence and intensity of drought, irrigation for rice farming will have to compete with other uses of Angat water. That also includes power generation.

As another benefit, AWD enhances ecological balance.

“Flooded rice emits greenhouse gas methane. It develops when we have organic material in the soil, but no oxygen. AWD allows air to get into the soil. You don’t get methane formation,” said Wasman.

Some farmers in continuously irrigated areas like those in Nueva Ecija may not find removal of water cost-efficient.

“It doesn’t work in places where people are directly connected to canals like in Nueva Ecija,” said Wasman.

Farmers pay a fixed price of around P2,500 per hectare for irrigation fee in National Irrigation Administration (NIA) areas, whether they use water measly or not.

But some farmers in Tarlac who are trying to save on pumping water may also find AWD beneficial.

In AWD, rice farms are only irrigated every two weeks. Fields are not constantly flooded. A pipe is inserted into the ground from which to determine whether soil moisture is depleted and would need irrigation.

AWD will also be suitable in Bohol where there is a modern irrigation facility.

“In Bohol, they can just push button to turn irrigation on, so they can enforce AWD.”

IRRI may also work in rain-fed or upland areas where water is pumped, carrying diesel costs. Supply of water may also be less for those at the tailend of the dam, making them apt for AWD.

As AWD is cost-saving and reduces greenhouse gas emission, the national government may find it advantageous to modernize irrigation facilities.

“Irrigation facilities in the Philippines are not in good shape. AWD may give stimulus to improve irrigation.”

Organizations may also eye accessing a funding facility called Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA). It involves a financing mechanism agreed by the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali in December 2007.

“If you have money from NAMA you could improve irrigation facilities like they did in Bohol and enforce AWD. You have a way for mitigating emission and start co-benefits in rural areas.”

There are now countries that take advantage of NAMA as a funding source including China, Brazil, India.

Varieties with less resistance to lodging would also do well in AWD areas. When rice plants that are mature for harvest or nearing maturity fall to the ground during typhoons, and the soil is wet, these may render themselves unsuitable for milling.

Int’l Potato Center upgrades small farmer business program

August 19, 2014
Int’l Potato Center upgrades small farmer business program
by Melody M. Aguiba
August 18, 2014
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The International Potato Center is upgrading a successful small farmer business program that has generated 500 business plans with climate-readiness that will soon be expanded as full-blown enterprises.

Having been successful in Cordillera, the FBS will be upgraded in other areas in the country by the potato center, popularly known globally as the Centro International de la Papa (CIP).

However, CIP is integrating a climate change-readiness program in its training manuals for farmers.

“We have a whole set of manual. We’re integrating climate change into this to upscale to other areas. In Cordillera, we already have a climate change program in enterprises. You can’t be chosen if your waste disposal is not environment-friendly,” said Julieta Roa, CIP collaborating researcher in a climate change forum.

The FBS has enabled farmers, together with local government unit (LGU) officials, to come up with business plans.

Having the business plan enables small farmers to access financing facility of the Department of Agriculture (DA). “They cannot access the livelihood assistance fund of DA if they don’t have a business plan,” said Roa. Funding per business plan is P50,000 to P100,000, just to enable start of the businesses.

Among the businesses Cordillera farmers will engage in is tubers like sweet potato, potato, and taro (gabi). Taro chips, sweet potato (camote) chips and other rootcrop chips will be sold under the brand “Tatak Cordillera.”

They have different kinds of indigenous or creatively-grown rootcrops like baliling and faliling, which is a local version of England’s crop circles. They also have organic vegetables (cucumber, lettuce, carrots, alfalfa), coffee, native pigs, and muscovado.

CIP is promoting roots and tubers like potato and sweet potato to raise food security especially as these are considered climate smart crops. Even in Yolanda-stricken areas in Leyte and Samar, the crops that survived are the rootcrops. These are also easy to grow.

As a requirement for healthful native pig raising, Cordillera farmers use for nutrition supplementation indigenous microorganisms, fermented fruit juice, fermented plant juice, fish amino acid preparation, and organic feed using indigenous feedstuff. They also use an environment-friendly “pakusot” beeding system.

CIP is also linking farmers to other potential funding institutions specifically for equipment acquisition. These are Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

The business plan is the basis for enterprise development. Farmers are taught how to define the organization, market, and what product and plan on operational management, production system, and financing.

Farmers have so far accessed La Top, a supermarket for organic vegetable in Benguet.

The FBS has really focused on value chain of enterprise in order to help farmers raise their potential income. The FBS is an intensive program covering six months to one year.

Farmers are also now accessing certified organic vegetable markets.

“They hired a market service provider as part of business development support service,” said Roa.

The program does not just pick any cooperative since many cooperatives have failed in businesses.

“If they volunteer to become cooperatives, they can register with DOLE or DTI.”

The groups are called local interest groups or LIG. These have 15 to 30 members per LIG.

CIP has the program Food Security Through Asian Roots and Tubers (Foodstart) not only in the Philippines but in Sichuan and Guangxi, China; West Papua, Indonesia, northern Bangladesh, and Meglahaya and Orissa, India.

Irrigation network to support hybrid rice production

July 14, 2014
Irrigation network to support hybrid rice production
by Melody M. Aguiba
July 12, 2014
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The Aquino government is considering schemes in supporting use of hybrid rice seeds through farmers’ irrigation network in light of a 400,000-hectare expansion aimed at raising food security.

The Office of the Presidential Assistant on Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization and Food Security (OPAFSAM) eyes the role of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) in supporting expansion of hybrid rice.

“We’ll look at how we can continue to support the use of our hybrid rice seeds. This is a priority of NIA and its irrigators’ association,” according to OPAFSAM Secretary Francis N. Pangilinan at a University of Asia and the Pacific agriculture forum.

OPAFSAM has a timeline for the hybrid rice seed propagation.

“We will be working on planting in the last quarter initially and then we’ll expand next year. NIA precisely has programs to support irrigators’ association,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) previously had a clustering program that involved irrigators’ association by which to maximize help to farmers.

It involved clustering of farmers tilling around 100 hectares through which provision of seeds, credit, aid on post harvest and markets are channeled.

What government is really after are programs that will not only raise yield of agricultural crops but also farmers’ income.

“We talk about subsidies in the context of raising farmers’ income. We talk about providing mechanization in the context of raising income, not just of yield or just to provide support,” Pangilinan said.

Since poverty is dominant in rural areas where agriculture is, agriculture will primarily be the sector through which rural income levels will be raised.

“When we did 7.2 percent growth in 2013, agriculture lagged behind. Inclusive growth is not being met. Poverty is growing, joblessness is growing. If you want meaningful growth, it should be in agriculture. What’s the use of this 7.2 percent if farmers are in abject want?”

And it has been apparent hybrid rice will be one tool to achieving growth goals.

As the Philippines started exporting hybrid rice, the Doña Maria rice, to Dubai in 2013, it will have the competitive advantage in rice amid the impending ASEAN free trade implementation in 2015, according to SL Agritech Corp. (SLAC) Chairman Henry Lim Bon Liong.

DA’s “10-5” program should raise farmers’ income and ensure food security using hybrid rice, Lim said. The 10-5 program aims to achieve a rice yield of 10 metric tons per hectare which will reduce production cost to P5 per kilo, effectively raising farmers’ income.

“At one time, DA Secretary (Proceso) Alcala came up with 10-5. There’s hope for us in the ASEAN integration if we plant hybrid rice,” said Lim in the same UA&P forum.

Farmers can realize a net income of at least P100,000 per hectare, double their regular income through 10.5.

Lim cited a rice farmer in Nueva Ecija, Jimmy Orate, who started planting hybrid rice on his only two hectares.

“I asked them to find out who the owner was of this tricycle. Before, tricycles had ‘Katas ng Saudi’. Now it’s ‘Katas ng SL-8 (hybrid seed). Jimmy started planting hybrid rice six years ago. He was able to send his only daughter to college, buy a tractor, and buy two tricycles.”

UA&P Executive Director Rolando Dy said the country’s farm sector has not been keeping up with its potential growth. The sector is only expanding by 1.5 to 2.5 percent. But the potential is at around five percent.

A change of paradigm – on how farmers and farming are valued—is needed order to help farmers, Pangilinan said.

“We need a changing of mindset and paradigm. Our colonial past created farming and farmers.

The Napoles funds are agriculture funds. There were bogus NGO farmer organizations. Our farmers are discriminated against, abused, neglected, and stolen from. It’s a cultural and political paradigm shifting that we have to do,” Pangilinan said.

There is a huge opportunity to grow agriculture because intervention in the sector may not have been very significant in the past.

“Our margin of growth is very high because there has been little meaningful intervention,” Pangilinan said.

Intensified agri support in provinces urged

July 8, 2014
Intensified agri support in provinces urged
by Melody M. Aguiba
July 6, 2014
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Climate change-driven calamities could intensify urbanization and this should prompt government to support agricultural activities in the provinces by providing infrastructure, credit, or input assistance, a study said.

A study on population mobility under various conditions of crop failure in Bangladesh by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said that for every crop failure brought about by natural calamities, farm workers in rural areas become inclined to move to the cities, contributing to increased squatting, pollution, and even mendicancy.

A five to 20 percent crop failure has prompted a 3.4 percent movement or migration in population from rural areas, where agriculture action happens, to more urbanized areas. A more than 20 percent crop failure also resulted in further higher people’s movement of 6.6 percent.

“Crop failure attributable to drought has the strongest effects on mobility,” according to Jean Francois-Maystadt and Valerie Mueller in the IFPRI study.

As climate change is predicted to raise temperature by two degrees centigrade and may trigger more weather abnormalities, urbanization may worsen.

Because of further threats of urbanization, the study said that government should prepare the rural agricultural population to climate threats by training them on crop and livestock diversification and adoption of drought resistant crop varieties and livestock species.

There should be new “large” investments in agricultural science and technology or protecting rural people’s assets through insurance services, said Maystadt and Mueller.

Infrastructure in rural areas (for roads, irrigation, telecommunication) is a necessity, according to the IFPRI study.

“Enhancing the buffering role of urban centers may also call for further action to reduce congestion costs, improve infrastructure – public transport facilities and sanitation and water management.”

Government should put in place policies on guarantees in property of farmers so that farmers retain their major assets in farm production like land. They won’t have to move to urban areas even if there may be crop failures since they still have land left to till.

Technical aids to farmers are a long- term solution, the study added.

“If you want resilience and transition to (economic progress), you must strengthen the most vulnerable population like agricultural workers and capitalize on investments in roads and in maximizing use of refugees’ presence,” Maystadt said in a follow up interview.

Refugee is a term used for people that need to move outside their traditional household area in order to seek refuge out of disasters or wars.

Displacement from calamities and wars are a concern for economic planners as displaced people contribute to environmental degradation as they heap waste and engaged in cooking and cause commodities’ sharp price fluctuations.

It is estimated that some 18 million people globally were displaced as of 2012 due to civil unrest or internal dispersion.

Among capacity-building work for displacement resolutions being facilitated by IFPRI are on people’s training, facilitating partnerships, information technology (IT) and e-learning activities, and training on organizational management.

“Investing in health and education services and infrastructure like improving access of farm goods to market has had positive impact in communities even 10 years after refugee (residence),” said Maystadt.

Farmers’ dependence on agricultural income is one factor that may cause them to migrate to urban areas, according to Maystadt and Mueller.

“The human consequences of climate shocks are not exclusively based on the probabilities of natural disasters (hazard) or the potential numbers of people affected by such natural hazards (exposure), but also other factors, such as acclimatization, informal coping mechanisms, degree of remoteness… and dependence on agricultural income (vulnerability).”

Jobs for unskilled people and jobs which are not climate-threatened attract farmers to urban areas.

“Unskilled jobs are bountiful in most cities, even those at risk of exposure. Not only do theservice and manufacturing industries in the cities offer higher earnings than in the agricultural sector, they are also less susceptible to the risks of natural disasters.”

It is expected that weather shocks will cause a decrease in wages in less developed countries.

“Countries highly dependent on the agricultural sector will experience a fall in rural wages. This brings forth incentives for rural – urban migration.”

What is worse is that climate change may lead to an additional displacement of people from rural areas to urban areas by five to 24 million people every year by the end of the century.

As drought may have more adverse impact on agricultural production, hot spells cause more vulnerability for male population to migrate.

“The effect of a hot spell on male migration is larger in magnitude. There are cumulative impacts of shocks on migration. In particular, the migration rate grows with the frequency of hot spells (not cold spells) five years prior to one’s move.”


FDA issues policy mandating use of bar-coding system for drug safety

July 8, 2014
FDA issues policy mandating use of bar-coding system for drug safety
by Melody M. Aguiba
July 3, 2014
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A new policy has been issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandating drug and health product manufacturers to use a bar-coding system that will ensure “traceability” and safety of drugs.

FDA Circular 2014-011 was issued by FDA last April 29. It will take effect one year after issuance or by June 2015.

The bar-coding system is under a system called the Unique Global Product Identification Number (UGP-IN).

It is a system similar to the bar-coding system of the GS1 international based in Brussels, Belgium.

GS1 local representatives said the issuance of Circular 2014-011 as signed by FDA Director Kenneth Y. Hartigan-Go shows government’s commitment to consumers’ health and welfare.

“Through this ID system, we will be able to ensure the right medicine is administered on patients. Expired drugs’ being found in the market will become a thing of the past,” said Edward David who is with the GS1 local office.

“Fake medical products may easily be identified when we have this unique identification number on all drug and health products,” David said in a statement.

The FDA noted that it is aligning its policy with international safety standards. For one, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Ministers Meeting issued in October 2013 a statement supporting global data standards that assure food and drug safety.

The circular imposes on all drug and health product manufacturers the adoption of a Global Trade Item Number or GTIN through an independent agency.

A product that is hazardous to health may be withdrawn from the market as it already has the GTIN assigned to each product.

The location of the manufacturing and distribution path of a product may be identified through the GTIN.

Under the circular, a unique identification code is assigned to each product.

A barcode, a Quick Response code (a trademark for a barcode type that has edge over usual barcodes in terms of quick readability and storage), or any electronic identification mark is given to each product.

The GS1 Philippines has the GS1 system that improves the management of supply chain – the series of steps in the process of moving goods and services from raw materials to consumers.

GS1 provides training and support for the production of bar codes (numbering and bar coding); eCom (EDI or Electronic Data Interchange); and Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN).

It also supports the use of a technology, radio frequency identification (RFID), a system of identifying objects that have tags through wireless transmission of data.

Each GTIN is permanently assigned as the identification number of each product associated with a company. The number has no expiration.

PCA sets aside P750 million for coconut pest eradication

June 25, 2014

PCA sets aside P750 million for coconut pest eradication

The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) has allocated P750 million for a six-month coconut scale insect pest eradication program to save the Philippines’ multi-billion dollar coconut industry.

The new program is different from previous efforts to eradicate coconut scale insect (CSI) pest in that it is comprehensive and involves a protocol that has several stages. The approach is also area-wide, encompassing all known infected areas simultaneously.

“We have increased the budget 10 times.  We’re doing this to help mobilize farmers and benefit them and save our billion-dollar coconut export,” said PCA Chairman Francis Pangilinan in a program launch  in Brgy. Potol, Tayabas, Quezon.

A target of 33,000 trees will be treated daily nationwide in six months. Improvement in the infected trees is predicted to be seen in three months, and total recovery of trees is expected in six months.  After this, a maintenance program is adopted.

A major part of the budget goes to extension work particularly “replacement income.”  Farmers and community workers are paid on a per day basis to carry out the pest control activities.

“A farmer in Batangas lost his income of P10,000 to P15,000 per month.  What we’re doing is to give farmers replacement income for 60 days. We will give them seeds for cash crops,” said Pangilinan who is also presidential assistant on food security and agricultural modernization.

Seeds of pinakbet vegetables like sitao, squash, eggplant, ampalaya will be distributed in the expectation of a 20 to 50-day harvesting period.

PCA has set up a “war room” where reports of infestation are received and from which control teams are mobilized.

“There’s no such thing as 100 percent eradication. We just need to bring it down to manageable level. There’s always a chance pests are transferred to other areas. They’re like worms that each human body has, but because he’s strong he could survive it,” said Pangilinan.

Simultaneous control programs are held all over Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and even in Basilan where infestation is “fairly new.” Report of infestation in Basilan was known last November 2012.

Infested trees nationwide are estimated at 1.8 million trees.  Loss from infestation is 58 percent of harvest.

“Infected areas represent just one percent of total coconut tree population, but we have to nip it in the bud,” he said. Previous budget for the control was just P65 million for four years.

The infestation is highly threatening because reproduction rate of pests is 100 percent monthly.  Damage from pests is also worsened by Yolanda typhoon’s adverse effect whose damage is on Region 8, one of Philippines’ three largest coconut producers.

The first stage of the control protocol is pruning where wilted, yellowish-brownish leaves are removed and cut and exposed to the sun so that pests would die.  The second is spraying of pesticides on the coconut trees.

A type of oil is mixed with a dishwashing liquid and sprayed on the back part of coconut leaves which is the host of the pests.  Infected seedlings may also be sprayed.  Farmers may also opt to use soap and vinegar as pesticide when the infestation is just starting.  This has been proven effective by the Bureau of Plant Industry-Regional Crop Protection Center Region 4.

The third stage involves the release of friendly pests or biocontrol agents that prey on CSI. Fourth is the application of fertilizers, largely ammonium sulphate. Fertilizer application is at 1.5 kilos per tree.

DuPont research boosts 4,000 new products for agriculture, nutrition

June 25, 2014

DuPont research boosts 4,000 new products for agriculture, nutrition

A 10-year research of DuPont Pioneer, one of world’s oldest agricultural research firms, is expected to impact positively on poorest farmers including Filipinos with 4,000 new advanced products on food, agriculture, and nutrition.

Already $2 billion has been poured in by DuPont into research and development (R&D) since 2010 as part of enhancing technology for smallholder farmers, according to Lystra N. Antoine, DuPont Pioneer director for agriculture development.

“We see smallholder farmers as a change agent. They’re critical for food security. They produce 80 percent of food in developing countries. We look back to our core competence which is seed technology and we think of how they can do much more on their plot of land,” she said in a press briefing.

It is working on crops that are rich in Vitamin A or zinc whose deficiency among women and children is prevalent especially in economically deprived populations.

One crop aimed for nutritional enhancement is the climate smart sorghum, a crop that can survive in conditions with less moisture or those plagued by drought.

DuPont Pioneer is also working with the government so that it can maximize use of resources. It is aligning its agriculture and food research program with findings of other institutions as the International Food Policy Research Institute which has led a consultative meeting on Building Resilience on Food and Nutrition Security.

“Seed is not the only solution, so in our development, we partner with others, recognizing we don’t have all the tools. We’re looking at the development of the entire maize (corn) value chain,” said Antoine.

DuPont Pioineer, through Pioneer Hi Bred Philippines Inc. is one of the Philippines’ biggest suppliers of hybrid corn and the Bacillus thuringiensis corn which have so far been helping put the country in an export status in corn.

Among research focus of the company is nutritional enhancement on food.

Also part of DuPont’s R&D is on the development of extension services. It is working with rural cooperatives and academic institutions on extension.

“How do we ensure that inputs become available within the farmer community? Moving beyond inputs, how do we build storage and ensure that farmers have access to markets?” said Antoine.

By 2015, it would have worked with 100,000 smallholder farmers globally through demonstration plots that let farmers see for themselves the value of technology. With demonstration plots, farmers also get better training. It is educating two million youth across the world.

Corn, cassava mechanization pushed

June 25, 2014

Corn, cassava mechanization pushed

Mechanization of the corn and cassava sectors will prepare this sector for ASEAN 2015 economic integration, according to the Department of Agriculture.

A corn and cassava mechanization roadmap of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Philippine Center for Post Harvest Development and Mechanization (Philmech) stated the program will require an investment of P7.84 billion for corn and P2.75 billion for cassava. It also needs a capability building component for the training of machine operators.

For corn, the machineries include tractors that will cost P2.836 billion; planter, P132.5 million; picker, P512.8 million; and combine harvester, P806.4 million.

There is also a post-harvest machinery component for corn.  The machineries include sheller, P181.17 million; vertical dryer, P1.524 billion; corn mill, P256.5 million; and silo, P515.6 million.

Post-harvest machines enable farmers to generate value added products that can raise their income.

“If they decide to engage in value adding, their dried corn grain will be subjected to milling to produce cracked corn grain or yellow corn grits to serve as animal feeds.  Their product can be sold to agricultural traders,” the sectoral roadmap stated.

Cassava farmers similarly have options on their end product.

“Farmers could end their farming activity by selling fresh cassava tubers or engage in value adding by granulating and drying their fresh cassava tubers so that they can sell their final output to cassava assemblers,” the roadmap added.

For more enterprising cassava farmers, through machineries, they may produce starch, cassava cake, and cassava-based pastries.

For cassava, needed funding for tractor totals to P1.206 billion; planter, P242.4 million; and digger-harvester, P47.2 million.  The post harvest component for cassava includes that for granulator, P170.9 million and dryer, P1.087 billion.

The training component both for corn and cassava will require P122.53 million consisting of P33.584 for training of trainers; P26.525 million for farmer field school; P11.77 million for post harvest technology promotion; and P50.658 million for technical briefings.

Based on this mechanization program, the cassava and corn sectors are expected to earn additional income of P3.63 billion for the period 2014 to 2017 following the implementation of a mechanization program.

There will also be additional corn production of 57,195 metric tons (MT) and 92,768 MT for cassava over four years.

“Analysis revealed that the impact of the corn mechanization program would result in additional corn supply of 228,780 MT for four years. This could mean an additional income to farmers,” the roadmap said.

Mechanization increases crop yield, crop intensity, production area and reduces post harvest losses.  It also enhances labor productivity.

With a plowing machine, deep plowing exceeding 12 inches enables plants to extend its moisture and nutrient absorption capability through their roots.

With machinery provision, it is estimated that corn grain yield may increase from the present national average of 2.88 MT per hectare to 3.85 MT per hectare  in program areas by 2017.

For cassava, yield may increase from 10.87 MT per hectare in 2013 to 21 MT per hectare in program areas by 2017.

This is also expected to improve income of farmers by an average of 10 percent per hectare.“This ensures competitiveness of farmers and other stakeholders in preparation for the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015,”  the roadmap said.


P500-M genome project opens int’l linkages

May 11, 2014

P500-M genome project opens int’l linkages

The government’s genome project, now valued at around P500 million, is seen paving the way to Philippines’ international collaboration on research on cancer and other diseases such as potentially with the United States’ National Institutes of Health (NIH).

A new bioinformatics core facility, opened last April, will support these collaborative programs.  The genome project is co-funded by the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development and Department of Science and Technology.

The genome project has already started research on prevalent diseases in the country including

dengue, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.  It is further encouraging collaborations with the private sector and academic institutions.

“The Philippine Genome Center (PGC) is for any researcher in the country who wants to do genomics research for the benefit of the Filipino,” said PGC Executive Director Carmencita D. Padilla said in an interview at the bioinformatics facility launch.

A potential international collaboration is with the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)  of the US’s NIH.  NCATS is currently conducting a five-year program on Bioengineered Organs-on-Chips Disease Modeling and Drug Development program.

Guest at the bioinformatics facility launch was NCATS-NIH’s Danilo A. Tagle.

“At the end of five years, it is anticipated that the availability of these systems to a broader research community will foster a multitude of new research applications including in personalized medicine, reproduction and development, infectious diseases, cancer,” said Tagle.

Other applications of bioengineered organs-on-chips, according to Tagle, are in countermeasures for chemical warfare, immune responses, and neuro-inflammation.  Organs-on-chips bioengineering involves use of devices that do simulation of the functions of real human organs in order to predict effects of certain therapies.

An example is a  model of a breathing lung on a microchip which  employs the use of living human lung cells integrated into the computer chip technology.

“This device mimics how the lung works so that scientists can more accurately model the effects of environmental toxins on human lungs,” said the Imperial College London.

The newly-launched bioinformatics facility at the National Science Complex in Diliman, Quezon City will enable researchers to undertake super-computing that involves processing of huge volume of data.

“When it comes to scientific computing, you need many processors or computing nodes that will run at the same time.  The difference in our facility is we have an IBM machine that is very optimized for minimal energy consumption at a much higher number of processors,” said Arturo O. Lluisma, bioinformatics director, in a separate interview.

While a quad core processor only has four central processors, the IBM BlueGene supercomputer at the PGC bioinformatics facility has hundreds of 4,096 cores.

The Philippine Council for Energy, Industry, and Emerging Technology Research and Development supported acquisition of the IBM BlueGene supercomputer.

The Advanced Science and Technology Institute will provide high-speed connection to the National Computer Center which will host the IBM supercomputer.

Most private companies in the Philippines do have enterprise-grade servers that can be combined in one big cluster for a powerful computing capability.

“But as far as our IBM supercomputer is concerned, that’s the only installation of that kind we have in the Philippines and I think even in Southeast Asia. We have an opportunity to do serious number crunching that wasn’t possible to do before. It can do big genomic data analysis, said Lluisma.

“Genomes of organisms, if you sequence them in their big sizes, would need capacity in the terabytes.  The IBM BlueGene will enable us to extract information from that data with its fast system. It will divide work into multiple components, and all the components will be analyzed at the same time.”

The PGC also needs to continue training people in the use of the bioinformatics facility.  The IBM BlueGene was acquired for P19 million. Needed to be trained includes statisticians, mathematicians, and physicists.

“The technology is evolving.  It’s a matter of keeping abreast of the technology and its progressive enhancement,” Lluisma said.

Padilla said PGC will reach out to academic institutions nationwide and help their experts come up with proposals so that funding will subsequently be obtained for such research proposals.

Under the mentioned NIH research bioengineered organs-on-chips, Tagle said 30 percent of promising medications for diseases fail because these are found to be toxic under human clinical trials. This is despite earlier successful clinical studies in animal models.  Other potential drugs, some 60 percent, fail due to efficacy problems.

“The challenge of accurately predicting drug toxicities and efficacies is in part due to inherent species differences in drug metabolizing enzyme activities and cell-type specific sensitivities to toxicants.

This is the reason why NIH put in $70 million for the organs-on-chips program which involves simulation of functions of 10 specific major human organ systems.  These are circulatory, respiratory, integumentary, reproductive, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, urinary, musculoskeletal, and immune systems.

“The opportunities for significant advancements in the prediction of human drug toxicities through development of microphysiological systems requires a multi-disciplinary approach that relies on understanding of human physiology, stem cell biology, material sciences, and bioengineering,” said Tagle.

5 new high-yield rice varieties released

May 4, 2014

5 new high-yield rice varieties released

Five new inbred rice varieties that offer a challenge to hybrid rice’s yield have been released by the government and will be fielded out for technology demonstration all over Philippines’ 16 regions.

The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) has developed a saline-tolerant variety, Salinas 10, registered with the National Seed Industry Council as NSIC Rc324.

Together with the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) regional offices, PhilRice also released two new inbred varieties suitable for irrigated lands.  These are the NSIC Rc308 (Tubigan 26), and NSIC Rc298 (Tubigan 23).

NSIC Rc342SR (Mabango 4) is an aromatic special purpose rice with a potential yield of 7MT per hectare. One new variety, NSIC Rc346 (Sahod Ulan 11) is for rainfed farms.

There is also a hybrid rice variety, NSIC Rc318H (Mestiso 48) that PhilRice just released.

Yield of the new inbreds has shown in field testing to reach at least six metric tons (MT) per hectare and can exceed 10 MT per hectare in some tested areas.

“PhilRice’s inbred breeders have improved breeding methodology and tools.  There is more certainty in the selection of varieties to be crossed.  We expect that hybrids will also have improved yield with the use of these new tools,” said Thelma F. Padolina, Philrice plant breeding and biotechnology chief, in an interview.

Salinas 10 has been tested in saline-prone areas in Cagayan Valley, Iloilo, and Bicol.

Aside from being resistant to pests, the new varieties  are also early-maturing that can be harvested from 104 to 114 days.  Traditional inbreds are harvested in 120 days.

“They have good eating quality and are resistant to pests and diseases such as stem borer, green leaf hopper, brown leaf hopper, bacterial leaf blight, sheath blight, and blast,” reported Philrice.

Padolina said DA is carrying out Participatory Variety Selection (PVS) for the new varieties in the country’s 16 regions.  PVS is a science-based field study of the new varieties.

However, as part of promoting the varieties to farmers, DA will also conduct technology demonstration to be done by farmers themselves.

The technology demonstration will make use of outstanding varieties that turn out from the PVS. The demonstration site will cover 500 to 1,000 square meters.

“The Philippines’ (soil condition) is very diverse. We have 72 provinces.  We need to see adaptation of the varieties in different areas, so recommendation will be location specific,” said Padolina.

Philrice will further test Mestizo 48 in adverse conditions as its field test was just conducted in favorable, irrigated areas.

Philrice earlier released a few years ago a submergence-tolerant variety suitable for flooded areas.

However, Submarino 1 needs continuing improvement as it is still susceptible to diseases like bacterial leaf blight, blast, and tungro.

Besides, Submarino 1’s capability to withstand flooding should be stretched.

At present, it can survive in flooded farms only over 14 days, during the seeding to vegetative stage.  When flooding happens during the reproductive or flowering stage, the plant will die.

PhilRice also released a fungal microbial agent, Metarhizium anisopliae,  that controls rice black bug.  It was developed in powder form as an alternative pest management strategy.

Dr. Gerardo F. Estoy, product developer, said the powdered biological agent is environment-friendly and does not pose risks to humans and animals. It does not also leave residues on crops and is cheaper than chemical pesticides.

Rice Crop Manager, on the other hand, is an internet-based device used in identifying nutrient applications. By accessing, farmers receive location-specific nutrient recommendations based on farmers’ practices, rice varieties, and farm environment.

PUP to honor rice hybrid promoter with honorary Doctor of Science degree

May 4, 2014

PUP to honor rice hybrid promoter with honorary Doctor of Science degree

The Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) is set to recognize the pivotal role technology takes in the country’s food security as it recognizes SL Agritech Corp.’s (SLAC) Henry Lim Bon Liong for the risks he took in pioneering the hybrid rice sector.

PUP is conferring on Lim a Doctor of Science honorary degree at PUP’s Commencement Exercise on May 12, 2014.

Henry Lim Bon Liong

Lim will also be the rite’s commencement speaker.

SLAC, which accounts for the supply of 60 to 80 percent of the Philippines hybrid rice seeds, has enabled the country to raise its national rice yield from three metric tons (MT) per hectare to 3.6 to 3.8 MT per hectare.

Hybrid rice technology has enabled Filipino farmers to enjoy a better standard of living with net income doubling from just P50,000 per hectare to at least P100,000 per hectare using hybrid rice seeds.

PUP has been a premiere academic institution on the sciences with its course offering in all science fields (Chemistry, Physics, Biology) and engineering and technology.

While hybrid rice seeds in the Philippines only account for around five-six percent of the country’s rice area of around three million hectares, Lim has spearheaded technology information that could expand the area.

He just led the development of a new rice variety, SL-18H, that gives a rice yield of a relatively stable seven to 10 MT per hectare.  This is two to three times higher than the yield from inbred rice of three to four MT per hectare.

The introduction over the last two cropping seasons of SL-18H is a continuing effort through science and technology of Lim to give farmers better income and livelihood.

“SL-18 is the only variety now that can exceed the yield of our first hybrid rice variety (SL-8H),” Lim said.

Despite initial criticisms against hybrid rice and SL-8H, Lim persisted on showing farmers that hybrid rice is a technology that could pluck them out from abject poverty.

He has persuaded farmers that they only need 15 to 20 kilos of good hybrid seeds.  This can well take the place of 50 to 80 kilos of inbred seeds and adequately earn for them an income two times that from inbreds.

Hybrids are a product of the breeding of two superior parents with outstanding traits like disease resistance, delicious taste and aromatic-smelling, and anti-lodging (resistance against wind) quality.

Lim risked his own money of at least P100 million for the 40-hectare hybrid rice experimental farm that he put up in Brgy. Oogong, Sta. Cruz, Laguna.

He put in a few hundred million peso more for the experiments to come up with a tropical weather-suited hybrid rice that has so far then been proven workable only in temperate zones as in China.

He even took the risk against his own life as he traveled to conflict-ridden farms in Mindanao as the company put up its seed production in Banay banay, Davao Oriental.

The good result of his experiments, that now includes Dona Maria Rice (with its tagline the best-tasting rice in the Philippines, perhaps in the whole world), comes from a trusting relationship with his scientists-breeders.

His breeders were granted to him as help by Father of Hybrid Rice Yuan Longping of China who believed in Lim’s mission to contribute to reduction of global hunger.

“In three to five years, SLAC is aiming to feed 50 million people.  By that time two million hectares must be planted to SLAC hybrid rice varieties,” said Lim.

PUP Regents board members are Commission on Higher Education Chairman Alex B. Brillanes, Sen. Pia S. Cayetano, Rep. Roman T. Romulo, National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Sec. Arsenio M. Balisacan, NEDA Deputy Dir. Gen Margarita Songco, Science Sec. Mario G. Montejo, Philippine National Red Cross Board Sec. Corazon Alma G. De Leon, Civil Network for Education Reform President Edicio G. Dela Torre, Fed. of Alumni Association Pres. Rene A. Tanasas, Federated Faculty Assn. Pres. Edna S. Lavadio, Anak-PUP Student Councils Fed. Pres. Ma. Alexi R. Tiotangco, and PUP Board Secretary Merito Lovensky D. R. Fernandez.

New hybrid rice variety doubles income of farmers

April 20, 2014

New hybrid rice variety doubles income of farmers

by Melody M. Aguiba
April 19, 2014

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New hybrid rice variety SL-18H is doubling the income of farmers in a swamp land in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija, enabling them to earn in just one season what they usually yield for two croppings.

Farmers in the catch basin town of Cabiao traditionally plant rice once in a year– only in the dry season. They lament the land is totally submerged in water in the rainy season.

But the hybrid rice is giving hope of earning the same amount as the new variety gives a yield of more than 200 cavans per hectare.

Cabiao farmer-leader Luisito delos Santos was inspired by his brother, Florencio, who planted SL-18H in last year’s dry season. Florencio harvested 280 cavans over a 1.8-hectare land at 70 kilos per cavan. The farmer effectively yielded 10.89 metric tons (MT) per hectare, about three times the country’s national average yield of three to four MT per hectare.

This year, in his four-hectare land, Delos Santos recorded a harvest of 572 cavans at 58 kilos per cavan. This is equivalent to 8.294 MT per hectare, still double the national average yield mostly based on the use of conventional inbred seeds.

“We just wish we could plant rice here two times a year. If that’s the case, we would have been rich by now,” said Delos Santos in an interview.

With the high yield, delos Santos and other Cabiao farmers plan to expand their hybrid rice area immediately to 100 hectares next season from 40 hectares this year.

Department of Agriculture Consultant Santiago R. Obien said the advantage of hybrid rice over conventional seeds is it gives farmers two to three times harvest using almost the same inputs (seeds and fertilizer) and practically the same labor from inbreds.

However, there should be a continuous education of farmers on the advantage of hybrid rice since they are deprived of economic improvements for lack of knowledge, according to SL Agritech Corp. (SLAC) Chairman Henry Lim Bon Liong.

“The government should help in information dissemination because many farmers cannot believe that they can use only 15 to 20 kilos of hybrid seeds per hectare. They are used to using 80 kilos per hectare of inbred seeds,” said Lim.

Yield from SLAC’s pioneering hybrid variety SL-8H was also good in many Nueva Ecija towns.

There were threats though of a lower rice production that frightened farmers owing to the cold weather in December 2013 and January 2014. But the harvest this current dry season is proving that the cold spell threat actually turned out well for farmers’ welfare.

“The ongoing harvest of SL-8 is yielding 200 cavans per hectare in Central Luzon. Farmers are especially happy as price of palay is high at P22 to P23 per kilo,” according to SLAC Advertising Manager Josephine Dungca.

The highest recorded net income is P233,200 per hectare from Gapan, Godofredo Parcutela at P233,000 200. He planted SL-8H on one hectare. Computed yield is 283.2 cavans per hectare at 50 kilos per cavan.

Four farmers experienced a net income of P150,000 and above. These are Celso dela Cruz of San Isidro, P168,625; Arnold dela Cruz of San Antonio, P156,000; Maricar Ocampo, P154,339 San Antonio; and Danny de Guzman, Gapan, P151,818.

Twenty-three farmers earned a net income of more than P101,000 using SL-8H. This must be a critical mass considering that national government does not currently have a subsidy program for hybrid rice.

The lowest recorded net income was P100,000 from Leonardo dela Cruz of San Isidro town.

In order to sustain gains in the hybrid rice sector, farmers are seeking government’s support on a financing or grant program for combine harvester. A combine harvester boosts farmers’ efficiency. It costs around P1.6 million, and for one that has a flatbed tractor (for transportation), P1.7 million.

With the combine, wastage can only be three percent compared to about 10 percent wastage by combining three processes harvesting, threshing, and winnowing of rice. Its capacity is to reap rice on one hectare every two hours. With the primitive human labor, harvesting of one hectare may last for a day or two.

“The kabiser (a community leader like a baranggay captain) should have a combine (farm implement) that can be commonly used by farmers. That will help raise our rice production,” said Racquel “Keng” Diamante, SLAC marketing specialist.

When rented, combine fee is 13 cavans per 100 cavans of rice. Another concern is the high cost of diesel. Delos Santos said he spends a lot for diesel used in pumping water since there is no working national irrigation system.

Creation of innovation zones pushed

April 15, 2014

Creation of innovation zones pushed

Filipino World Economic Forum (WEF) participants will push for a legislation that provide technical and financial support for high risk, high reward technology and social ventures needed to buttress Philippines’ rapid economic growth.

WEF-Philippines is particularly gunning at the creation of Innovation Zones (IZ) that will be supported by national agencies, according to WEF participant and technology serial entrepreneur Winston Damarillo.

“We will get heads of our YGL (Young Global Leaders) community… and our legislators who will have the best ideas on how we can build innovation zones in the Philippines so that economic growth is felt by everyone,” said Damarillo.

WEF- Philippines participants are holding a collaborative meeting that has a focus on creating the IZ.  The so-called the Open Collaboration with East Asia New Champions (OCEAN) will be held on May 23 to 25, 2014 in Cebu City. There will be more than 70 WEF New Champions and more than 100 local community thought leaders from Japan, Silicon Valley, New York, Beijing, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Potential supporters of the IZ legislation are Sen. Paolo Benigno Bam Aquino IV and Sen. Francis Escudero.

“Designed for startups and entrepreneurs working on high risk, high reward ventures, Innovation Zones will build on best practices and encourage innovation,” said Damarillo. “We are very excited to hold the inaugural OCEAN summit right here in Cebu.”

The WEF-Philippines is composed of leaders from various technology and social enterprise community groups.  These are from YGL, Global Shapers Community, and Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.  WEF, which has centers in Switzerland, United States, and China is also supported by Technology Pioneers from Microsoft, Huawei, and Novartis, among others.

WEF and its YGL forum, which has the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as one strategic partner, has “making the world a better place” as an aim particularly through entrepreneurship.

The WEF will expand the Hackathon concept in this part of the Asian region, Damarillo said.

“We’ll do a hackathon. The goal of OCEAN is to help entrepreneurs improve their ideas as experts come to the country,” said Damarillo, founder of Exist Global which has offices in Marina del Rey, California, Manila, and Cebu.

New hybrid varieties boost eggplant production

April 11, 2014

New hybrid varieties boost eggplant production

by Melody M. Aguiba
April 9, 2014

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The Philippines will boost  eggplant production when hybrids and open pollinated varieties (OPV) of Bt eggplant become available which will prompt desperate farmers weary of pests to restore eggplant farming.

More farmers will be encouraged to plant eggplant when Bt eggplant comes out, according to National Academy of Science and Technology Advisor Emil Q. Javier.  This may stabilize price of the good.

For one, Javier, a farmer and a director of international fruit supplier Del Monte Pacific, will likely restore eggplant farming.

“I’ve grown eggplant twice and lost twice because of FSB (fruit and shoot borer pest).  We’re spraying once a week, but we thought ‘maybe we should spray two times a week.’ Then I realized the only way is to spray everyday,” said Javier.

But his regard for the danger of spraying on the health of farmers stopped him from planting conventional eggplant.

“I said no.  If I spray we’ll make money, but how about my own farmers who are spraying? I lost heavily on eggplant twice. Now if the writ is lifted (banning Bt eggplant propagation), we’ll have hybrids for those willing to pay a little more, and an OPV for those preferring to grow and save seeds,” he said.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications filed last Nov. 18, 2013 a motion for reconsideration with the Supreme Court to lift the writ of kalikasan, a recourse to ensure the right of Filipinos for a balanced ecology.

The earlier Court of Appeals decision favoring the writ actually promotes the idea that pests’ existence should be protected as against the right of people to exist in a healthier environment, said Javier.

“They said that with Bt eggplant, you’ll deprive the right of borer to the eggplant and you’re favoring human beings. If you follow this argument, what’s the role of agriculture and medicine? What you do in medicine is you deprive the worms and parasites so that man will live longer” said Javier.

In the same vein, Javier said in agriculture, humans spray against pathogens that destroy crops so that crops and livestock will grow, and harvest will be more.

“If you follow this argument, you have to ban agriculture and medicine,” he said.

Unfortunately, the writ of kalikasan decision asserted that while there is no evidence that Bt could harm human, there is also no evidence that Bt eggplant will not harm human.

“But in courts, it is the responsibility of the complainant to prove harm (which was not found in Bt eggplant),” he said.

In fact, the heavy of spraying of chemicals on eggplant now as a prevailing practice is the real danger, while Bt eggplant is just a “probable” danger, he said.

The very fact that the globally respected Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) withdrew its support to the Seralini papers, there is a strong scientific basis that the court should now reverse its decision banning Bt eggplant farming.

Health Information Exchange bidding set

April 5, 2014

Health Information Exchange bidding set

A Health Information Exchange (HIE) program will be bidded out for private sector participation as part of a P150 million eHealth program to provide equity in health service, eventually benefitting Philippine labor force’s poorest.

The HIE forms the biggest part of the Philippine National eHealth Strategic Framework and Plan PNeHSFP or eHealth of the Department of Health (DOH).

The information exchange will involve global sharing of information and innovations on different drugs and health best practices.

“We need telecommunications services today since we already have smartphones. We’re looking at telecommunication companies to make information available even to the private sector,” said DOH Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa in an interview.

The HIE will be a big database, according to Herbosa, “like a google of all drugs and information available globally.”

There is a think tank that collects and screens all information for web publication.

The HIE will enable government to put up better health policies as it is an internet-based data that will easily show, for instance, prevalent diseases that become a national burden, how much is spent for such diseases, and the needed budget to treat these.

“It will drive us to efficiency,” he said. “It will be the tool for both standardization and innovation features to prosper.”

The access to the HIE is through subscription of ministries of health, the academe, and related institutions.

A collaboration between the DOH and the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) of the Department of Science and Technology are working on the HIE.

The Philippines will have access to drugs being developed abroad for its own science-based drug development.

Still it will economically benefit from any drug it develops, particularly those using indigenous herbs, as patent and other intellectual property protection are honored by the global system.

“The health information exchange is Filipino, the database for drugs is international,” said Herbosa.

The eHealth program, in general will improve health services through information technology (IT).

“IT has become affordable and pervasive. Yet, IT has not been effectively used in the health sector. There will be tremendous benefits if key healthcare processes can be computerized,” he said.

The National Standards and Interoperability Framework or NSIF will activate master registries for patients, health care providers, and facilities under the eHealth.

The eHealth is hoped to enable good governance, policies, and controls for health services.

It will engage multiple sectors and develop eHealth strategy aligned with sector priorities.

Both DOH and PCHRD-DOST are developing eHealth under the World Health Organization’s guidance (WHO).

Representatives from both agencies earlier participated in the WHO –International Telecommunications Union’s National eHealth Strategy Toolkit workshop.

“Under workforce development, the steering committee will designate academic partners to undertake a systematic capacity-building program to improve the eHealth knowledge and skills of all health workers in the country,” he said.

Infrastructure has to be established.

The Department of Budget and Management together with the ICT (Information Communications Technology) Office have brought up the possibility for a GovCloud initiative, and eHealth may be integrated in this.

“All technology architecture requirements of government will be served through a private cloud. We think this is a special time in our IT history where we will) deliver quality e-services through reliable technologies such as the cloud.”

15 startups provide technical assistance to MVP-backed entrepreneural endeavor

March 27, 2014

Gov’t may avail of cost-effective aflatoxin detection kit for corn

March 6, 2014

by Melody M. Aguiba
March 5, 2014

The Philippine government may soon be able to avail of a cost-effective aflatoxin detection kit critical to food safety for feeds involving mainly the P100-billion corn sector and also for peanut as direct food.

The detection kit, costing only $2 to $3 per sample, is being released to the market by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (Icrisat).

“We’r e in the process of releasing our detection to the market. We’re discussing with companies, with our agribusiness incubator,” according to Hri Kishan Sudini, Icrisat, groundnut pathology expert, in an interview.

The aflatoxin detection kit will give Filipino farmers the advantage of selling their corn and peanut at a high price as the market pays a premium for food safety.

Such detection kits will be crucial as the Philippines is aggressively seeking to export its corn after initial export of corn silage to South Korea last year.

“Aflatoxins are an important group of mycotoxins and pose a serious threat to food safety. More than 75 percent of the countries in the world have their own regulations on aflatoxins, indicating the level of concern (on aflatoxin),” according to Sudini.

Aflatoxins create molds in corn, peanut, and other farm commodities like copra (coconut meat) and tree nuts (pistachio, almond) that become cancer causing.

This makes it a serious concern especially for developed countries that want to import farm products.

And developing countries like the Philippines are more known to have inappropriate post-handling processes for farm products that may become aflatoxin-contaminated.

The kit may enable Filipino farmers to pay just at least one-fifth per sample of the commercial price for the kit.

“There are several commercial kits in the market from different companies. For each action, you pay at least $10. So if you can buy one kit which is $500, you can only analyze 50,” he said.

A technology to detect aflatoxin in animals’ body or meat or in animals’ milk which may cause toxins on human when taken in has also been developed by Icrisat.

This aflatoxin is in the form of aflatoxin M1. The detection kit can be highly sensitive and can detect aflatoxin M1 at a rate of 0.5 micrograms per kilo. It can also detect other toxins produced by aspergillus species of fungi.

“This suggests that these assays meet global standards for screening food samples,” said Sudini and Icrisat researchers C.L.L. Gowda, F. Waliyar, and S.V. Reddy in a report.

A combination of technologies is being promoted by Icrisat to ensure food safety by preventing aflatoxin contamination of food.

One is orienting farmers that corn or peanut plants should not be left several days in the field upon harvest without sending them to dryers.

“The most important thing is proper drying to eight percent moisture,” he said.

The plants are contaminated by the soil, which is why soil sterilization is also one management practice.


 Storage of farm products is guarded.

   Icrisat is specifically concerned about post harvest handing of peanuts as peanuts are now considered climate smart crop that can withstand more serious drought in these times of climate change.

   Proper storage is important since insect pests do mechanical damage or holes on farm goods

 through which the fungus aspergillus causes aflatoxin on the peanut.

   “If you’re able to prevent insect damage during post harvest , you can reduce aflatoxin contamination,” he said.

   Icrisat has also engaged in breeding of peanut varieties that have aflatoxin- resistance.

   ”Aspergillus can enter into peanut pod while still in the soil.  That’s why we’re focusing on breeding also.   We’re breeding cultivars which cannot allow aspergillus to enter into peanut pod.”

   Aside from resistance to aflatoxin, the varieties should be high yielding.  These varieties should yield at least three metric tons per hectare as that of peanut variety ICGV 9114.

   Researchers are identifying genes responsible for resistance to aflatoxin.

   A peanut variety that may have aflatoxin-resistance may be one that has tough coat which stops aspergillus from causing aflatoxin formation.

   “If the seed coat is in good health, it will not allow the fungi to enter into the peanut seeds. That’s one important aspect breeders are looking at,” said Sudini.

   Another peanut variety may have biochemical factors, such as oil content, that will prevent the fungus from entering the seed.

   There are also important mechanisms inside peanuts that may prevent aflatoxin development.

   “Inside peanut seeds, there are factors that will keep the fungus from producing the aflatoxin

like the phytoalexins,” said Sudini.

    Phytoalexins may be generally considered phytochemicals that form plants’ defense against stresses from outside including fungus infection.

   “Whenever the aspergillus fungi enters peanut seeds ,there is one phytoalexin called resveratrol.  It’s a very important phytoalexin that can be in peanut and grapes. If you have high content of resveratrol in peanut seeds, that can restrict aflatoxin contamination,” he said. End


DOST pushes eHealth technologies for smarter healthcare

February 20, 2014

DOST pushes eHealth technologies for smarter healthcare


By Maria Luisa S. Lumioan

S&T Media Service, DOST-STII


The Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) trailblazing projects for the health sector  took the spotlight at the First Philippine eHealth Summit held last February 4 at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza in Pasay City to pave the way for smarter healthcare by maximizing information and communications technology (ICT).


Using ICT for health, also known as eHealth, “is envisioned to transcend the constraints brought about by the country’s archipelagic setup and limited budget,” DOST Secretary Mario G. Montejo said during the event.


DOST projects for smarter healthcare include the RxBox, eHealth Technology Assisted Boards for LGU Efficiency and Transparency (e-TABLET), and the Philippine Health Information Exchange (PHIE).


RxBox: Connecting medics

Developed by University of the Philippines Manila-National Telehealth Center and DOST, the RxBox is a medical device which enables health workers in remote communities to consult with medical experts in urban areas, thus providing better access to life-saving healthcare services in isolated and disadvantaged communities nationwide.


It has built-in medical sensors for monitoring blood pressure and blood oxygen levels, assessing the strength of contraction of the mother’s uterus, as well as electrocardiogram and fetal heart monitor.  The data acquired by the sensors are stored in the device and may be transmitted to a specialist as the need arises and upon patient’s consent.  The RxBox is currently deployed in 21 sites in the Philippines.


e-TABLET: Managing medical records

The e-TABLET, on the other hand, is a tablet-based electronic medical record system developed by Ateneo de Manila’s Institute of Philippine Culture and Ateneo Java Wireless and Competency Center. 


Apart from being a platform for health workers to input and manage patient records, e-TABLET is also a decision-making tool for  local government units which are given access to summarized simple medical data in the tablet. Armed with real time information, LGUs can make decisions such as allocating resources and manpower to respond to a certain medical situation in their locality.  e-TABLETalso features a messaging system between the  mayor and the  municipal/city  health officer. The tablet is currently deployed in 10 sites, namely  San Jose Buenavista, Antique; Alcoy, Cebu; Sta. Rita, Pampanga; Isulan, Sultan Kudarat; Paombong, Bulacan; Anilao, Iloilo; Lal-lo, Cagayan; Dumalinao, Zamboanga del Sur; Guimba, Nueva Ecija; and Dinalupihan, Bataan.


PHIE: Centralized medical records

To further enhance the country’s healthcare delivery system, DOST and the Department of Health are also setting up the PHIE system by the end of 2014.  PHIE will provide centralized database of health and medical records nationwide, allowing a patient to retrieve his medical records from anywhere in the country. With this system, patients can save time and effort, and avoid expenses from unnecessary or duplicate examinations.


Enhancing eHealth via TVWS connectivity

To ensure that the full benefits of eHealth can be realized, the DOST through its Information and Communication Technology Office (ICTO) is working to expand internet connectivity in far-flung areas. In particular, DOST-ICTO is tapping into the potential of TV White Spaces (TVWS) , or unused frequencies between broadcast TV channels,  to provide an extremely cost effective means for internet connectivity and data delivery in areas underserved by  telecommunications companies.


Aside from eHealth, DOST-ICTO also aims to maximize TVWS technology for applications in environmental sensor networks, educational content delivery, and government information systems.  #




DOST Secretary Mario G. Montejo (center) listens to Dr. Kristine Magtubo (left) of the University of the Philippines National Telehealth Center as she explains the features of RxBox during the First Philippine eHealth Summit held last February 4 at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza. RxBox is a biomedical device that measures and stores vital patient health information which can be transmitted to remote medical specialists. With them are Congressman Victor Yu, chairman of the Congressional Committee on Science and Technology and 1st District representative of Zamboanga Del Sur; and Oriental Mindoro Governor Alfonso Umali, president of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines.  (Photo by Henry A. de Leon, S&T Media Service, DOST-STII)

P59B eyed to finance small farmers’ production

February 15, 2014

20 Poorest Provinces

by Melody M. Aguiba
February 15, 2014

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A P59.56 billion budget is needed to finance the priority commodities raised by 1.080 million National Statistics Office (NSO)-registered farmers in Philippines’ 20 provinces that need the most help out of poverty.

Out of this huge need, an initial amount of only P1 billion was released last December 2013 by the Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC) for relending by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP).

ACPC is stepping up assistance for Philippines’ 20 poorest provinces under a program called Agricultural Fisheries and Financing Program (AFFP), according to ACPC Executive Director Jovita M. Corpuz.

“We only turned over P1 billion to Land Bank. But we requested an additional P2 billion budget for next year to finance production in 20 poorest provinces. There’s a huge credit gap as these provinces are hardly reached by (commercial) creditors,” said Corpuz in a turnover ceremony.

Eligible borrowers of the AFFP are non-agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) since ACPC has a separate P2 billion loan program for ARBs, according to Corpuz.

These borrowers should cultivate not more than five hectares of land or are engaged in small poultry and livestock raising.

LBP Vice President Leila C. Martin said qualified to apply for the AFFP loan are farmers raising not more than 1,000 poultry layers or 5,000 broilers. For hog raisers, they should be growing not more than 10 sow-level hogs or 20 fatteners. For cattle raisers, maximum inventory should be 10 fattners or five breeders. For dairy cows, a small farmer should have not more than 10 milking cows, while for goat, maximum is 50 heads.

The 20 poorest provinces are Abra, Agusan del Sur, Apayao, Camarines Sur, Davao Oriental, Eastern Samar, Ifugao, Kalinga, Masbate, Mountain Provinces, North Cotabato, Northern Samar, Romblon, Sarangani, Siquijor, Sultan Kudarat, Suirgao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Western Samar, and Zamboanga del Norte.

The crops raised by these poorest Filipino farmers are palay (rice), involving 252,063 farmers; coconut, 200,195 farmers; and corn, 134,043 farmers. Also grown by 355,749 registered farmers are high value commercial crops (HVCC – fruits and vegetables). There are also goat raisers, 21,002 farmers; and municipal fishers, 99,651.

The data are based on a survey made by NSO and the Department of Budget and Management under the Registry System of Basic Sectors in Agriculture or RSBSA.

These farmers and fishers work on a total of 1.124 million hectares. The area consists of 681,917 hectares of coconut; 222,784 hectares of rice; 109,466 hectares of HVCC; 101,780 hectares, corn; 117,621 hectares, goat; and 172,361 hectares, fisheries.

ACPC’s P1 billion budget comes from its allocation from the General Appropriations Act.


‘Polvoron’ delicacy enters US market

February 9, 2014

‘Polvoron’ delicacy enters US market

by Melody M. Aguiba
February 8, 2014

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The local delicacy polvoron through “ChocoVron” is now being exported to the United States after having joined international fairs and having penetrated local and Asian markets.

The registration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by ChocoVron Global Corp. (CGC) has paved the way to its export.

“Our exhibits abroad, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and New Jersey helped us in our export,” according to CGC entrepreneurial founder Joel Yala in an interview.

It has partnered with the Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Agriculture in these exhibits.

Prior to its export, the company has already been distributing its chocolate-polvoron products through the malls. ChocoVron also has outlets in 7-Eleven, SM Snack Exchange, Kopiroti NAIA3 and Duty Free shop at the airport, Gourdo’s, Market Market (Laguna), Gaisano Mall in Cebu and Mindanao, among others.

Among its unique products are the Sugar-Free Pinipig in dark chocolate, Manila Polvoron, and NutriVron Stevia Polvoron which are health buffs.

The company’s two-in-one cookies and cream variety of chocovron-polvoron is registered with the Intellectual PropertyOffice.

ChocoVron was started in 2003 by husband and wife team Joel and Marissa Yala. They were then both employees, Joel was with the Amkor Technology Philippines and Marissa, with a garment company.

The company expanded as it proved trustworthy of delivering what the market wanted for sweets. These include polvoron products that have various flavors — mainly with the chocolate coating outside as Joel as a child was fond of chocolate-coated marshmallows.

Their products further diversified which required the husband and wife team to devote full-time work for their business.

The company’s other polvorons now are flavored with pineapple mango, malunggay, pinipig, peanut, squash pinipig, ampalaya pinipig, and malunggay pinipig. The simple polvoron is a mixture of powdered milk, toasted flour, butter, and sugar.

In 2011, it incorporated into its present name from a single proprietorship for seven years.

Its present production capacity in its Laguna factory is 2,000 to 3,000 packs a day in the peak season.

While the venture was growing, CGC obtained a P950,000 loan from the Department of Science and Technology’s SETUP (Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program). The loan was for packaging. After having paid its first loan, CGC applied for another one and got a P2 million loan, also with SETUP, primarily for a molding machine.

It now has 25 regular workers and taps other part-time workers in the peak season.

As another expansion of its distribution network, it is also introducing an online ordering function through its website.

“You may now order online for nationwide delivery and pay through Paypal or your credit card. We’re tying up for the logistics part, the delivery, with LBC. There is a small minimum order,” said CGC’s Marissa Yala.


‘Polvoron’ delicacy enters US market

February 8, 2014

by Melody M. Aguiba

The local delicacy polvoron through “ChocoVron” is now being exported to the United States after having joined international fairs and having penetrated local and Asian markets.

The registration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by ChocoVron Global Corp. (CGC) has paved the way to its export.

“Our exhibits abroad, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and New Jersey helped us in our export,” according to CGC entrepreneurial founder Joel Yala in an interview.

It has partnered with the Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Agriculture in these exhibits.

Prior to its export, the company has already been distributing its chocolate-polvoron products through the malls. ChocoVron also has outlets in 7-Eleven, SM Snack Exchange, Kopiroti NAIA3 and Duty Free shop at the airport, Gourdo’s, Market Market (Laguna), Gaisano Mall in Cebu and Mindanao, among others.

Among its unique products are the Sugar-Free Pinipig in dark chocolate, Manila Polvoron, and NutriVron Stevia Polvoron which are health buffs.

The company’s two-in-one cookies and cream variety of chocovron-polvoron is registered with the Intellectual PropertyOffice.

ChocoVron was started in 2003 by husband and wife team Joel and Marissa Yala. They were then both employees, Joel was with the Amkor Technology Philippines and Marissa, with a garment company.

The company expanded as it proved trustworthy of delivering what the market wanted for sweets. These include polvoron products that have various flavors — mainly with the chocolate coating outside as Joel as a child was fond of chocolate-coated marshmallows.

Their products further diversified which required the husband and wife team to devote full-time work for their business.

The company’s other polvorons now are flavored with pineapple mango, malunggay, pinipig, peanut, squash pinipig, ampalaya pinipig, and malunggay pinipig. The simple polvoron is a mixture of powdered milk, toasted flour, butter, and sugar.

In 2011, it incorporated into its present name from a single proprietorship for seven years.

Its present production capacity in its Laguna factory is 2,000 to 3,000 packs a day in the peak season.

While the venture was growing, CGC obtained a P950,000 loan from the Department of Science and Technology’s SETUP (Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program). The loan was for packaging. After having paid its first loan, CGC applied for another one and got a P2 million loan, also with SETUP, primarily for a molding machine.

It now has 25 regular workers and taps other part-time workers in the peak season.

As another expansion of its distribution network, it is also introducing an online ordering function through its website.

“You may now order online for nationwide delivery and pay through Paypal or your credit card. We’re tying up for the logistics part, the delivery, with LBC. There is a small minimum order,” said CGC’s Marissa Yala.

IFC-backed private company provides farmers crop insurance

December 5, 2013

IFC-backed private company provides farmers crop insurance

by Melody M. Aguiba
December 4, 2013

A micro insurance model has been introduced by a local firm where International Finance Corp (IFC) of the World Bank group is an investor to spare farmers from losses even as data show strong typhoons from 2009-2012 had brought huge losses of P118.77 billion.

A subsidiary of Opportunity International, MicroEnsure Philippines (MEP), has so far paid about P500 million in claims representing more than 15,000 claims.

Based in Iloilo City, it works with local partners in 50 provinces nationwide. These are banks, microfinance institutions, and input suppliers.

A weather index-based crop insurance has been introduced whose payment of benefit will depend on verification of weather parameters such as rainfall and wind speed in a typhoon-stricken area.

“It compensates farmers based on weather events as measured by a specific method. It is designed so that weather events covered are those that are expected to cause damage to specific crops that adversely affect livelihood of farmers in general,” said MEP.

MEP’s programs in the Philippines are for rice, corn, and other crops. Its local program aligns with the National Climate Change Adaptation Plan (NCCAP) 2011-2028 long-term program.

“(The NCCP developed) financing mechanisms such as agricultural insurance which are among the priorities that must be carried out during the current administration,” said MEP.

Records showed losses mainly from agriculture from six major typhoons in the country from 2009 to 2012 totalled to P118.77 billion.

These are Pablo, P40 billion, December 2012; Pepeng, P27.29 billion, September to October 2009; Pedring, P15.55 billion, September 2011; Frank, P13.5 billion, June 2008; Juan, P11.5 billion, October 2010; and Ondoy, P10.95 billion, September 2009.

The claim is paid after verification of the weather event from automatic weather stations (AWS) and satellite data.

The AWS measures local weather conditions and sends this information to a server through text or GPRS (general packet radio service).

“Contract triggers are set for low rainfall (drought) and high rainfall (flood). Once trigger thresholds are reached, payments are made automatically to the farmer,” according to MEP based on a report to the Philippines’ National Academy on Science and Technology.

The claim is paid out automatically once a farmer is affected by a calamity based on the data. There is no need for him to file a claim to receive the benefit.

MEP is also present in Rwanda, Malawi, Tanzania, Carribean countries, Kenya, Ghana, and Zambia.

The micro insurance also covers a micro housing product that provides protection to the residence of the insured against eight calamity types. These are fire, lightning, typhoon, flood, earthquake, landslide, tsunami, and volcanic eruption. Houses may be of concrete, thatch, or light materials.

“Microinsurance provides peace of mind and seeks to provide a suitable solution so that the poor can bounce back from a misfortune (death in the family or calamity) and be able to go on with life more confidently,” according to MEP.

Its insurance payment particularly for calamity-related losses has totaled to P100 million covering about 8,000 families.

These are from the flashflood in June 2011 in Davao, Typhoon Sendong in Cagayan de Oro and Mindanao in December 2011, Typhoons Gener and Habat in Metro Manila in August 2012, Typhoons Pablo in Mindanao and Quinta in Visayas in December 2012, and the Habagat, Labuyo, and Maring in August 2013.

MEP also has investments from the Omidyar Network. It issued more than nine million policies since 2007.

Bangladesh gov’t approves comm’l release of Bt eggplant

November 24, 2013 gov’t approves comm’l release of Bt eggplant
by Melody M. Aguiba
November 24, 2013
The Bangladesh government has gone ahead in approving the commercial release of the pesticide-eliminating Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant even as Filipino farmers press government for Bt eggplant’s commercialization.

Bangladesh’s National Committee on Biosafety (NCB) has approved the propagation of Bt eggplant so that seeds may be available to farmers for planting, reported the Daily Sun (DS).

“The decision was taken following a two-day meeting of the NCB. The Bt gene insertion in brinjal (eggplant) gives it resistance against fruit and shoot borer (FSB), considered to be the most widespread and devastating pest in South and Southeast Asia. FSB infestations inflict 50 to 70 percent yearly crop loss in brinjal,” reported DS.

With this development, Filipino farmers press government to also support commercialization of Bt eggplant.

The Asian Farmers Regional Network (ASFARNET) said farmers in Mindanao await to get Bt eggplant seeds.

“Farmers are just waiting for Bt eggplant to commercialize. They’re ready to adopt it,” said ASFARNET President Reynaldo Cabanao, a Bukidnon-based farmer.

An ASFARNET representative from Naguilian, Isabela said Isabela farmers who visited the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) while the Bt eggplant field trial was ongoing were already asking for seeds of the crop. UPLB conducted the trial through its Institute of Plant Breeding. Some 30 Isabela farmers traveled to the trial site.

“Farmers have been waiting for Bt eggplant for a long time now. When we went to UPLB a few years ago, farmers were so eager to try it. They asked right then if they could buy the seeds. But we were told it wasn’t yet ready for sale,” said Isidro Acosta.

In Pangasinan, one of Philippines’ biggest eggplant-producing provinces, farmer Rosalie M. Ellasus said Filipino farmers deserve as much support as Bangladeshi farmers in Bt eggplant planting.

“We envy farmers in Bangladesh. Our farmers have been waiting for Bt eggplant. Farmers in Pangasinan and even those in the Ilocos Region are ready to plant it,” said Ellasus, farmer-cooperator of the San Jacinto Kasakalikasan Multi-Purpose Cooperative.

There is an estimated 30,243 eggplant farmers in the country planting on an average of 7,000 square meters as of 2009.

Farmers expect to experience significant savings in production cost, reaching to 30-40 percent as they do not need to use excessive pesticides if they are able to plant Bt eggplant. Field tests have shown planting this GM crop enables farmers to raise yield by 40-50 percent due to the absence of the destructive fruit and shoot borer.

“Farmers who have experienced planting Bt corn know how convenient it is not to spray compared to if they plant traditional corn. I’ve been planting Bt corn since I had two hectares for demo trial in 2002. And I will plant Bt eggplant once it’s available,” said Ellasus.

Ellasus devotes almost 12 hectares of land for Bt corn at peak season as the Bt gene that kills the pest FSB in eggplant and the Asiatic borer in corn almost guarantees profitability, except for weather disturbances.


Mining firm plans to employ 1,000 small-scale miners

November 11, 2013

Mining firm plans to employ 1,000 small-scale miners

by Melody M. Aguiba
November 9, 2013

Toronto Stock Exchange-listed St. Augustine looks forward to employing some 1,000 illegal small-scale miners who not only encroach on its tenement but who work hazardously on  steep slopes of Compostela Valley.

Since it put up an office in the Philippines three years ago to develop the King-King copper-gold mine in Pantukan, Davao, St. Augustine Gold Copper Ltd (SAGC) has started touching base with the community.

Its aim is to partner with the small-scale miners.

“What international standards require is for us to provide them something – better livelihood, better working conditions,” according to SAGC Country Manager Glyde Gillespie.

The small-scale miners do not wear protective gears as they dig up gold on the mountain slopes. They reside near houses situated dangerously on mountain tops.

On processing, they work on gold processing agents cyanide and mercury with their hands. They do not have the appropriate equipment to handle poisonous chemical agents. And this is as worse as how they dump used chemicals on the environment without ensuring the King-king River’s waters are not contaminated with pollutants.

Unfortunately, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) could hardly monitor activities of these small-scale miners. It lacks the human and natural resource to regulate the activities. Its partnerships with agencies that have the police power to regulate it has failed in this particular condition of illegal small-scale mining in Compostela Valley.

Pantukan Mayor Roberto Yugo admits the illegal small-scale mining has to be solved.

“The problem is really small-scale mining. Solving this is really a matter of how we deal with them. We have to talk to them,” said Yugo. The town supports the construction of the mine by SAGC and Nadecor as it expects easier regulation of large-scale mining that follows international work and environment management standards.

SAGC also aims to partner with funders of the illegal mining.

“We have identified people on two levels. Those mining and processing and the other is their financiers– the business guys that organize and manage,” said Gillespie in a site briefing.

At its construction stage, SAGC and its joint venture (JV) partner National Development Corp. will need workers.

“We need 1700 people, so they will fit,” said Gillespie. “For people who are living here, who are mining and processing, we want them to work for us. They have the understanding on mining. We’ll hire them. We’re committed to their welfare. We have signed an agreement with TESDA to provide them training,” he said.

TESDA stands for Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Small-scale miners do not have the ability to extract copper from the ores. It is only gold that they produce and throw the rest of other valuable minerals away.

“They don’t know how to extract copper. If they have the gold-copper porphyry ore, they’ll get paid. We’ll manage the chemicals, and process ores from our concentrator. Small-scale miners can still do what they want to do and also the protect environment,” he said.

The partnership it plans to offer the financiers is various types of businesses.

“The financiers maybe won’t work for us. But we need contracts in mineral production, on hauling tailings (from plant to storage site), on maintenance operation. They’re still businessmen who can run their own business with us. They can assist us developing the mine,” he said.

The miners will be relocated in safe areas where they have homes, school , church, and other community facilities.

SAGC expects that its environmental compliance certificate would be released, by the middle of 2014, as part of its construction requirement.

SAGC and Nadecor also need to work with landowners of 100 to 200 that have to be relocated during construction. The JV is putting $2-billion investment in this project that is one of Philippines’ largest undeveloped copper-gold mine.


Rice breeders to file bio-safety application

November 6, 2013

Rice breeders to file bio-safety application

by Melody M. Aguiba
November 6, 2013

Rice breeders will soon file with the National Committee on Bio-safety of the Philippines (NCBP) a bio-safety application for the Golden Rice as it sets nutrition testing of the proVitamin A-rich rice on targeted Vitamin A-deficient population.

The Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are targeting to file before the end of the year the bio-safety application for the genetically modified (GM) rice.

“We’re completing the dossier for bio-safety approval. We just completed the season (for multilocational field trial). The one in Bicol was destroyed, but that’s just one out of five,” said IRRI Deputy Director Achim Dobermann in a press briefing.

Grains production follows after the bio-safety approval, and then a nutrition study will be conducted, according to Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Coordinator Antonio A. Alfonso.

Helen Keller International, which works with the blind, will carry out the nutrition study. It will determine how much of the betacarotene content in Golden Rice may be absorbed particularly by those that need it — Vitamin A-deficient population.

“We will do nutrition study. We will test it for bioefficacy – on how much improvement will there be if consumption is regular. That will be conducted by Helen Keller because they have the expertise in it, and women and children are the ones most vulnerable,” said Alfonso in the same briefing.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a peer-reviewed scientific publication, has come up with a study indicating that one cup of cooked Golden Rice is enough to fill one half of an adult’s recommended daily intake of Vitamin A.

On the bio-safety side, regulators through the NCBP, are expected to look at food safety of Golden Rice – on whether it could have toxic or allergic reactions as food and feed and if it is as safe as conventional rice.

“There are international standards in evaluating any product including GM for food and safety. This is adopted by the Philippines. They’re comparing Golden Rice and rice like PSBRc 82. They’re looking at whether there are changes in composition. Theoretically it is possible to produce safer rice from Golden Rice. The standard is it should be as safe as conventional rice,” said Alfonso.

The grains production will need an area of one to two hectares to produce sufficient grains for the nutritional study.

The Golden Rice will be produced in the form of inbreds which can be home-stored and replanted by farmers from their own production.

Dobermann said Philrice and IRRI are both non-profit organizations. And GM has been done on Golden Rice because of its humanitarian benefit.

“We will develop inbreds because we want it to be accessible and affordable and can be planted again by farmers,” said Alfonso.

Golden Rice will be released in the form of popular rice variety commonly consumed by Filipinos and planted by farmers, particularly the PSB Rc 82 (Philippine Seed Board-rice). Another variety may be the IR 64, although its integration with IR 64 has yet to be studied as it has become susceptible to tungro disease.

Golden Rice has to liked by farmers particularly in its yield which must be not less than five metric tons (MT) per hectare. It is a yield already achieved by PSB Rc 82. It has to be disease-resistant.

The field tests of Golden Rice was conducted in confined sites including the experimental stations of Philrice in Nueva Ecija and in Batac, Ilocos Norte, at a Department of Agriculture Region 5 site in Pili, Camarines Sur, and a private farm in Tigaon, Camarines Sur.

It is estimated that Golden Rice will help solve a pervasive micronutrient deficiency problem that affects 1.7 million Vitamin A-deficient children. Affected in the Philippines is placed at 15.2 percent of children’s population and 33.5 percent of children worldwide.

“People who rely on rice as their staple food are particularly vulnerable to Vitamin A deficiency. While other strategies to reduce it have been effective, many peple remain affected. Given rice is so widely produced and consumed in the Philippines, improving its nutritional value could make a vastly improved people’s nutrition,” said Alfonso.


State-of-the-art tailings facility eyed for King-King mine project

October 29, 2013

State-of-the-art tailings facility eyed for King-King mine project

by Melody M. Aguiba
October 28, 2013

A dry stock tailings facility is proposed to be designed in the King-King copper-gold project as an environment-friendlier state-of-the-art technology designed to withstand heavy rainfall.

The tailings facility will be under a R12-billion Environment Protection and Enhancement Program (EPEP) of the King-King joint venture (JV) partnership. King-King will require a $2-billion investment.

St. Augustine Gold and Copper Ltd (SAGC), JV partner in King-King, believes this dry stock tailings facility will do well to guarantee safety for the environment.

“In a tailings disaster, the tailings flow because it’s wet.  But this is dry.  Even if there’s an earthquake, there may be deformation, but the mound will not slide down.  It will be stable,” said Clyde Gillespie, SAGC country manager, in a press briefing.

“In a dry tailings facility, you don’t have an embankment.  The facility can store 850 million tons of tailings.  You stack it higher and higher.  There’s a lot more capacity in smaller area.  Capacity is for 22 years,” he said.

The dry tailings technology has been developed in the United States and adopted in a South American mine.

“They stacked tailings for 15 years.  They’re one of the first to use the technology.  But the  rainfall there is much greater than any rainfall we’ll see in King-King.  That gives us confidence we’ll be able to operate dry stack at King-King,” said Gillespie.

Actual footprint in a dry stack tailings is much smaller than that in conventional tailings dam. Conventional ones require a bigger area because it has not only the solid tailings but water, occupying a stretched flat land.

“Being able to manage water runoff is very important.  Water shouldn’t carry a lot of soil.     We want to improve water quality in the King-King River,” he said.

Around the solid stack, there is a water diversion channel that catches rainwater that will in turn go to a treatment facility. At the end of the mine life, the dry stack will become vegetated and can become part of the natural environment. It may be useful as a golf course, a residential area, or a crop plantation.

Aside from the tailings management, other components of the EPEP are reforestation, construction of water treatment facility, air and water quality monitoring.

The JV plans to start mine construction in 2015.  Its schedule is to produce copper cathode in 2017.  It will produce gold and copper concentrate in 2018.  The JV already started a 2,000 square meter nursery for its reforestation. This has seedlings for Robusta coffee, rambutan, durian, and  mangosteen.

It will have a separate budget for mine closure and reforestation in mined out area.

The JV has so far provided a drinking water facility for 22 families and a chapel for the Gaka tribe in Brgy. Bongbong, Pantukan.

The company has done studies on the maximum credible earthquake in the area based on which the tailings facility is being designed.   Other factors on the tailings facility design are earthquake possibility based on depth of the event and how far the earthquake event is from the area.

“It’s based on an earthquake much greater than intensity 7.2,” said Gillespie.(MMA)

Flood-tolerant rice being developed

October 29, 2013

Flood-tolerant rice being developed

by Melody M. Aguiba
October 12, 2013

Plant breeders are starting to develop flood tolerant rice potentially using genes “COP1” and “Kidari” that can turn out to help Philippines grow rice in flooded conditions amid climate change threats.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is collaborating with the International Society for Plant Anaerobiosis (ISPA) in developing rice with more intensive resistance against flooding similar to how aquatic plants survive in long submergence.

“The way to go is to produce more plants under conditions of flooding. We have more people in this planet. We need to produce more food,” said IPSA President Voesenek ACJ Laurentius in an interview at an IRRI forum.

The Philippines is already growing submergence-tolerant rice particularly the IR64-Sub1 registered as the NSIC 194 or Submarino. It was specifically observed under a Department of Agriculture study to have tolerated La Nina effects and typhoons from December 2011 to March 2012. Yield is acceptable at more than three metric tons per hectare.

But breeders are now trying to develop rice plants that grow in different kinds of flooding conditions such as partial flooding or full flooding that submerge plants at three or more meters and over a longer period of time of one week or more.

The genes COP1 and Kidari have long been known in Arabidopsis, a well-studied plant related to cabbage and mustard whose genome has been completely sequenced.

“These genes are known to play a role in the elongation for growth of plants under shade condition which is important during submergence. If you put a plant in the shade, in dark low-light condition, it elongates to reach out for the light,” said Laurentius.

Over the long term, breeders are interested to find out the mechanisms behind submergence tolerance of plant groups that live in flooded conditions particularly aquatic plants.

“Studying wild plants enables you to find a new place that might be relevant for crops. I find it fascinating that in the Amazon area in Brazil, they have regular floods which submerge almost an entire forest at 12 meters at 30 degrees (celsius) high temperature. These plants survive. They’re flooded for months. I think that’s incredible,” he said.

If breeders know the mechanism behind flooding survival of these Amazon-native plants, they may be able to use this information to integrate this in rice.

IRRI Researcher Abdelbagi M. Ismail said breeders used traditional systems to breed flooding-tolerant rice such as the Submarino.

Marker assisted breeding (MAB) is just employed.

In MAB, a molecular or DNA marker – identifying the desired trait such as submergence tolerance in the Sub1 gene from a wild plant from India — enables scientists to know if the gene is successfully transferred to a target plant. One of such target is a popular variety in the Philippines – IR64.

Indian MNC investing $12-M fertilizer plant

October 29, 2013

Indian MNC investing $12-M fertilizer plant

by Melody M. Aguiba
October 23, 2013

Indian multinational Prathista Industries Ltd. (PIL) has revealed plans to put up a $12-million environment-friendly 3G fertilizer plant that would make Philippines a hub for fertilizer manufacturing and supply in Southeast Asia.

Initially, PIL has already established a warehouse in Laguna as it has been partnering over the last four years with the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) on field trials of its bioorganic fertilizer products. This is preparation for its bigger plan for the Philippines as government may be opening up a way for a tie-up with PIL.

PIL President KVSS Sairam said in an interview that an initial $12- million investment can employ 100 Filipinos that can have an exposure to high-end biotechnology business in India. Given product acceptance, investment will then be stepped up to a total of $34 million, employing 250.

“The Philippines may be the center for Southeast Asia. We want to bring a revolution with eco-friendly nutrition products that don’t have any negative impact on the environment and also enhances soil health while protecting ground water. It will also meet not only the nutrition requirement for crops but also the nutrition for livestock and aqua culture,” said Sairam.

It aims to help Philippines achieve a level of self-sufficiency in many crops.

“Our target is to help Philippines become self-sustaining and the key leader for Southeast Asia in 3G nutrition technology for agriculture. We want small farmers to study the products in field trials and help them improve their productivity and their standard of living,” said Sairam.

Registered as Prathista Industries International Corp. in the Philippines, the company has offices in 14 countries including the United States, Canada, Panama, Uganda and other African countries.

“We’re already in Latin America, North America. We have already covered African countries. Sitting in India, we would like to cover five countries — Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand,” said Sairam.

Sairam estimated that the market domestically for sophisticated fermentation technology that replaces non-biodegradable chemicals may amount to $3 billion.

The Department of Agriculture led by Undersecretary Dante S. Delima has recently visited PIL’s plant in Choutuppal, Nalgonda District, Andhra Pradesh. DA has been in a search for a supplier that can provide Philippines with a type of fertilizer that not only enhances yield but also preserves soil fertility, Delima said. Any agreement with PIL may provide for that need.

First generation organic fertilizers are compost fertilizers, inorganic fertilizers that use chicken or other animals’ dung or vermi-compost type manures, urea, MoP (muriate of potash) and DAP (diammonium phosphate).

Second generation products are bio-fertilizers and effective microorganisms which cannot provide nutritional requirements and act only as facilitators to improve soil health.

PIL’s 3G (third generation) bioorganic nutritional productstap innovative molecules. These substitute chemical fertilizers, bio-fertilizers, effective microorganism, and other nutritional inputs.

Government may also use such organic fertilizer supply for a program on “Bhoochetana,” an Indian word for soil rejuvenation. DA’s Bureau of Agricultural Research Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar just signed last October 8 a memorandum of agreement with International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) Director General William D. Dar.

“Our Bhoochetana program may involve primary crops like coconut in Region 4 (Quezon), jack fruit as a flagship crop in Region 8 (Samar-Leyte), and rubber in Zamboanga,” said Eleazar.

Delima said government needs the technical expertise that can be provided by PIL. The Indian MNC has a certification on International Service Organization (ISO) 9001, 14001, and Occupational Health and Safety 18001.

ICRISAT, also India-based, has also proposed for the expansion of Bhoochetana to a P3-billion program since P27 million is “very small,” according to Dar.



DA allows field trials for GM crops

October 29, 2013

DA allows field trials for GM crops

by Melody M. Aguiba
October 28, 2013

The Department of Agriculture (DA) will allow field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops even as innovative technologies may potentially help solve pervasive problems like malnutrition, poverty, and hunger.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala said the government does not find any problem on allowing field trials of GM crops for as long as these follow rules such as testing within confined environment.

“There’s a program on Bt eggplant and Golden Rice that scientists study.  For as long as testing is within contained environment, it’s not right for us to stop it,” said Alcala in a press briefing.

GM crops like the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant, a variety that will omit excessive chemical pesticide spraying of farmers, may solve existing problem of spraying 25 to 80 times per season that harm both human and the environment.

Any potential positive development from these tests may be prevented from benefitting human if field trials are stopped.

“At the end of the day, if we don’t give them a chance to prove it, we’re stopping development for the future.  If we didn’t allow scientists to produce diatabs, it’s like saying we should only use charcoal (or uling to cure diarrhea),” said Alcala.

Bt eggplant is practically the same in technology as that of Bt corn which has good record of safety for human health and the environment for more than 10 years now.  It was released to the market in 2002.

“We don’t really have any problem with GM corn except that those in Negros want a ‘no GM policy.’  But there are farmers that are open to it.  Farmers in Pangasinan are open to it.  Farmers in Isabela are open to it.  We give importance to their decision.  That’s their call,” said Alcala.

A big advantage in Bt eggplant is the health benefits to consumers.

“The net present value of adopting Bt eggplant was estimated at R1.864 billion with an internal rate of return of 86.8 percent. Consumers would also be safer because of reduced insecticide residues on the eggplant,” according to Sergio R.  Francisco in a study.

With lesser pesticide use, Filipino farmers will be able to meet Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) food safety standard on eggplant.  That increases the local eggplant’s export potential.

“It will significantly reduce insecticide residues to maximum residue limit or MRL, the allowable limit set by FAO that will not cause health related problems to humans,” according to Mario Navasero, University of the Philippines-Los Baños entomologist.

Bt eggplant will be produced in the form of open pollinated varieties (OPV) of popular eggplant varieties particularly the long purple variety.

Eggplant farmers look forward to the release of the Bt eggplant OPV which will be a cheap or even cost-free source of seeds for their eggplant growing.  OPVs may be used repeatedly by farmers without needing to purchase seeds every planting season.

It will spare farmers from the infestation of fruit and shoot borer (FSB) that can destroy 54 to 70 percent of harvest.

Food safety evaluation, earlier conducted in India, showed Bt eggplant has passed tests for toxicity, allergenicity, and substantial equivalence, a concept stating that a novel product as GM is the same as its conventional counterpart.

Regarding the GM Vitamin A-rich Golden Rice, the National Institutes of Health in Maryland reported that Golden Rice contains up to 35 micrograms of betacarotene and is “effectively converted to Vitamin A in humans.”


PH to export corn grains for the first time on record harvest

October 23, 2013

PH to export corn grains for the first time on record harvest

by Melody M. Aguiba
October 22, 2013

23_cornThe Department of Agriculture (DA) on October 22 confirmed that for the first time the country is going to export of 100,000 metric tons (MT) of corn grains before year-end as surplus reaches to 234,000 MT on record corn harvest this year of 8.2 million metric tons despite damage wrought by recent typhoons.

“Our computation is we have an excess of 200,000 tons. In 2012, some imported a little quantity of corn because big companies didn’t want to gamble. Now, no one imported because they now believe we could attain self-sufficiency,” DA Secretary Proceso J. Alcala announced in a press briefing.

A consensus by various sectors suggest that this is the right time for the Philippines to export corn grains after failing to use up the minimum access volume (MAV) allocation for the year.

MAV allows for lower tariff importation by feed millers or livestock raisers at just 35 percent compared to out-MAV importation of around 50 percent.

DA, though, has to await final approval of the National Food Authority for the exact export volume. A total of 91,000 MT of MAV corn was availed in 2012, just 42 percent of the 216,000 MT allowable MAV.

The Philippine Maize Federation Inc. (PMFI) believes the corn export is just proper so farmers can access a market that can give them a better price.

“In 2009, the price of corn in the world market was P32 per kilo, but local price was only P10 per kilo, so it’s desirable for us to export. The livestock sector which used to import did not import for the last 16 months because we’re already self-sufficient. (Thus) we should be able to export,” said PMFI President Roger Navarro in the same press briefing.

Navarro said planting of Bt corn has enabled Philippines to boost corn production.

“Before we only had 4.5 million tons of corn production, and it grew to seven million tons because of adoption of this technology. Our population is growing by two percent annually. We will have 10 million more mouths to feed in a few years. Our land is not increasing. So what we can do is adopt the technology,” said Navarro.

Alcala said the government should allow field testing of other genetically modified (GM) crops in order to give scientists a chance to prove safety of these crops.

“There’s a program on Bt talong and Golden Rice that scientists study. For as long as testing is within contained environment, it’s not right for us to stop it,” said Alcala.

Alcala acknowledged the earlier decision of the Court of Appeals on a writ of kalikasan that stops field testing of the GM Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant.

Yet, he said anyone may even be stopping a favorable benefit of the crop in the future if field testing of GM crops are ordered prohibited.

“At the end of the day, if we don’t give them a chance to prove it, we’re stopping development for the future. If we didn’t allow them to produce diatabs, it’s like saying we should only use charcoal (uling) to cure (diarrhea),” said Alcala.

DA affirms it will respect decision of farmers to plant GM crops.

“We don’t really have any problem with GM corn except that those in Negros wanted a ‘no GM policy.’ But there are farmers that are open to it. Farmers in Isabela are open to it. We give importance to their decision. That’s their call,” he said.

DA expects an all-time high corn harvest this year of 8.213 million MT of corn, creating a surplus of 234,000 MT. But to ensure quality, export must just be around 100,000 MT.

Flood-tolerant rice being developed

October 13, 2013

Flood-tolerant rice being developed

by Melody M. Aguiba
October 12, 2013

Plant breeders are starting to develop flood tolerant rice potentially using genes “COP1” and “Kidari” that can turn out to help Philippines grow rice in flooded conditions amid climate change threats.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is collaborating with the International Society for Plant Anaerobiosis (ISPA) in developing rice with more intensive resistance against flooding similar to how aquatic plants survive in long submergence.

“The way to go is to produce more plants under conditions of flooding. We have more people in this planet. We need to produce more food,” said IPSA President Voesenek ACJ Laurentius in an interview at an IRRI forum.

The Philippines is already growing submergence-tolerant rice particularly the IR64-Sub1 registered as the NSIC 194 or Submarino. It was specifically observed under a Department of Agriculture study to have tolerated La Nina effects and typhoons from December 2011 to March 2012. Yield is acceptable at more than three metric tons per hectare.

But breeders are now trying to develop rice plants that grow in different kinds of flooding conditions such as partial flooding or full flooding that submerge plants at three or more meters and over a longer period of time of one week or more.

The genes COP1 and Kidari have long been known in Arabidopsis, a well-studied plant related to cabbage and mustard whose genome has been completely sequenced.

“These genes are known to play a role in the elongation for growth of plants under shade condition which is important during submergence. If you put a plant in the shade, in dark low-light condition, it elongates to reach out for the light,” said Laurentius.

Over the long term, breeders are interested to find out the mechanisms behind submergence tolerance of plant groups that live in flooded conditions particularly aquatic plants.

“Studying wild plants enables you to find a new place that might be relevant for crops. I find it fascinating that in the Amazon area in Brazil, they have regular floods which submerge almost an entire forest at 12 meters at 30 degrees (celsius) high temperature. These plants survive. They’re flooded for months. I think that’s incredible,” he said.

If breeders know the mechanism behind flooding survival of these Amazon-native plants, they may be able to use this information to integrate this in rice.

IRRI Researcher Abdelbagi M. Ismail said breeders used traditional systems to breed flooding-tolerant rice such as the Submarino.

Marker assisted breeding (MAB) is just employed.

In MAB, a molecular or DNA marker – identifying the desired trait such as submergence tolerance in the Sub1 gene from a wild plant from India — enables scientists to know if the gene is successfully transferred to a target plant. One of such target is a popular variety in the Philippines – IR64.

IPB set to appeal CA ban on field trials of Bt eggplant

October 1, 2013
IPB set to appeal CA ban on field trials of Bt eggplant
by Melody M. Aguiba
October 1, 2013
The Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños will appeal Court of Appeal’s (CA) retention of a ban on Bt eggplant’s field trials, asserting the Seed Act fully sanctions biotechnology use as a means to promote food security and attract investments in agriculture.

The Seed Industry Development Act (SIDA) of 1992 was created to make the “local seed industry as a preferred area of investment.” IPB was mandated to use biotechnology for this purpose.

Through the use of technology, SIDA, ratified under Republic Act 7308 foresaw that the seed industry will be a vehicle by which private sector’s role in economic development can be enhanced.

“(This is an) act to encourage the private sector to engage in seed research and development and in mass production and distribution of good quality seeds,” according to the RA 7308.

The CA affirmed last week its issuance of a writ of kalikasan that stops field trials of the Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis eggplant.

However, a safety protocol has always been observed in the field trials of IPB, a research arm of the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB).

“We have put in place for the last 12 years a protocol. We have had so many field testing with no proof or evidence that that it has harmed the environment or the Filipino people,” Dr. Desiree M. Hautea, Bt eggplant project leader told reporters in an IPB biotechnology forum.

“It’s a standard practice observed by all countries and even agreed upon under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and Philippines follows the rules.”

Unfortunately, this writ’s issuance has apparently put the Bt eggplant field trials as one that is “catastrophic” or an “imminent danger.” That’s even if such field trials are globally recognized to be safe to human and the environment.

“In a writ of kalikasan, there should be an imminent threat, and it should be catastrophic. But here we’re testing on less than 1,000 square meters. How can that be catastrophic? When we computed the percentage of our field trial over total Philippines, it is very miniscule. How can that be imminent?” said Hautea.

Protein in itself does not cause cancer.

“Remember the Bt Cry1 is a protein. If you heard (Philippine visitor) Dr. (Wayne) Parrott, proteins don’t cause cancer. If you know your basic nutrition, you know that if you eat protein, it’s degraded into amino acid. If you cook protein, you will even destroy it. So what are we testing long term if it’s not there?” said Hautea.

The safety of Bt talong is the one IPB has been trying to prove locally even if its safety has long been already established as accepted by the regulatory body of India, said Hautea.
Unpublished part:
“The gene that has been put in Bt eggplant is the same gene in Bt cotton that has been approved. The (Bt gene) Cry1 AC that is present in Bt eggplant is the same family as the one in Bt corn which we had been eating. And don’t tell me Bt corn in the Philippines is only for feed (as it’s also used safely for food).”

If one does not agree that Bt eggplant is safe for human, Hautea said he should find out how a conventional eggplant is grown.

“We already had a survey on this. You can’t grow eggplant without using pesticides,” she said.

Despite its proven safety, the field trials ensure isolation of the entire plant—including eggplant fruits, leaves, and stalks—to prevent human reach or spread to the environment.

The trial area in Los Banos is strictly fenced. No person or animals could enter it. After each trial season, all parts of the plants are destroyed by burning. The trial area is guarded 24-7.

The Bureau of Plant Industry also regulates it, ensuring trials should not be in a protected area where there is wildlife.

The active ingredient in Bt eggplant is not harmful to bees or other beneficial insects. It is specifically targeted at killing the corn borer, a lepidopteran.

“Some farmers use broad spectrum (pesticides) which kill even beneficial insects. Bt is an organic matter. Others really spray Bt as an organic pesticide. But here, only the gene that produces the protein that kills insects is in the Bt eggplant. (Still) part of our study is to find out if the target insects really die. Bees should not be affected,” she said

Hautea said it is lamentable some institutions have unfairly misperceived intentions of Filipino scientists of UPLB.

“Greenpeace says you can’t do field testing safely. Maybe they can’t, but we do. Beyond the Philippines, you can look at web sites to see how many are conducted in the whole world, and there are no verifiable evidence it has harmed the environment or human health.

If there has indeed been truth to this accusation, “it will surely land on the top page of Google, and it will be posted by Greenpeace even if it’s not yet in the press.”

“I and my family live here. Why will I create something that will destroy my family? We don’t do any research here that’s not aligned with government’s programs. Otherwise, we won’t be funded. I teach biosafety, what right would I have to face my students if I don’t walk my talk?” said Hautea.

Bt eggplant trials are funded by UPLB, Department of Agriculture, and some fund from the United States Agency for International Development.


Corn exports to S. Korea, Malaysia set

September 25, 2013

Corn exports to S. Korea, Malaysia set

by Melody M. Aguiba
September 24, 2013 (updated)

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is setting an export of 50,000 to 100,000 metric tons (MT) of corn grains after a successful export of 467 MT of corn silage to South Korea.

DA is coordinating with the National Food Authority (NFA) for the export of corn grains in order to lift restrictions on the export of corn. The restriction ensures that the corn for export is only a surplus volume.

“We have a recommendation with the NFA (National Food Authority) Council for us to export 50,000 to 100,000 tons of corn,” said DA Assistant Secretary Edilberto De Luna.DA Secretary Proceso J. Alcala also confirmed the corn export is part of government’s program.

“Exporting corn is really our strategy because if we have a surplus, prices may go down, and it will be our farmers that will suffer if prices will drop,” said Alcala.

The export of corn silage since May this year is paving the way for Philippines to also export corn grains, according to Butch Umengan, president of exporter Ploughshares, Inc.

Ploughshares exported to South Korea corn silage initially at 24 MT of in April. It then shipped out 69 MT in June, 320 MT in July, and 38 MT in August.

The country’s corn production this year is targeted to reach to 8.1 million to as much as 8.4 million MT.

Projected yellow corn production is placed at 5.7 million MT, and white corn 2.4 to 2.7 million MT. This is a new high from the 7. 41 million MT recorded in 2012.

The Philippines has already been experiencing a surplus in corn grains over the last few years. Surplus may be reaching to 150,000 to 200,000 MT of yellow corn yearly.

But this surplus, including from corn substitute cassava, may even be reaching to 600 MT in corn equivalent by 2013-2014 .

In another five months when cassava will have been harvested, additional corn substitute will come from this at 2.308 million MT based on DA projections.

When it comes to price of corn grains, the Philippines can be competitive against big corn exporters Brazil and Argentina if the markets are neighboring countries Korea and Malaysia.

DA records show the country’s landed cost only reaches to P16.14 to South Korea from Cagayan de Oro, lower than US’s 16.36 per kilo or Brazil’s P16.29. Landed cost to Malaysia from South Cotabato is only at P13.35 per kilo. This is lower than P14.75 per kilo from Argentina, P16.50 from Brazil, and P16.65 per kilo from the US.

Umengan said South Korean livestock raisers resort to importing corn silage as South Korea now has very limited land for grazing. If they use corn silage for feed, their cattle are able to still eat an entire corn plant. Corn silage is composed of semi-dried corn stalks, leaves, and grains forming 10 percent of the volume.

“There isn’t much grazing area, so they’re heavily dependent on silage,” Umengan said.

The country used to import one million metric tons (MT) of corn and corn substitutes.

“We used to import corn and corn substitutes at one million tons yearly. But GM (genetically modified) corn is enabling us to export,” said Umengan.

The South Korean feed market has started importing Philippine corn silage because of its quality.

“Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn is clean, and its grains are bigger. So feed suppliers in Korea want it,” said Umengan.

Bt corn’s cob brims with full kernel. Its stalks and leaves are free from holes manifesting insect infestation in conventional corn.

Since Bt corn was released in 2002, the country sustained its production growth.

The country has 1.3 million hectares of land planted to yellow corn, DA records show. Of this area, 507,000 hectares or 38 percent is planted to Bt corn.

“The GM technology is not only benefiting consumers and farmers. It’s benefiting the whole country towards agricultural modernization and competitiveness,” said Umengan. “We now have very little or zero importation because of increased competitiveness. A lot is due to biotechnology seeds. That pulled up our production.”


Speed, transparency in release of mining share to LGUs urged

September 23, 2013

Speed, transparency in release of mining share to LGUs urged

by Melody M. Aguiba
September 22, 2013

The national government needs to speed up the release of mining revenue share of local government units (LGUs) but must also be accurate, and transparent to assure that rural development creates the multiplier effect hoped for from mining, a study said.

A study by Dr. Maria Cecilia G. Soriano on “Improving Benefit Sharing of Mining Revenues” has found out that it is “not publicly known” how much of the appropriated amounts from mining taxes and royalties were actually released to individual LGUs.

The share, however, of LGUs to national mining revenue has been increasing over the last few years. This is from P298 million in 2010 to P340 million in 2011 and P394 million in 2012. That is aside from its 40 percent share of the royalty fees from mineral reservation. This amounted to P165.3 million in 2010, P157.3 million in 2011, and P126 million in 2012.

“But LGUs like to receive the funds sooner, when, and how much they will receive from each company,” said Soriano, a consultant of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

“In general, there is a lack of transparency, predictability, accountability in the amounts supposed to be paid by each mining company and what they actually pay, amounts that must be received by LGUs and what they actually receive, timing of the receipt, and planned use of funds to be received and their actual use.”

In order to assure transparency on how the national government manages mining revenue, accounting process, at the very least, should be computerized, Soriano said.

“There are delays in the verification of actual collections and on the computation of shares of LGUs by the Bureau of Internal Revenue because data from NGAs are not readily available and the process is not computerized,” said Soriano.

While LGUs having 40 percent share in mining revenues collected by the national government, the Local Government Code (LGC) itself stands in the way of LGUs immediate benefit from it. That’s despite the fact that mineral resources are located right at LGUs’ territories.

The LGC should be amended to remove the provision that LGU shares in national wealth are from the proceeds collected by the national government in the “preceding fiscal year.”

Because of this provision, LGU revenue collection may be delayed by as much as one year from the time national government collects mining taxes.

“Concerned LGUs can receive their share in mining taxes within 90 days from the end of the quarter if certifications of actual quarterly collections by BIR and Bureau of Treasury are submitted to DBM in 60 days instead of 120 days,” she said.

The LGC may also be amended to “add a provision for the automatic appropriation of LGU shares in national wealth and to allow private companies to remit payments directly to LGUs as government agencies do under LGC Section 293.”

The amount released by national government agencies (NGA) to LGUs has been “constrained” by the budget planning of the National Expenditure Program and the General Appropriations Act.

Economist Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas of the University of Asia and the Pacific said economic linkages generated by mining activities create a multiplier effect.

Villegas cited a study indicated that based on its multiplier effect, mining accounted for an effective 3.3 percent of Philippines’ gross domestic product (GDP) as of 2011 based on metal exports of P115.2 billion which has a multiplier effect of P299.52 billion.

This translates to a multiplier effect ratio of 2.6 to 1 or a gain of 2.6 times for every peso of income generated.

President Benigno S. Aquino III himself recognized the importance of multiplier effect when he singled out the BPO sector in his state of the nation address in 2012, Villegas cited.

Aquino took note that the BPO sector is seen to create 1.3 million jobs by 2016 from the current 800,000.

Yet, BPO contribution is not only this employment but an additional jobs of 3.2 million jobs for taxi drivers, baristas, canteen operators and other indirect jobs benefitting from BPO.

Villegas said he does not see a resource curse happening in the Philippines as government is already seeing the benefits of mining.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources itself noted that more than 70 mining companies in the Philippines contributed to planting of around 13 million trees in 2012, he said.

The mining sector claimed to have been contributing revenue to government of at least P10 billion from 2007 to 2010.

Mining companies have been contributing to the construction in rural areas of roads, water supply infrastructure, power facilities, schools, hospitals and health clinics. With the mandated five percent royalty in ancentral domains, mining companies are contributing to the social and economic welfare of indigenous communities.

Other sectors contest that mining should no longer be developed since the country hit more than seven percent gross domestic product growth rate in the second quarter.

However, Villegas said that when China was rapidly developing more than 20 years ago, its growth rate was hitting around 10 percent “year in and year out” consistently for several years.

And for the Philippines, mining can take that role of contributing to such higher intensified rapid growth of at least additional two percent of total yearly GDP growth.

Government registered revenues from natural resource industries including forestry, energy resources production, and some prior years unremitted shares totaling to P1.25 billion in 2010, P1.513 billion in 2011, and P2.46 billion in 2012. Mining revenue including royalties from mineral reservations accounted for 37 percent share of government revenues in 2010, 33 percent in 2011, and 21percent in 2012.

Some sectors have raised opposition against mining on the basis of the Resource Curse or the Paradox of Plenty concept. This refers to conclusions that countries rich in natural resources like minerals or oil and gas are inclined to be less economically developed as these depend on highly-volatile foreign revenue sources.

These countries are largely associated with oil-producing countries that are part of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries including Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.

PCA distributes village-type copra mill

September 4, 2013

PCA distributes village-type copra mill

By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: September 2, 2013

The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is carrying out a pilot dispersal of a village-type copra mill that can boost value-adding activity and income of small farmers initially in Capiz and four other coconut provinces.

The distribution of a smallhold copra mill can help farmers produce their own virgin coconut oil (VCO), thereby helping them become small entrepreneurs by turning copra into a product that has an attractive export market.

Many other value-added products can be produced from the copra mill after coming up with VCO as VCO is another ingredient for soap, cosmetics, and other consumer or personal care products.

PCA is now identifying the four other sites where the copra mill is expected to make a leap of change even if it is only a small addition in asset to coconut farms, according to PCA Deputy Administrator Carlos Carpio.

“This equipment produces a good quality of virgin coconut oil. It will help our farmers move away from the traditional copra culture,” said Carpio in an interview.

The project only involves a P1.3 million budget. Each of the copra mill only costs P250,000 per unit.

However, the small mill’s impact may be significant in the countryside, according to Dean Lao Jr., managing director of coconut methyl ester (biodiesel) producer and exporter Chemrez.

“Let’s say you need five nuts to extract one kilo of coconut oil. With P35 to P40 kilo (worth of copra) at P7 per nut, you can create a kilo of virgin coconut oil and sell that at say P120,” said Lao.

That should generate an P80 per kilo net profit or a 200 percent return on the five nuts. That though has not yet factored in the labor and equipment costs.

It should be distributed right in the far-flung coconut farms so that the coconut may easily be turned into a higher-priced finished product, benefitting those who need it most.

“The equipment just takes a one cubicle area. It’s not mobile, but it’s better to establish it closer to the coconut farms,” said Lao.

Coconut farmers are among those known to need a lot of assistance from the government. There is a particular need to migrate them from mere producers of the cheap raw material copra, the coconut meat, into producers of finished products.

From an export price of just around $800 per metric ton (MT) for coconut oil, this can be turned into products valued at $2,000 to $4,000 per MT given their manufacturing into coconut chemicals.

Because of the current value of coconut chemicals, being a natural raw material in replacing synthetic chemicals, Indonesia, the world’s largest coconut producer, has imposed a barrier against exporting raw coconut products.

The barrier is implemented through an export tax, according to United Coconut Chemicals Inc. Chief Operating Officer Evelina L. Petino.

It is unfortunate that the Philippines stopped the implementation of Executive order 259 passed in 1987 during the time of President Corazon C. Aquino.

EO 259 promotes the expansion of use of chemicals derived from coconut oil. It mandates use of these natural chemicals for soap and detergents, but it was repealed in compliance with the country’s commitment to the World Trade Organization. 

Reconsider position on GM crop, Gov’t urged

September 4, 2013

Reconsider position on GM crop, Gov’t urged

By Melody M. Aguiba

Published: August 31, 2013

The Philippine government should reconsider its position on genetically modified (GM) crops and how safe it can be in light of strict regulations amid negative perceptions against it arising from campaigns that do not have scientific basis, the World Economic Forum said.


A writ of Kalikasan order stopping field trial of the GM Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant was issued in May this year by the Court of Appeals (CA) in response to anti-GM campaigns.


But the Philippines should not be swayed by concepts advanced by foreign-originating groups and should consider the welfare of its consumers, its own farmers, and even its own biodiversity, according to Mark Lynas, a member of World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies.


“Campaigners claim to represent the Filipino perspective, but it’s really European perspective which is traditional agriculture,” said Lynas in an interview.


Not a single case of ill health has been reported from intake of GM crops, Lynas noted.


“Two to three trillion meals have been eaten by human in North America and wherever containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms). There’s nothing to substantiate the (negative) health impact (accusations) against any GMO – not one, even headache or stomachache,” he said.


Bt eggplant will even be beneficial for consumers as eggplants do not have to be dipped in a bucketful of pesticide just before harvest. This is a practice of farmers in Pangasinan.


“Bt eggplant is a pesticide-free crop. It can reduce use of insecticides which are obviously an environmental and health problem. Greenpeace is insisting farmers must continue using toxic chemicals,” said Lynas.


Lynas, a British, himself used to campaign against GM along with his position as an environmentalist. But aiming to support his book “God Species” with scientific evidences while writing it, he rather found numerous evidences substantiating GM safety.


GM food saves biodiversity with flora and fauna habitat preserved in vast tracts of land that no longer have to be devoted for food.


He cited a Jesse Ausubel-led Rockefeller University research proving this biodiversity benefit. From 1961 to 2010, three billion hectares of land have been saved by GM due to its 300 percent production increase.


“Three billion hectares is equivalent to two South Americas. There would have been no Amazon rainforest left today without this improvement in yield. Nor would there be any tigers in India or orangutans in Indonesia,” said Lynas at the Oxford Farming Conference in January this year.


GM crops like the proVitamin A Golden Rice being developed by the Los Banos-based International Rice Research Institute will save many malnourished children in developing countries from death.


Some 6,000 children die a day globally from diseases linked with Vitamin A deficiency (VAD), he said.


“Vitamin A deficiency is an immunodeficiency issue. They can die from diarrhea or pneumonia because their immune system is compromised. As far as I know, more people die from Vitamin A deficiency-related causes than from malaria, HIV or AIDS, or TB. It’s really a world killer,” he said.


In addition, GM crops raise farmers’ levels of living.


“GM (technology) is cheaper. If the biology of the crop can protect crops from pests, that’s cheaper for farmers than spraying. Everywhere , when farmers are given a choice, they adopt it quickly. They can have high yield even if they pay a little more for seeds,” he said.


It is unfortunate that the Philippines succumbed to pressures from groups opposing GM even if the country has a much different economic profile compared to where such oppositions originate.


“The antis are spreading scary stories against GM, promoting anti science on food with money that comes from Europe. That’s what makes me furious and angry,” said Lynas.


“If the people from my country claim to be addressing poverty because my country is giving money for these campaigns, they’re just worsening poverty by denying farmers access to better technologies.”


The destruction of the Golden Rice crops under trial in BicoI in August is a criminal act and is anti-humanitarian.


“That’s like burning down a hospital or stopping vaccines from reaching children,” said Lynas as he demanded that anti-GM campaigners disclose their funders.


“Whereas they (anti GMO campaigners) claim to support farmers, they’re ideological campaigners. They’re anti-globalization, anti-multinational corporations. But (GM developer) Monsanto is not a very big company. On a global scale, Apple and Samsung are bigger. You shoudn’t be anti-multinational if you use iPhone,” said Lynas.


Even in the United Kingdom, farmers are petitioning for a lifting of a ban on planting GM crops as GM is more profitable for them, said Lynas, a British.


It is before 300 British farmers that Lynas received his applause for his lecture in Oxford University that went viral in web and print publications.


“Farmers (National Farmers’ Union of UK) are very angry about this (ban). Farmers want to have a choice– to have the best productivity, the best yield to maximize return,” he said.


Even the UK government wants to allows its farmers to plant GM. But the European Union, as influenced by rich countries like France, prevents its member countries from planting it.

Electronics Lab seeks ISO Certification

August 19, 2013

Electronics Lab seeks ISO Certification

By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: August 20, 2013

The country’s Electronic Products Development Center (EPDC) laboratory is expected to become ISO 17025-certified and is hoped to lure foreign investors with its cost reduction and risks mitigation benefits.

The EPDC, being set up by a group led by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), will reduce cost of electronics manufacturing as it eliminates the need to bring to Singapore, for instance, samples for product testing and design.

“We will go for ISO 17025 certification. The product development center should mitigate risks of products from failing certification tests,” according to Engr. Peter Antonio B. Banzon, Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) Research and Development (R&D) chief.

ISO 17025, although similar to ISO 9000 as earlier issued by the International Organization for Standardization, involves specific requirements for competence of testing and calibration laboratories. It ensures accuracy and reliability of laboratory tests.

At present, electronics players particularly coming from the Electronics Industry Association of the Philippines (EIAPI) spend $5,000 to $30,000 for EMC (electromagnetic compatibility) certification process costs abroad.

“Other benefits identified in an ASTI study of having locally established facilities are shorter test lead time, better correspondence between the client and the test house, and increased opportunities for R&D,” said Banzon.

The government has started the bidding process for the EPDC laboratory facilities. A 10-meter semi anechoic chamber (SAC) is part of the center. It is an area designed to be insulated from external noise or vibration as part of conducting the electronic tests.

   “Once installed and operational, it will become the only 10-meter SAC in the country and will enable the Philippines to be the 4th ASEAN country to have such a facility (after Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand),” according to ASTI.

The EPDC laboratory is supporting the country’s aim to raise electronics export revenue from $31 billion as of 2010 to $50 billion by 2016. Household appliance manufacturers and importers will benefit from the local laboratory presence.

It is being located at the MIRDC (Metals Industry Research and Development Center )-DOST in Taguig City.  Cost is placed at R268 million. It will be constructed over two years the first phase of which will finish by the end of the year and the second phase toward the end of 2014.

The facility is hoped to train local manpower in many electronics subsectors not only in assembly but product development. Among manpower needed are prototyping engineer, PCB engineer, and design for manufacturing engineer.

The EPDC will have four major outputs—system design, PCB (printed circuit board) design and prototyping facility, product prototyping laboratory and product EMC and safety facility for pilot product release.

A Nomura study earlier recommended the upgrading of the local electronics R&D sector by putting up laboratories and test facilities.

The EPDC will help stabilize the country’s business process outsourcing sector and provide investors low-cost, diverse, and skilled manpower in electronics.

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First-of-its-kind Pinoy-made Knifefish leather to debut at Fashion week

August 17, 2013

First-of-its-kind Pinoy-made Knifefish leather to debut at Fashion week

By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: August 18, 2013

The first-of-its-kind Filipino-made knifefish leather will be exhibited at this year’s Fashion Week after its successful development by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) as a prized exotic leather.

The knifefish leather will be used as raw material for bags and fashion accessories by fashion designers participating at this year’s Fashion Week of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), according to Daisy F. Ladra of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

The innovative product was developed as a way to solve the problem of invasion in Laguna Lake of the knifefish.  It is native to South America in the Amazon Basin.

“Designers are developing the leather for a fashion show.  We will be creating opportunities from the waste materials of knifefish,” said Ladra in a showcase of the leather at the Bureau of Agricultural Research Techno Forum.

Topsider shoes may be one of the end products of the leather. Two pieces of knifefish leather, measuring 50 by 30 centimeter, can make a pair of the shoes.

“A shoemaker that supplies to big shoe stores is buying from us,” she said.

A tannery, Golden Rope, is eyed to produce a type of soft leather.     Golden Rope may be able to accommodate processing of the knifefish leather at 1,000 to 1,500 pieces per load.

It was BAI’s Animal Product Development Center (APDC) that developed a way to turn the skin of the knifefish into a commercially attractive leather.

“They first thought at BFAR that it’s not possible to make it into a leather. We worked with Daisy (Ladra), and they’re surprised it’s possible,” said Dr. Eduardo D. Torne, APDC Tannery chief in another interview.

Torne earlier developed a way to use natural substances as degreasing agents for turning native pig skin into leather.  Paraffin and bile had been studied as a replacement for nonylphenol ethoxylate (NE)—surfactant mixtures used as detergents, emulsifiers, wetting and defoaming agents. 

NEs have restrictions for commercial applications in Europe arising from their human and environmental hazard.  The natural materials now used by APDC are more easily degraded in the environment.

Jalficar A. Sali, a skilled knifefish leathermaker trained by APDC, said the profit from the production of leather fish may be P100 to P200 per piece particularly from the production of wallets.

“There are those interested in buying wallets.  Price can be higher because it’s exotic leather,” said Sali.

Other possible finished products are  belt, bottle packaging in perfume , Christmas décor, and furniture. 

“There are different leather recipes for furniture.  There is hard, soft, or very soft, and thickness also varies,” Sali said.

The leather production generates P20 per kilo for the caught knifefish.

“But there should be more fishing gears.  Fishermen especially those from Cardona (area of Laguna Lake) asked to be provided with multiple hook and line,” said Ladra.  She originally promoted the knifefish leather concept as part of her dissertation.

The development of knifefish may turn to be a big opportunity for leather-makers and manufacturers in the country since it can replace imported cow hide for many products.

“We don’t have available cow hide.  We have to import it.  We still have lots of cows and goats, but their hide is used as food (for balbakwa– chicharon),” said Ladra.

The leathergoods industry itself is a $150 million export sector as reported as of 2003. The International Trade Center-Geneva reported the  country’s market as of 2003 included the US and Japan.

The invasive knifefish, like the janitor fish before but is more intensely carnivorous, is hoped to be eliminated in Laguna Lake.  Some 10,000 kilos of knifefish per day are now caught there.

Called the Big Bully, knifefish has been preying on the country’s native fishes – ayungin, biya, kanduli.  While the knifefish may not be toxic to human, its food value is much less compared to the locally-raised fishes which can command a price of P100 to P150 per kilo.

It is destroying fishermen’s fish cage revenue amounting to some P2 billion.  

4,000 Hectares eyed for soybeans

August 11, 2013,000_Hectares_eyed_for_soybeans#.Ugeg2DvJTy0

4,000 Hectares eyed for soybeans

By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: August 11, 2013

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is targetting to plant soybean on 4,000 hectares in a program aiming to give farmers an edge in a highly competitive crop through value-adding like that in the “Healthy Rich” soy coffee.

The country may not really come close to competitiveness in production of soybean compared to big exporters like United States, Brazil, or Argentina.

But a National Soybean Roadmap (NSR) has started producing soybean value added products where Filipino farmers can have an edge in a globalized market.

The soybean program of the DA’s high value crops development program (HVCDP) and funding agency Bureau of Agricultural Research  (BAR) has supported the now production of a soybean coffee under the brand “Healthy Rich.”

The soybean program distributed 62,000 kilos of seeds to farmers as of 2012, according to BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar at the Techno Forum 2013.

“We are proud to have accomplished a lot for soybean. We have commercialized together with regional field units and the HVCDP  various soybean products. As of December 2012, a total of 1,685 hectares were planted with soybean,” he said at BAR’s Techno Forum Wednesday.

Soy milk is another value added product being generated by the NSR.

Soybean seeds are only bought at P50 per kilo by farmers.  By yielding an average of 25 kilos (from a kilo of seeds) at P30 per kilo of soybean, a farmer can have a return of P750, according to former DA Undersecretary Ernesto M. Ordonez in a published report.

But a farmer can earn higher from turning this into soy milk.  Grinding will cost P15 per kilo, but it will yield 10 kilos of soy milk  equivalent to 60 glasses of milk, said Ordonez. 

Placed at P15 per glass, the 60 glasses earns for him P900. 

The Healthy Rich product claims soybean has higher protein than meat and has more fiber, alkaline, amino acid, and phytochemicals  than other plans. 

“Soybean also contains a special type of ‘polyunsaturated fat called Omega 3 fatty acid’ and a special compound called ‘isoflavones’ that helps prevent cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis,” according to Healthy Rich.

The soybean production is not only part of a soybean roadmap but of a National Legume Roadmap which plans expansion for other nutrient-rich legumes.  The crops have also been identified as climate change ready crops as these require less water compared to crops like rice or even corn.

“We just finished the National Legume Roadmap which includes peanut, soybean, pigeonpea, and mungbean,” said Eleazar.

The local mungbean (monggo) production is hoped to enable the country to displace imports. 

“The known mungbean area in the country is San Mateo, Isabela where farmers plant it after planting rice on 10,000 hectares.  Our importation of mungbean is just about the same –more than 90 percent—as that of soybean,” said International Crops Research Director William D. Dar in the same forum.

In another value adding program, import substitution is also seen through Arabica coffee planting.

“With a goal of expanding Arabica coffee plantation and enhancing agribusiness enterprises, BAR and various agencies supported ‘Mindoro Arabica Coffee for Agro-Forestry Enhancement’,” said Eleazar.

“The two-year project covers planting of 120,000 Arabica coffee seedlings to rehabilitate 60 hectares of open/barren areas and coconut areas.”

The coffee project is also a public private partnership (PPP) on reforestation with Mac Nut Philippines, Earth Rights Peoples Rights, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), and indigenous people’s  groups and upland farmers.  It is part of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ National Greening Program.  

Gov’t outsources to private sector the mass fabrication of corn mills

August 6, 2013

Gov’t outsources to private sector the mass fabrication of corn mills

By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: August 6, 2013

The government has started outsourcing the fabrication a corn mill that will open opportunities for bigger manufacturing of cheap and nutrient-rich white corn grit especially in rain-fed uplands.

The Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB)-University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) have partnered for a more massive fabrication by the private sector of a portable corn mill.

“DA is allocating around P1 million per region for the fabrication of this village-type corn mill. The idea of DA is to enable farmers in the uplands to be able to produce their own food at a cheap cost,” said Dr. Artemio M. Salazar, IPB corn project leader, in an interview.

The white corn variety used is an open pollinated variety (OPV) whose seeds can be repeatedly used by farmers for free. The OPVs, developed by IPB, yield a relatively high four metric tons (MT) per hectare, still higher than most OPVs yielding two to three MT. These even have high lysine and protein content.

The IPB-DA program is also looking at distributing the corn mill through hardware or other distribution networks that supply agricultural machineries like threshers.

DA has already purchased more than 20 units of the corn mill through a fabricator in Cebu, according to Engr. Alvin C. Geronimo, Agricultural Mechanization Development Program (AMDP). He led the development of a corn mill with a milling capacity of 100 kilos per hour.

“The industrial extension program involves fabrication (by private companies) and the distribution of the corn mill to farmer-end users,” said Geronimo.

One day of operation of the mill generates corn grits enough to feed more than 1,000 people at 300 grams per person per day. Grit recovery is at 50 percent. By-products are used for food or feed, so there is no wastage.

The corn mill project financed by DA is under its Agri Pinoy Corn Program (APCP).

“DA conducts a bidding for the corn mill (fabrication),” said Marry Rose M. Maniebo of DA’s APCP.

One of the successful bidders, Suki Trading, has already distributed its fabricated corn mill to Visayas farmers. The mills are now in Cebu (Poro, Asturias, Alegria); Lazi in Siquijor, and Bohol (Sierra Bullones, Loon, Valencia, Jagna and Danao).

Other corn mills are now owned by the Buenavista Farm Family Assn and a farmers’ group in Brgy. Calango, Zamboanguit as distributed for free by DA. In Siquijor, there are mills co-purchased by the municipal local government units in Maria Corn Cluster Cooperative, Larena, Lazi, San Juan, and Siquijor.

The availability of the portable corn mill is expected to encourage farmers to plant white corn, a variety known to be used for food compared to yellow corn, a corn for feed.

“Without the mill, farmers are hesitant to plant white corn. If there’s a small machine, farmers have an assurance of a market for corn,” said Salazar.

IPB has decided neither to get a patent nor to market the patent for the corn mill developed by the AMDP-UPLB.

“We want to support fabricators in producing the machine and in spreading the technology,” said Geronimo.

The corn mill only weighs 200 kilos, a weight that can be carried by small vans that have a 1,000-2,000 kilo capacity. It needs no electricity.

Maniebo said DA targets to distribute 105 units of corn mill nationwide in 2013 and 196 units in 2014. The model may not exactly be that of the one developed by AMDP.

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16 State universities sign up for rice seed production

August 5, 2013

16 State universities sign up for rice seed production

By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: August 5, 2013

Sixteen state universities and colleges (SUCs) have signed up for an inbred rice seed production program of the Department of Agriculture (DA). The program, which is targeted to cover 200 hectares, will be both a job generating venture and one that will support government ’s Food Self Sufficiency Program (FSSP) and eventually rice export program. Budget allocation is P50,000 per hectare.

Through the production of certified seeds from parental seeds to be provided by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PHilrice), the seed production is expected to generate an income of P150,000 per hectare to SUC agriculturists, students, and farmer-help.

This is at a projected seed yield of five metric tons (MT) or 5,000 kilos per hectare at P30 per kilo. Net income is expected at P100,000 per hectare.

“Our SUCs are good in agriculture. They are the experts we need (in seed production), ” said DA Secretary Proceso J. Alcala in a press briefing over the weekend.

The seed production program initially covers seed supply for the dry season and wet season of 2014. It will involve an entire rice value chain.

It will empower rural farmers through technology to be provided by DA through high-yielding inbred seeds, irrigation, fertilizer, and integrated pest management.

SUCs are required to give back only 80 kilos to DA in exchange for DA’s P50,000 grant. Any excess seed production will be for their own profit-generation.

They will also be tasked to distribute the 80 kilos to farmers within their immediate cluster areas. Farmers who receive from an SUC 20 kilos (sufficient for a hectare) of seeds are required to pay back the SUC 100 kilos of palay (unmilled rice for commercial sale).

The National Food Authority buys palay at P18 per kilo. This means that farmers are effectively just returning P1,800 to the SUCs. That gives them an additional income of P88,200 per hectare if they are able to yield five MT with only labor and land as their capital.

The FSSP aims to raise the country’s inbred rice area by 25 percent. Yield should be raised to five to 5.5 MT per hectare by 2016. FSSP also aims to expand further hybrid rice area, now placed at 175,000 hectares, by 10 percent.

DA Undersecretary Dante S. Delima said government will also be investing in rice processing complexes within SUCs.

“The challenge to us is the provision of post harvest facilities. Depending on the size of an area’s production, we have a module for P6 million and another P15 million for a rice processing complex,” said Delima.

Clusters are being organized into five, 10, and 20 hectares each.

Market for the rice production will not be a problem since the country is still importing more than 150,000 MT of rice this year. DA also started a program for exporting fancy rice, and shipments were made to Singapore, Dubai, and the United States.

DA targets to get all 40 agriculture-based SUCs nationwide into its seed production to achieve its 200-hectare target. The initial 16 SUC participants will cover only 72 hectares.


Zinc-rich rice coming in two years

July 30, 2013

Zinc-rich rice coming in two years


By Melody M. Aguiba

Published: July 29, 2013

A zinc-rich rice may become available in two years in farmers’ fields and help reduce diarrhea incidence, a leading death cause among children in the Philippines, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said.


IRRI, which is carrying out field trials of the zinc-enhanced rice in the country, said that zinc is also one of the micronutrients to help fight other diseases like pneumonia and stunting (growth retardation) particularly inflicting children.


“It may reach farmers’ fields in one-and-a-half years in the Philippines,” said Dr. Bruce J. Tolentino IRRI Deputy Director, in an interview.


Zinc is being enhanced both through conventional means and through genetic modification.


Project partners also include the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice), and other donor agencies like the Harvest Plus. Field tests are conducted at Philrice-Department of Agriculture experimental farms.


“The zinc-rich rice is in a more advanced, pre-release stage in Bangladesh, which is known to have the highest diarrhea cases in the world,” said Tolentino.


A national survey of zinc serum levels by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in 2011 indicated that “prevalence of zinc deficiency was generally of high magnitude” in the country.


It showed that 21.6 percent of infants and preschool children were affected by zinc deficiency. In pregnant women, deficiency rate was at 21.5 percent.


Other deficiency rates were 28.4 percent for the elderly (60 years and older); 20.6 percent for female adolescents; and even higher at 33.6 percent among males.


IRRI Rice Breeder Inez Slamet-Loedin said breeders’ goal is to provide zinc in rice by at least 30 percent of the recommended nutrient intake in consumers. This is at 24 to 30 parts per million (PPM) in polished rice. Current zinc content in popular rice varieties is just at 12 to 15 PPM.


Breeding activity already reached zinc concentration of more than 50 PPM. But IRRI is also continuing to test bioavailability of the zinc-rich rice or zinc’s actual absorption by the body.


Source of high zinc comes from insertion of soybean gene into rice varieties that farmers are fond of planting.


“More than 5,000 transformed rice plants were generated using rice and soybean gene combinations. Many plants with the new genes show higher grain iron (iron staining),” said Loedin in an IRRI nutritional rice forum.


Zinc enhancement goes hand in hand with iron enhancement in rice as iron deficiency is a top nutritional problem globally. More than two billion people, according to Loedin, are known to be affected globally by micronutrient.


The zinc enhancement in rice, like the enhancement of Vitamin A and iron in rice, is expected to result in increased level of this nutrient in inflicted children and adults even as rice is the most consumed food. In the Philippines, consumption is at 2.7 times of intake per day at 307 grams per intake, according to a National Nutrition Survey.


An earlier report of IRRI’s Plant Breeding and Genetics and Biochemistry divisions indicated that the soybean “ferritin” gene, through its glutelin promoter in the endosperm (the tissue inside seeds), leads to higher zinc and iron in GM indica rice grains.


“Expression of the soybean ferritin gene under the control of the glutelin (the energy storage in rice) promoter in rice has proven to be effective in enhancing grain nutritional levels, not only in brown grains but also in polished grains,” said the IRRI report.


Moreover, the rice that was used in the GM process, indica, a broad type of rice grown in hot climates, was noted by the IRRI report to have had good field performance and agronomic properties.


Among the desired traits in field performance are high yield, disease resistance, and good adoption using common farmers’ practices.

DOST expands first Filipino designed train system

July 6, 2013

DOST expands first Filipino designed train system

By Melody M. Aguiba

Published: July 2, 2013


DOST monorail

The government is expanding the train system being piloted in Quezon City to include potential transport systems for the Philippine National Railway (PNR) and North Rail aimed to build cost-effective and nature-friendly Filipino-designed transport systems.

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Asst. Secretary Robert O. Dizon said at a Philippine Council for Industry Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD) forum that the agency is expanding the train program, which was launched already for the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines.

Called automated guideway transits (AGT) as these are driverless and electric-powered, the AGT system will have three immediate expansion programs.

“We’re studying three routes,” said Dizon. The first route being studied is the expansion of the Diliman prototype to Philcoa and Katipunan Avenue. Next is the extension of the on-going pilot AGT system at DOST’s Bicutan headquarters to C6 Lower Bicutan. The third is a train system from Commonwealth to Montalban (Rizal) via Litex Road.

DOST is also developing a prototype for an AGT for PNR, for the North Rail. It may even develop a system for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as the AGT systems are environment-friendly, being virtually smoke-free.

Dizon said government is fortunate to have partnered with two supposedly profit-driven companies, which preferred to look forward to a potentially successful transport programs despite a small margin.

Miescor Builders developed the tracks, while Fil Asia Automotive and Industries Corp. fabricated the coaches.

“We believe PPP (public private partnership) works. We needed a contractor to construct an elevated guideway, one willing to work on our budget and with a lot of revisions in specifications,” said Dizon.

“Miescor had very minimal profit or none at all. But they understood if it becomes successful they can become very competitive because of the experiences and lessons from the project.”

The transport system will be a source of savings and of Philippine pride.

“It is estimated traffic congestion in Manila costs P140 billion (in lost opportunity from labor and industries),” said Dizon. “This will be healthier, safer, causing less accidents.”

It will open huge economic opportunities.

“Its success will prove to be a window of opportunity. We’re creating new industries – not only construction. These are metal fabrication, motor vehicle and bus manufacturing, electronics, security, communication, and land development with local governments. We’re capitalizing on human development. We will create employment opportunities that have long term effect on everyone,” he said.

DOST completed its first AGT prototype in DOST Taguig in 2010. The train system demonstrates capability to traverse through very small turning radius and maneuverability in tight streets. The Diliman system was the second prototype launched in 2012.

DOST is further developing a system capable of a speed of 60 to 100 kilometers per hour (kph). That will be faster than the present Diliman prototype which is running at just 50 to 60 kph.

A new coach design will have a 120-passenger capacity. The present prototype only has 30- passenger capacity.

In developing the AGT system, the DOST has also partnered with the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC).

“As part of DOTC request, we won’t limit ourselves to train sets. DOTC wants a complete system with trains, depots, and collection system. We’re developing passenger stations with these and an automatic fare system,” said Dizon.

Also included in DOST’s transport plan is a demonstration of a system in the Bay City in Pasay City.

An advanced transport system will have a similar capacity as that of BRT (bus rapid transit) where more buses or coaches can be linked together. This though can even be more advanced.

“In BRT, there are only two bases that go in tandem. We can have more buses or coaches that can be linked because we will employ a technology from AGT which is synchronizing multiple motors. You cannot do that with diesel engine. It’s not possible with buses, but it’s possible with AGT,” said Dizon.

“The strategy of DOST is to engage the private sector in all its undertakings. It’s really a win win situation. The DOST benefits from the vast experience of private sector, and the private sector benefits from the technologies developed by DOST,” he said.


Safety of GM Foods assured

July 6, 2013

Safety of GM Foods assured


By Melody M. Aguiba

Published: July 5, 2013

The Philippines has long accepted the safety of genetically modified (GM) food with more than $2 billion in agricultural imports from the United States of America while the country itself has 720,000 hectares planted to GM corn.


Most of what the Philippines imports from the US contains GM food as all processed goods virtually contain oil that have GM crops as basic component, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Counsellor Philip A. Shull. 


“GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) are the most studied foods in history. We have one billion hectares now in 30 countries. There are no proven problems unique to GMO,” said Shull in a press briefing.


It is unfortunate that those that oppose GM crops have no scientific basis for their claims. They ignore these crops’ immense benefits with 15.4 million farmer-users who earn a higher income and are no longer so exposed to health-hazardous chemical pesticides.


GM crops are saving from hunger millions of people in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. GM crops, perhaps beginning 2014, are further expected to give a choice to save some 500 million people that go blind due to Vitamin A deficiency. There are also two million people that die from Vitamin A deficiency complications.


Private sector-led foundations like the Rockefeller and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been co-funding development of GM crops for nutritional value. They support Golden Rice which is being co-developed by the country’s own Philippine Rice Research Institute.


“The challenge globally is to feed seven billion people and counting,” said Shull.


Neither is there an evidence that GM crops are killing animals in North India based on an Indymedia Scotland (IS) report. IS indicated that sheep died in Haryana, India after grazing on Bt cotton.


“These claims are not correct. They’re anecdotal. It’s claimed in India that GMOs are killing animals. One colleague went to the exact village and found it’s not true at all,” said Cornell University Plant Physiology Prof. Peter J. Davies in the same briefing.


“GM crops have been examined more than any other class of crops and are found to be safe all over the world.”


With the corn-borer resistant Bt corn planted on 720,000 hectares in the Philippines, pesticide spraying, along with corresponding costs, has been reduced by 80 percent.


The Bt, a bacterium that naturally occurs in the soil, has long been used as a pesticide in the Philippines commercially known as “Dipel.” It had a long history of safety for human and the environment, according to Dr. Reynaldo V. Ebora, National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology director.


The Bt gene itself is not toxic to human, only to the corn borer, since humans do not have the receptor that corn borers have in order to absorb the protein gene, Ebora said.


Baguio center establishes citrus nurseries

June 29, 2013

 Baguio center establishes citrus nurseries

By Melody M. Aguiba

Published: June 30, 2013

Baguio National Crop-Research and Development Center (BNC-RDC) has put up citrus nurseries in the north in order to help boost the country annual 240,000 metric tons (MT) production valued at up to P12 billion.

The BNC-RDC of the Bureau of Plant Industry is now producing 10,000 disease-free planting materials yearly from three nurseries.

It will support a growth in demand for citrus which has been prompting importation including those from China and Taiwan, among others.

As of 2009, the country’s citrus imports peaked to 56,553 MT from 16,238 MT in 2010.

“Citrus was once a major fruit industry in the country until its decline in the 1970s due to virus” according to BNC-RDC in a report. “There is a renewed interest in citrus production as evidenced by the increasing demand for plant materials.”

Citrus ranks fourth most important fruit in the country next to banana, mango, and pineapple. This is based on area and production.

Based on an output of 240,000 metric tons (MT or 238 million kilos) in 2011, citrus gross value ranges between P4.8 billion to P12 billion at between P20 to P50 per kilo.

The nurseries have so far produced 16,034 planting materials under the BNC-RDC project funded by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR). 

A total of 6,705 of this has been produced in BNC-RDC-Baguio nursery, 6,379 in Balbalan, Kalinga, and 2,950 in Bontoc, Mt. Province. The production of planting materials or seedlings that are free from virus and virus-like diseases, particularly the highly infesting Huanglongbing (HLB), is critical to the growth of the citrus sector.  

“Success of the citrus industry is heavily dependent on the supply of quality(disease free) planting materials,” BNC-RDC’s citrus team led by Dr. Juliet M. Ochasan.

The nurseries are also helping raise livelihood for small farmers.

“Citrus is an important commercial crop of many small farmers, unlike other fruit crops which are dominated by multinational companies,” said Ochasan. Her members also include Arie M. Cimafranca, Teresita K. Mangili, NT Aspuria, and RG Custodio.

A return on investment of 50 to 75 percent has been shown by the BNC RDC-BAR project. 
Over the project period that involved international training of farmers in November 2011, the three nurseries indicate to be generating a net income of between P150,000 to P245,000. 
The project has achieved a success as it also partnered with international agency Food and Fertilizer Technology Center of Taiwan.

Citrus fruits are of high nutritive value with their vitamins and fiber. It has many products like juices and by products like essential oils. It is also used in gardens for landscape architecture and the mini citrus is used as indoor decoration. Even if it is perceived to grow only inhighlands, it grows in a wide range of agroclimatic zones. 

However, it is alarming that the country’s citrus area and production have been receding since 2008. The respective area from 2008 to 2011 was dropping from 38,277 hectares, 38,062 hectares, 37,839 hectares, and 37,743 hectares.

Correspondingly, over the same period production was falling from 266,050 MT, 253,4000 MT, 246,338 MT, and 238,631 MT. This is based on Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) data. 
The absence of planting materials becomes a bottleneck in its expansion.

“The present capacities of the citrus nurseries are not enough to supply the demand of the local growers. Supply must be timely and adequate,” said the BNC RDC-BAR.

As part of sustaining citrus growth, BNC RDC-BAR is urging national government to speed up approval of a revised citrus nursery accreditation guidelines which has rules for citrus nursery. 
That is also along with a revised quarantine regulation on the movement of citrus plant materials which will prevent HLB disease spread.


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