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.

PCA pushes High-Yielding coconut varieties

June 29, 2013
PCA pushes High-Yielding coconut varieties

By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: June 30, 2013
The government should support the massive propagation of “synthetic” and hybrid coconut varieties so that Philippines could hit three million metric tons (MT) of coconut production even as this year’s output is seen at just 2.62 million MT.

The use of superior varieties and fertilization can both substantially boost the country’s coconut production, according to Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Deputy Administrator Carlos B. Carpio.
The synthetic variety can produce copra at 3.2 metric tons to 6.7 MT per hectare. Copra is the coconut meat used as raw materials for many products including coconut oil (CNO).

The synthetic coconut’s yield is three to six times more productive than conventionally used varieties.

Moreover, PCA’s recommended hybrids also have high potential yield of four to six MT per hectare.

“Both the synthetic coconut and hybrids are highly recommended. But to plant hybrid, you have to buy (seeds or seedlings) every time you plant it,” said Carpio in an interview.

Even fertilization will significantly raise production.

“Under fertilized conditions, achievable annual average yield is 91 nuts per tree (9,100 nuts per hectare) or 30.10 copra per tree at 3.01 MT of copra per hectare. The country’s average regional productivity for copra ranged from (only) 0.98 to 1.44 MT per hectare,” said Carpio.

The synthetic variety is an open-pollinated variety created by PCA to be more adaptable and stable over many generations due to its wide genetic base.

Despite a continuous program on planting and fertilization, the country failed to achieve an original plan in 2002 to double coconut output (in copra terms) to four million MT. Its original target then of doubling coconut output from two million MT level was 2010.

PCA has a program on the use of salt fertilization and use of coco-peat-based organic fertilizers.
“Salt distribution and application in 200,000 hectares is projected to increase nut harvest by 25 percent on the first year of application,” said Carpio. It also has a program on the distribution and sourcing of high-yielding variety of coconut seedlings.

But present programs are apparently not enough to double coconut output in order to take advantage of many opportunities in coconut value adding.

Demand for CNO as a raw material for chemicals used for consumer and industrial applications (soap, detergents, animal nutrition, fuel) is seen grow significantly. This is due to its environment-friendly nature.

DA Embarks On Ginger Production For Export

June 24, 2013

DA Embarks On Ginger Production For Export

By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: June 24, 2013

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is embarking on the production of antioxidant-rich Hawaiian ginger for the export market because of its health benefits and milder taste.

It is a variety that not only has a potential for higher yield at 20 to 30 metric tons (MT) per hectare. That is much more than the local variety’s six to seven MT per hectare.

Its mild taste, unlike the very pungent taste (spicy and hot) of local varieties, makes it likeable to foreign markets.

“The project will be funded by the HVC (high value crops division) of DA. BAR will coordinate the research and production,” said BAR Agribusiness Coordinator Evelyn H. Juanillo in an interview.

Five technology demonstration sites will be put up at P100,000 per hectare.

But research on productivity has to be conducted in the Philippines as the country has among the lowest yield globally. Yield in China is 10.99 MT per hectare; India, 11.7 MT; and Thailand, 16.85 MT.

Among the country’s biggest ginger producers are Central Luzon, 6,000 MT; Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal Quezon), 4,700 MT; Northern Mindanao, 4700 MT; and Ilocos Region, 1,053 MT.

It is also planted in Caraga (Butuan), Davao provinces, Zamboanga provinces; eastern, central, and western Visayas; Bicol Region, Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan); and Laguna.

Regions that plant the Hawaiian ginger variety are Bukidnon-Camiguin, 201 hectares; Saranggani, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat 75 hectares; Oriental Mindoro and Palawan, 18 hectares; and Batanes, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, and Quirino, 616 hectares.

It grows best on sandy loam, clay loam, and deep soil.

There are markets for Hawaiian ginger in brine (salt solution) like cucumber varieties for pickles. Varieties of ginger traditionally planted in the Philippines are small and fibrous varieties with very pungent smell and taste.

The Hawaiian variety is large, plump, yellowish brown and sometimes pinkish. Because it is less pungent, it can be processed well into pickles or taken fresh as an appetizer or flavoring for other foods like processed fish and meat.

It is a major ingredient in ginger ale or ginger champagnes, and other ginger beverages like the therapeutic “salabat” (local ginger juice).

Part of DA’s work is to explore products that can be promoted as health food.

“Extracts and active constituents have shown potent antioxidant, anti inflammatory, antimutagenic, antimicrobial, and possible anti cancer properties,” according to a DA-HVC-BAR report.

Ginger relieves cough and flu, treats migraine, travel sickness, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Ginger is also a popular flavoring agent that is prominent in Filipino cuisine (chicken tinola, fish pesa). It can be used as food flavoring from the rhizomes (root offshoot). It can also be taken fresh as ground as a condiment for special dishes like the Chinese dimsum.

It is a flavoring for confectioneries, main courses, and is an important ingredient in Indian origin curry.

“Taken with rock salt before meals is cleansing to the tongue and throat and increases the appetite,” according to the DA report.

Other products and by products are fresh, dried, preserves, candies, beverages, ginger paste, essential oil, and nutraceuticals.  Dried ginger is the biggest product in ginger production comprising 50 percent of sold products in the foreign market.

Leading ginger (other than Hawaiian ginger) producers are China, India, Nepal, Thailand, and Nigeria.

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Celebrating Extraordinary Men This Father’s Day

June 16, 2013

This is wonderful! Melody

Celebrating Extraordinary Men This Father’s Day


June 14, 2013

When I talk about the special role of women and girls in development—and I do that a lot—it leaves open the question of what I think about men and boys.

For example, I routinely point out that mothers prioritize investing in their children’s health and education. 

One could extrapolate that fathers waste their money on frivolous things. (Unfortunately, data suggests they sometimes do.)

I say the love mothers feel for their children is universal. 

Am I implying that fathers don’t share in this love? (Absolutely not. Mothers don’t have the monopoly on love.)

I am in awe of the courage girls show when they fight for empowerment. 

Does it follow that husbands don’t support their wives’ empowerment? (Not necessarily. Over time, we are seeing more men encourage women’s empowerment at home and in their communities.)

As Father’s Day approaches, I want to pay tribute to all the fathers who share the hopes and dreams of their wives and daughters, and, in so doing, help drive development.

Last year, in Pekine, a slum outside of Dakar, Senegal, I met Ouleye Dia, the mother of seven children, including 2-year-old twins. I’ve told stories about Ouleye—about her struggles raising her family, about her love for every one of her children, and about her resourcefulness in giving them the best she can.

I have not mentioned Bokar Sow, Ouleye’s husband. The entire time I was in their home, the 2-year-old boy stuck to Bokar like glue. Bokar held his son, smoothed his hair, and whispered to him throughout my visit.

Ouleye and Bokar face a challenge in giving their children a chance at a better future—and they are facing it together.

As I travel, I see signs that as women are fighting to change their roles, men are recognizing that empowered women have a positive impact on communities. For instance, I can’t count how many stories I’ve heard from husbands who once opposed contraceptives for their wives but eventually came to see the importance of planning their families.

At a big women’s health conference last week (Women Deliver), I had the privilege of presenting awards to three young advocates making a difference for women around the world. One of the awardees was Remmy Shawa. As a teenage boy in Zambia, Remmy volunteered with an HIV prevention project. 

Meeting with Remmy Shawa at the Women Deliver conference last month.

Over time, he made the connection between the HIV epidemic and gender inequality. At college, he created an organization working with men and boys to end violence against women. Now, at 25, he’s working on gender equity full-time.

Remmy is extraordinary, but I hope what he stands for will become ordinary: Men and boys working together with women and girls to make life better for everybody.

Happy Father’s Day to Bokar Sow and all the fathers out there making life better for their families. (And, of course, to the very special fathers in my own family.)


Calata, Argentinian partner set up fully mechanized Isabela corn farm

June 15, 2013,_Argentinian_partner_set_up_fully_mechanized_Isabela_corn_farm#.Ub3NuKLJTy0

Calata, Argentinian partner set up fully mechanized Isabela corn farm

By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: June 16, 2013

Listed firm Calata Corp. has set up the country’s first fully-mechanized corn farm over a 300-hectare land in Echague, Isabela in a P300 million partnership with Argentinian Siembra Directa Corp. (SDC).

The farm seeks to transfer direct planting technology that has been observed in Argentina over the last 25 years. Argentina is world’s third largest corn producer, just next to the United States and Brazil.

Argentina’s national average yield for corn is nine to 10 metric tons (MT) per hectare.

The Echague farm expects a yield of just at least 20 percent higher than usual yield in the area of three MT per hectare. It puts under trial the technology that also uses the corn borer-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn.

Given a successful trial period, Calata will replicate the 100 percent mechanized model all over the Philippines.

“We will first expand it on 1,000 to 2,000 square meters. Then we can do it in other areas,” said Calata President Joseph Calata in a farm launch.

The farm has brought in equipment from Argentina as customized for the Philippine condition. It employs a mechanical planter that can plant seeds and apply fertilizer at the same time. The planter has a capacity of 20 hectares per day. It ensures planting seeds for maximum land use.

 It uses a fumigator that stretches over 22 meters, spraying herbicide or pesticide.

Direct planting contributes to land’s sustainability and environmentally-sound farming, according to SDC President Nico Bolzico. Tilling only happens once, and farrowing is no longer employed after this, enabling soil regeneration.

“It is a zero tillage farming system. With tillage, soil nutrients are lost. You waste on water as you till (water evaporates),” said Calata.

Harvesting will also be revolutionary.

“When we start harvesting, the harvester will put back the corn stalks and cobs into the soil which will become organic fertilizer in the soil,” said Calata.

The other advantages of direct planting are reduction in soil erosion, use of virgin lands, higher and more stable yield, and higher use efficiency and storage of water.

 The product of the farm’s mechanized harvester will be corn in the form of kernels, rather than just cobs.

 Engr. Esteban De Lorenzi, SDC machine expert, said planting in the mechanized system cuts cost by 40 percent. Usual Philippine planting cost for corn is P7,000 per hectare with the use of labor and carabao as tractor. The SDC planting system consists machinery use, diesel, and labor. Its cost is only P4,216.

Department of Agriculture (DA) Regional Corn Coordinator (Region 2- Isabela, Cagayan Valley) Orlando J. Lorenzana said DA will look at how to adopt the Calata farm technology.

“The government is acquiring tractors at P1.5 million each. This farm uses an even cheaper technology. We might as well look at it,” said Lorenzana.

Lorenzana said expansion potential of a good technology is big in Isabela. The province contributes 25 percent to total national corn output. It has 246,000 hectares planted to corn, producing 1.86 million MT yearly or 900,000 MT per season.

Bolzico said the Philippines may have the capacity to adopt to the technology that has made Argentina a top corn exporter.

Its entire produce uses the genetically modified Bt corn. Its total production is more than 20 million metric tons (MT) per year of which more than 30 percent is exported.

On Father’s Day

June 15, 2013

Very inspiring.  May there be more fathers like Atty Gates.



Bill Gates and Bill Gates, Sr., at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle.

Dad and I near the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle.

June 14, 2013 | By Bill Gates

On Father’s Day


This week, my father got a lifetime achievement award from the University of Washington as a distinguished member of the alumni. They recognized something that Melinda and I see every day: his remarkable energy and commitment to making the world a better place. I like to keep most of these blog posts focused on the work I’m doing and the things I’m learning, but with Father’s Day coming up, this award seemed like a good chance to talk a bit about my dad.

As I’ve said before, my dad is the man I aspire to be. I especially admire his sense of integrity. He is one of the wisest and most calm people I know. And he taught me a lot about how to think.

Dad is a retired attorney, and I think I inherited his lawyer’s approach to analyzing problems. I spent a lot of Sunday dinners listening to Dad talk about work with my mom, who was very involved in the United Way in Seattle and at the national and international levels. They might discuss a case Dad was working on or an issue that Mom was dealing with through the United Way. Eventually I started joining in the conversations, and they were very influential years later when I got involved in philanthropy.

Bill and Melinda Gates toast Bill Gates, Sr.
Melinda and I toasting Dad.

I feel very lucky that I get to work with my dad at the foundation, and that the team there gets to learn from him. Last month, Melinda gave the commencement speech at Duke University, her alma mater, and encouraged the students to spend their lives making the world a better place. I can’t think of a better example of someone who has done that than my father.

What’s amazing to me is that, even at age 87, he’s not done yet. This week I’ve been thinking back to something he said after Mom died. The family was having dinner together at home. Dad sat us down and told us not to worry about him. He said he still had ten good years left in him.

That was 19 years ago, and I’m glad to say he’s still going strong. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.


Gov’t urged to develop glycerin from coconut for animal nutrition

June 13, 2013

Gov’t urged to develop glycerin from coconut for animal nutrition

By Melody M. Aguiba

Published: June 11, 2013

The government should pour investments in the development of glycerin for animal nutrition and other consumer, industrial, and food applications from coconut which has multi-billion dollar value-adding potential.

Glycerin is traditionally used in the Philippines for food products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and resin intermediate.

“(But there’s) excellent R&D (research and development) opportunity for government and academe in glycerin,” said Chemrez Managing Director Dean Lao Jr. in a National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines (NASTP) Oleochemical forum.

Other applications glycerin are in epichlorohydrin, biomethanol, and propylene glycol.

The government in general has to develop the oleochemical industry out of its abundant coconut planting capacity (area and climate suitability).

Oleochemicals have huge local revenue and dollar generating potential. It is the way to raising income and levels of living of farmers who remain impoverished as the country has not outgrown the “copra culture.” Such culture has left farmers without the ability to process copra, the coconut meat, into value added products.

Oleochemicals support many valuable industries. There are at least seven sectors including personal and home care (PH&C) which covers surfactants, humectants, foam boosters, and emollients, according to Lao.

Another is plastic which includes plasticizers, process aids, and waxes. A third sector is fuel -biodiesel (which Chemrez produces), additives, lubricants, greases, and solvents. It is also a material for producing pesticides.

The last two sectors are food and ingredients (emulsifiers, antioxidants, specialty fats, and feeds) and industrial (cleaners, metal cutting fluids, humectants, resins).

Coconut oil (CNO) has huge potential for expansion into oleochemicals compared to other vegetable oils. It has advantage over oils from palm, soybean, canola, or palm kernel.

“CNO has longer fatty acid composition that allows more value added downstream applications. Fractionation unlocks the many potentials for specialty products,” said Lao. His company’s parent firm D&L generates sales of P16 billion.

But there are many challenges that must be hurdled develop the oleochemical industry.

“There is no upstream and limited downstream integration,” said Lao.

Vertical integration across the value chain should be the goal of a PPP (public private partnership).

“Becoming the integrated producer harnesses value at every stage of the chain (generating savings and profit). Integration (makes the industry) less sensitive to feedstock prices. There are more options to market finished goods,” he said.

For integration to work out, there should be an R&D budget. Technical resources should be provided. Different business models should be studied.

In the supply of coconut or CNO as feedstock, there are present production inefficiencies. Plantations of coconut in the Philippines are not integrated into CNO or oleochemical manufacturing businesses.

CNO costs higher than palm and palm kernel. There are also higher logistic costs and logistics inefficiencies.

On the manufacturing side, there are hindrances in developing oleochemicals due to the high cost of electricity and hydrogen, poor logistics, and limited R&D.

There are also numerous marketing roadblocks such as difficulties on competing against best oleochemical manufacturers in the world, highly regulated market access to Europe, and difficulty finding end users of oleochemicals.

Nevertheless, the opportunities are ripe. The country can adopt a plantation model for coconut growing. It can replant coconut with palm oil. And it should develop farm to market infrastructure.

The country has opportunities to put up and Integrated Coconut Hub (ICH), Lao asserted.

This hub would serve each of its member (plantation, processing facilities). Specialized products can be generated from this ICH. Its success would require incentives by government to manufacturers, innovators, and investors.

The country has an opportunity to position CNO as a sustainable feedstock for its being a natural coconut product. To succeed in marketing, the government should support compliance to REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical substances).

“EU REACH regulation will severely hinder access to European markets,” he said.

The government should expand the mandate for the local consumption and marketing of CNO. This widens the market for CNO products to be consumed here. Mandated consumption only covers coconut diesel based on the Biofuels Act of 2006.

“There should be aggressive marketing and positioning of Philippines as a regional manufacturing base,” said Lao.

The downstream sector that becomes the market for oleochemicals presently has many limitations too.

“Oleochemicals mainly serve the Personal & Homecare industry. While market growth continues, MNCs (multinational companies) have regionalized to China, Thailand, Vietnam & Indonesia. MNCs use local toll manufacturers and have invested more in marketing and distribution,” he said.

The local market has to be developed, although it may sound as a huge task.

“Local brands in the P&HC industry have grown and expanded to gain market share. But the locals have not reached the economies of scale of the MNCs,” said Lao. “The bulk of oleochemicals and its downstream applications remain dependent on the export market. Domestic application is limited.”

Even in the biodiesel applications, the industry faces many challenges amid opportunities.

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Bill Gates grant benefitting RP’s Tropical Legumes

June 4, 2013

Bill Gates grant benefitting RP’s Tropical Legumes

By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: June 4, 2013
AMBASSADOR OF GOODWILL — Bill Gates receiving the ICRISAT Ambassador of Goodwill plaque from Dr William Dar, ICRISAT Director General, and former Philippine Department of Agriculture Secretary.

The grant of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) for breeding of sorghum and tropical legumes will eventually benefit the Philippines in the critical production “climate smart” crops.

BMGF has adopted ICRISAT’s HOPE (Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement of Sorghum and Millets), extending to it a grant of $10 million.

“The new varieties that are being developed under HOPE and Tropical Legumes can find application in the Philippines. These varieties are climate smart ones,” said ICRISAT Director General William D. Dar in an interview.

“We get about $10 million from Gates Foundation for three projects namely: HOPE- sorghum and millets; Tropical Legumes; and Village Dynamics.”

Gates visited ICRISAT’s Patancheru-India headquarters Thursday last week. BMGF’s aim is to help reduce global malnutrition and poverty which is achievable by helping small holder farmers produce a higher yield.

For sorghum, the goal of HOPE is to raise productivity by 30 percent. As of 2009, its global yield was at 1.4 metric tons (MT) per hectare.

A 1,000-hectare area for sweet sorghum, whose seeds were developed by ICRISAT, is currently eyed in Negros Occidental, according to National Sweet Sorghum Program Chief Rex B. Demafelis. It will be a complementary crop to sugarcane as feedstock in ethanol production. Sweet sorghum is multipurpose crop that also gives food, feed, and fodder.

Sweet sorghum is also now used by private firm Bapamin Enterprise as raw material for a hand sanitizer (alcogel). Bapamin has a 25-hectare area planted to ICRISAT’s sweet sorghum SPV 422 variety in Batac, Ilocos Norte.

The project, co-funded by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), aims to raise sweet sorghum area 50 percent per annum in light of the production of another sweet sorghum product — an anti-diabetic sweetener.

“Sorghum has the potential for high levels of iron (more than 70 parts per million or PPM) and zinc (more than 50 ppm) in the grain, and hence sorghum biofortification (genetic enhancement) of grain iron and zinc contents is targeted to complement other methods to reduce micronutrient malnutrition globally,” according to ICRISAT.

As Philippines has been named one of the countries most vulnerable countries to climate change, its planting of climate smart crops like sorghum will contribute significantly to food security.

That is along with tropical legumes like peanut whose ICRISAT varieties are planted now in Region 2, mainly Isabela, with a target expansion of 4,966 hectares in 2013 and 11,966 hectares in 2020.

Other tropical legume crops that Philippines is obtaining from ICRISAT through high yielding varieties are pigeonpea (kadyos which is planted in Ilocos Region) and garbanzos (chickpea) which is currently under study for food processing in a BAR project at Benguet State University.

“The drylands are home to 644 million poorest of the poor, and highly-nutritious, drought-tolerant crops such as grain legumes and dryland cereals. These are the best bets for smallholder farmers in these marginal environments to survive and improve their livelihoods,” said Dar in a statement in relation to Gates’ visit.

“ICRISAT crops are great – as they target millions of smallholder farmers globally,” said Gates during his tour to ICRISAT’s state-of-art facilities for genomics, bioinformatics, phenotyping, and genetic engineering.

Dar said ICRISAT’s crops are considered as international public goods.

“Scientists and national partners worldwide can have free access to ICRISAT’s genotyping and phenotyping data, captured and analyzed through its work on bioinformatics, for their respective molecular breeding processes,” said ICRISAT.

ICRISAT’s lysimeter facility for phenotyping is a first of its kind in the world and the largest within the CGIAR system. It is used for measuring plant responses to water stress related to drought and climate change adaptation.

CGIAR stands for Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research of which Los Baños-based International Rice Research Institute is part of.

When Journalists Say Really Stupid Stuff About GMOs

June 3, 2013

When Journalists Say Really Stupid Stuff About GMOs

By Keith Kloor | June 3, 2013 11:52 am

I’ve been arguing that the worst misinformation and myths about genetically modified foods has spread from the anti-GMO fringes to the mainstream. A jaw-dropping example of this is provided by Michael Moss, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, who was recently interviewed by Marcus Mabry, a NYT colleague about the Monsanto protests that took place last weekend.

The interview lasts only a few minutes. Listen to the whole thing to fully appreciate its inanity. I’ve transcribed the exchanges that will blow your mind.

MABRY: In Europe, genetically modified organisms are actually banned. In the United States, quite decidedly they are not. Why that difference?

MOSS: I have family in Europe. They’ve been talking to me about GMOs for years and years. I think they decided that even though there is no hard science showing long-term health problems with GMOs, they also point out that the research really hasn’t been done. So for them the glass is half empty, rather than half full. They’re saying, ‘look, until proven safe, we’re gonna, like, avoid this stuff.’

You gotta love it when an investigative reporter listens more to his family than to what scientists say. As I’ve done before, I’ll quote from University of California plant geneticist Pam Ronald’s article in Scientific American:

There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops (Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Committee on Environmental Impacts Associated with Commercialization of Transgenic Plants, National Research Council and Division on Earth and Life Studies 2002). Both the U.S. National Research Council and the Joint Research Centre (the European Union’s scientific and technical research laboratory and an integral part of the European Commission) have concluded that there is a comprehensive body of knowledge that adequately addresses the food safety issue of genetically engineered crops (Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health and National Research Council 2004; European Commission Joint Research Centre 2008).

Or to put it more succinctly, as Christy Wilcox, my Discoverblogging colleague says:

The simple fact is that there is no evidence that GMOs, as a blanket group, are dangerous.

Let’s move on to the next exchange, where Moss sounds more like an anti-GMO activist than a reporter.

MABRY: Until recently, there hasn’t been much concern from the public in the U.S. at all though [about GMOs]. Is that because we’re not so worried about it, or because we just don’t know.

MOSS: I think it’s been under the radar a bit. In increasing mood, people are concerned about it. Those [anti-Monsanto] rallies over the weekend were amazing. So many people hit the streets and I think part of the thing happening here is people are realizing, this is really scary stuff. I mean, Just consider the name, right. Genetically modified organisms. This isn’t like taking one apple and crossing it with another and gettting a redder, shinier apple. This is extracting genetic material from one living creature and putting it another. And that’s really disturbing to people.

There is much to to take issue with there, but I bolded the part that to me, is truly scary coming from an investigative reporter at the New York Times. Is Moss for real? Instead of perhaps educating the public about  genetic modification and why it isn’t scary at all, he’s reinforcing the biggest bogeyman fear of all, the one that inspires every Frankenfood headline.

In a lecture last year, Michael Pollan, who, like Mark Bittman, plays footsie with the fringe elements of the anti-GMO crowd, acknowledged that science did not support the concerns people had about genetically modified foods. He also said:

Fear is not a basis to rally people against GMOs.

Maybe he’s wrong. Fear seems to be the greatest motivator. When a NYT investigative reporter reinforces the biggest myths and fears pushed by the anti-GMO movement, I don’t see how it’s possible to have a constructive, science-based discourse about genetically modified foods.

[Many people exhibit a potato head understanding of GMOs. Source for image.]

Filipino firm makes capsules from local plants for the export market

June 1, 2013

Filipino firm makes capsules from local plants for the export market

By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: June 1, 2013

A 100 percent Filipino-owned firm producing powdered calamansi, malunggay, mangosteen, and other natural products is now expanding into capsuling and blistering of health products for the export market.

Global Partners Inc. Phils. (GPI) is also expanding into tea bagging, dry and liquid filling, and product formulation as a result of its in-house research and development initiatives.

Filipino-owned companies has not been known extensively for manufacturing food and pharmaceutical products that use indigenous crops as raw material.

This has made GPI a pioneer in the manufacturing of ingredients that use agricultural crops that grow in the Philippines.

Aside from calamansi, malunggay, and mangosteen, these are lemon grass, carrot, ampalaya, stevia, noni, sugar cane, turmeric (luyang dilaw), and tawa tawa. They are now exported by GPI in spray-dried form to the Middle East, US, and Europe.

Spray drying turns a liquid solution, suspension, or emulsion into solid powder. Its short time drying process enables preservation of high nutrient content in these highly nutritious products used as ingredients for ready-to-eat food or other processed food.

This nutritious quality in spray-dried products has made GPI slowly capture markets that prefer natural ingredients.

“In 2004, we realigned our goal to campaign against the proliferation of products laden with artificial flavors and preservatives that cause adverse effects on people’s health. Health and wellness products around the world were booming, and Global Partners saw it the proper time to manufacture natural and healthy products,” said GPI.

The company has obtained food safety certification Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point. It is an accredited supplier to the US military bases, being listed in the worldwide directory of Sanitarily Approved Food Establishments for Armed Forces Procurement. It also has Halal certification on top of the usual Food and Drug Administration accreditation.

It has fruit powders that grow extensively in the country including dalandan, mango, pineapple, melon, guyabano, papaya, and lemon. Its other microground powders are ube, saluyot, kangkong, and Robusta, Liberica, and Arabica coffee.

An advantage of the powdered products is these do not need refrigeration. Shelf life is long at 18 months. Applications are varied—baking, cooking, and material for beverages. These are priced very competitively since raw materials supply is abundant. The products are available anytime of the year whether the crops are on and off season.

The company started as its manufacturing and finance officer, Patricia Bandalan, went to study spray drying abroad in the early 2000’s. In October 2009, it put up a two-story manufacturing plant in a 4,400 square meter property in Golden Mile Business Park in Carmona, Cavite.

It has also introduced its own brand of fruits, vegetables and herbal powders called Dale’s.

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Gates: Empowered Women Make Nations Strong

May 31, 2013

I have been encountering similar themes in my reading lately.  This time it’s on how women can greatly help change their world especially in poor areas.  I just love it.  Melody :)

Editor’s note: Melinda Gates is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This article was published as part of Gates’ participation in Women Deliver, an international conference held this week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, focusing on the health and empowerment of girls and women.

(CNN) – Sometimes a number can put a complicated truth in simple terms. Here’s one: 20%. A child whose family budget is controlled by the mother is 20% more likely to survive.

Why? Women know what’s best for their families. They make health care, nutritious food and education priorities. But most women in developing countries don’t control household budgets, and many also don’t control the circumstances of their own lives. If women everywhere had the power to determine their futures, the world would be forever transformed.


Melinda Gates

This week I will attend the Women Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpur. I’ll be joined by more than 3,000 people who have dedicated their careers to empowering women and girls. The specifics of our work differ, but we’re all united by a single, powerful idea: Empowered women and girls will save lives, make families more prosperous and help the poorest countries in the world build stronger economies.

Once you have a child, your career is over? Absolutely not

One key to empowerment—and an issue that’s a personal priority for me—is letting women decide when to have children. Right now,more than 200 million women around the world say they don’t want to have a child but are not using contraceptives. Some of these women will die from complications of pregnancy. Some will give birth to a child who dies. Many mothers who survive (and have children who survive) won’t have the resources to feed or educate them.

More: CNN’s ‘Girl Rising’

Take, for example, a girl in Niger, where 75% of girls are married before their 18th birthday. Of course, Niger is small and has the highest rate of child marriage in the world, but there are large countries (including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India and Tanzania, with a total of 1.5 billion people) where more than 40% of girls become brides.

What happens to a child bride from one of these countries? If she can’t use contraceptives, she gets pregnant, leaves school and probably never goes back. If she continues having children one after the next—”one on the back and one in the belly,” as women have said to me—her health will deteriorate, along with the health of her babies. By the time her children are school age, they are likely to be malnourished and stunted, so even if they go to school, they won’t be ready to learn. Unfortunately, there’s a real probability that this very same cycle will start again.

Girl Rising

Melinda Gates’ fight for contraceptives

Birth control for the world’s women

However, if these girls don’t get pregnant and are able to stay in school, everything changes. They will be healthier. Their children will be healthier. Because they finished their schooling, they will be able to earn more money. That money will stretch further, because they will be supporting a smaller family. Their children will be set up to lead a better life than they did, which is the goal of every parent I know.

More: Christiane Amanpour’s open letter to girls of the world

Last year, at the London Family Planning Summit, the world came together on a goal to reach 120 million more women and girls around the world with the family planning options they want for their families. Since then, almost two dozen countries have developed plans to make sure women have access to contraceptives.

Family planning is just the start. Women who have the power to decide when to get pregnant also must have the power to vaccinate their children, feed them healthy food and pay their school fees. Each of these things is a link in a chain of good health and prosperity.

Take agriculture. The vast majority of the world’s poorest people farm small plots of land to grow their food and earn an income. Women do the majority of the agricultural work across Africa and South Asia, but they don’t have equal access to information and farm supplies. As a result, plots of land worked by women generate lower yields than plots worked by men—as much as 40% lower.

If women can get the right training, high-quality seeds and access to irrigation and fertilizer, they will be able to grow more and more nutritious food while producing a surplus they can sell for a profit. Those are resources they can convert into a better life for their children.

Women Deliver is organized around the conviction that women and girls can start a virtuous cycle of development. They just need a little support to get it started. They need to be able to plan their pregnancies. They need to be able to grow enough food to support their families. Once these basics are in place, the only limit is women’s ambition for the future.



Pioneer Filipino herbal company eyes export markets in Japan, EU

May 21, 2013

Pioneer Filipino herbal company eyes export markets in Japan, EU
By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: May 21, 2013

A pioneer Filipino herbal firm is exploring exports to Japan and European Union for its “ unique” natural health products like “Roselle Fiber Strips” as it had established more than 20 hectares of herbal farm in Negros Occidental.

Herbanext Laboratories, Inc. (HLI) has tapped consolidator Brandexport Phils. – Inc. to market abroad its products which have already created raving markets in the Philippines. It has 16 plus distribution centers mostly in Visayas at present.

It is a pioneer and perhaps the only company manufacturing Roselle products in the Philippines.

The company, started by 2005 TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men) awardee Philip S. Cruz, has an existing 13-hectare herbal farm in Bago City (Negros Occidental) and another 10 hectare-farm five kilometers away from Bago City. Its processing plant is also in Bago City.

“We are positioning ourselves for export under Brandexport. There’s a very good demand in the market in Europe and Japan because our product is new, and they’re always looking for new products,” said Lope Adrean Gutierrez of HLI in an interview at the International Food Exhibition.

Top among its products is Roselle, a plant with deep red flowers belonging to the Gumamela (Hibiscus) family but one that is edible. It is highly nutritious with rich antioxidant content. HLI has seven other Roselle products aside from fiber strips — syrup, preserves, sweet chips, tea, jam, herb cooler, and slimming drink.

HLI had a boost in its entrepreneurial effort when it obtained a loan from Department of Science and Technology’s SETUP (Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program).

SETUP loan usually involves P1 million. The company’s spray dryers, encapsulators, boilers, and other laboratory equipment were acquired through SETUP.

For its farm, it has three potential expansion areas — one south and one north of Negros Occidental and another farm in Davao. It has at least a 10-hectare standby area for Roselle.

HLI has succeeded marketing under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-registered Daily Apple brand. It also has organic certification from France-based ECOCERT.

Unfortunately, it goes through delays in FDA registration.

“Right now we’re in talks with distributors in supermarkets. There are just delays in FDA release of CPR (certificate of product registration). We encounter some delays because FDA is undermanned. FDA regulates too much the registered ones, but they don’t regulate the unregistered. There’s not much monitoring of the imported,” Gutierrez said.

Roselle has South American roots, but it is grown extensively for tea in Malaysia. It is a good food coloring agent with very bright dark red color that is an excellent substitute to FC Red, a chemical compound for food coloring.

The company has other herbal products (mostly tea) from Lagundi, Ginger Salabat, Tsaang Gubat, Ampalaya, Cat’s Whisker or Balbas Pusa, Banaba, Centella/Gotu Kola, Lemongrass, Moringa or Malunggay, Graviola or Guyabano, Holy Basil, Pecah Beling, Mugwort, and Mint.

Warren Buffett is bullish … on women

May 20, 2013

We should take it from Warren Buffett to become more progressive as a nation.MMA

Warren Buffett is bullish … on women

By Warren Buffett @FortuneMagazine May 2, 2013: 7:01 AM ET

THO20 warren buffett katharine graham

Warren Buffett with the late Katharine Graham of the Washington Post at his 50th-birthday party in 1980


In an exclusive essay the Berkshire Hathaway (BRKAFortune 500)chairman and CEO explains why women are key to America’s prosperity.

In the flood of words written recently about women and work, one related and hugely significant point seems to me to have been neglected. It has to do with America’s future, about which — here’s a familiar opinion from me — I’m an unqualified optimist. Now entertain another opinion of mine: Women are a major reason we will do so well.

Start with the fact that our country’s progress since 1776 has been mind-blowing, like nothing the world has ever seen. Our secret sauce has been a political and economic system that unleashes human potential to an extraordinary degree. As a result Americans today enjoy an abundance of goods and services that no one could have dreamed of just a few centuries ago.

But that’s not the half of it — or, rather, it’s just about the half of it. America has forged this success while utilizing, in large part, only half of the country’s talent. For most of our history, women — whatever their abilities — have been relegated to the sidelines. Only in recent years have we begun to correct that problem.

Despite the inspiring “all men are created equal” assertion in the Declaration of Independence, male supremacy quickly became enshrined in the Constitution. In Article II, dealing with the presidency, the 39 delegates who signed the document — all men, naturally — repeatedly used male pronouns. In poker, they call that a “tell.”

Finally, 133 years later, in 1920, the U.S. softened its discrimination against women via the 19th Amendment, which gave them the right to vote. But that law scarcely budged attitudes and behaviors. In its wake, 33 men rose to the Supreme Court before Sandra Day O’Connor made the grade — 61 years after the amendment was ratified. For those of you who like numbers, the odds against that procession of males occurring by chance are more than 8 billion to one.

Watch an interview with Warren Buffett on women, work, and other wisdom

When people questioned the absence of female appointees, the standard reply over those 61 years was simply “no qualified candidates.” The electorate took a similar stance. When my dad was elected to Congress in 1942, only eight of his 434 colleagues were women. One lonely woman, Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith, sat in the Senate.

Resistance among the powerful is natural when change clashes with their self-interest. Business, politics, and, yes, religions provide many examples of such defensive behavior. After all, who wants to double the number of competitors for top positions?

But an even greater enemy of change may well be the ingrained attitudes of those who simply can’t imagine a world different from the one they’ve lived in. What happened in my own family provides an example. I have two sisters. The three of us were regarded, by our parents and teachers alike, as having roughly equal intelligence — and IQ tests in fact confirmed our equality. For a long time, to boot, my sisters had far greater “social” IQ than I. (No, we weren’t tested for that — but, believe me, the evidence was overwhelming.)

The moment I emerged from my mother’s womb, however, my possibilities dwarfed those of my siblings, for I was a boy! And my brainy, personable, and good-looking siblings were not. My parents would love us equally, and our teachers would give us similar grades. But at every turn my sisters would be told — more through signals than words — that success for them would be “marrying well.” I was meanwhile hearing that the world’s opportunities were there for me to seize.

So my floor became my sisters’ ceiling — and nobody thought much about ripping up that pattern until a few decades ago. Now, thank heavens, the structural barriers for women are falling.

MORE: How Gen-Y women can close the pay gap

Still an obstacle remains: Too many women continue to impose limitations on themselves, talking themselves out of achieving their potential. Here, too, I have had some firsthand experience.

Among the scores of brilliant and interesting women I’ve known is the late Katharine Graham, long the controlling shareholder and CEO of the Washington Post Co. (WPO)Kay knew she was intelligent. But she had been brainwashed — I don’t like that word, but it’s appropriate — by her mother, husband, and who knows who else to believe that men were superior, particularly at business.

When her husband died, it was in the self-interest of some of the men around Kay to convince her that her feelings of inadequacy were justified. The pressures they put on her were torturing. Fortunately, Kay, in addition to being smart, had an inner strength. Calling on it, she managed to ignore the baritone voices urging her to turn over her heritage to them.

I met Kay in 1973 and quickly saw that she was a person of unusual ability and character. But the gender-related self-doubt was certainly there too. Her brain knew better, but she could never quite still the voice inside her that said, “Men know more about running a business than you ever will.”

I told Kay that she had to discard the fun-house mirror that others had set before her and instead view herself in a mirror that reflected reality. “Then,” I said, “you will see a woman who is a match for anyone, male or female.”

I wish I could claim I was successful in that campaign. Proof was certainly on my side: Washington Post stock went up more than 4,000% — that’s 40 for 1 — during Kay’s 18 years as boss. After retiring, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her superb autobiography. But her self-doubt remained, a testament to how deeply a message of unworthiness can be implanted in even a brilliant mind.

MORE: Warren Buffett may be souring on stocks

I’m happy to say that funhouse mirrors are becoming less common among the women I meet. Try putting one in front of my daughter. She’ll just laugh and smash it. Women should never forget that it is common for powerful and seemingly self-assured males to have more than a bit of the Wizard of Oz in them. Pull the curtain aside, and you’ll often discover they are not supermen after all. (Just ask their wives!)

So, my fellow males, what’s in this for us? Why should we care whether the remaining barriers facing women are dismantled and the fun-house mirrors junked? Never mind that I believe the ethical case in itself is compelling. Let’s look instead to your self-interest.

No manager operates his or her plants at 80% efficiency when steps could be taken that would increase output. And no CEO wants male employees to be underutilized when improved training or working conditions would boost productivity. So take it one step further: If obvious benefits flow from helping the male component of the workforce achieve its potential, why in the world wouldn’t you want to include its counterpart?

Fellow males, get onboard. The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be. We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.

This story is from the May 20, 2013 issue of FortuneTo top of page




May 18, 2013



A 30-hectare highland in Atok, Benguet is eyed as expansion site for growing flowers that only grow in temperate climate such as Snapdragon of Europe, Dutch’s Paper Roses, and Bells of Ireland and displace some of these imported flowers. A 30-hectare highland in Atok, Benguet is eyed as expansion site for growing flowers that only grow in temperate climate such as Snapdragon of Europe, Dutch ‘s Paper Roses, and Bells of Ireland and displace some of these imported flowers.

Ar nel Caparos of Mountain Blooms told Manila Bulletin they are taking advantage of Atok’s cool climate at 18 degrees to below 12 degrees centigrade to grow temperate flowers, which are now flourishing in the highlands.

“We can expand on around 30 hectares. We can now grow flowers in the same quality as the imported. We can grow large petals of some flowers like Carnation unlike before when we didn’t yet have the technology,” said Arnel Caparos of Mountain Blooms in an interview.

For the expansion, the company needs to put up greenhouses which enable control of the environment in the farm including wind, water, and sunlight. But a 150 square meter greenhouse costs P250,000 a unit, Caparos said.

“Most of those desiring to venture in flower farms need loan, but we still lack the fund in the cooperative to help them,” he said.

Flower quality growing in Atok has improved since farmers obtained the help of a flower expert at Benguet State University (BSU). BSU’s Faustino Hermano trained the farmers on propagation, fertilizing the plants, right irrigation through drip irrigation which prevents flooding or soaking of plants in water.

Atok farms can displace much of the country’s flower imports mainly from Netherlands.

The country’s cutflower imports are Chrysanthemum, Carnation, Pompom, Roses, Amaranthus, Alstroemeria, Lilium, Gerbera, Anthurium, Tulip, and Misty Blue. Suppliers are Holland, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, United States, and Thailand.

For most of the flowers like Carnation, Snapdragon, Paper Roses, and Bells of Ireland, the company sells 5,000 dozens per week. It distributes these mainly through the Dangwa flower market in Sampaloc, Manila.

Mountain Blooms largely use

cuttings for the propagation of the flowering plants. It imports Paper Roses seeds from Taiwan since the seeds cannot be produced here.

It also grows Lantin, Gladiola, Alstromeria and Tulips, although availability of planting materials is a problem for some flowers like Tulips.

It currently has 30 greenhouses.

With the need to expand, it is looking forward to a P360,000 assistance from the Department of Agriculture. It just obtained 10 open greenhouses.

“We can produce more because we have enough land with this climate that I have only seen here as one of its kind from the rest of the Philippines,” Caparos said.

While there are expansion areas in Atok, there are other municipalities in Benguet that has the same climate like Buguias.

There are presently around 10 private farms growing temperate flowers in Atok with five hectares each.

Mountain Blooms started in 2004 with P200,000 capital. Its sales last year reached P4 million.

The Department of HorticultureUniversity of the Philppines Los Banos (DH-UPLB) indicated in a report that the high cost of greenhouses, irrigation, and post harvest facilities is a major constraint in cutflower industry in the country.

“The availability of quality planting materials, most of which come from abroad, is sporadic. With new production technology comes the introduction of new agricultural chemicals which are not readily available locally and work out very expensive when imported,” according to DHUPLB’s Teresita L. Rosario.

Limited volume is the major concern.

“On the part of the exporters, there is a shortage of cut flowers volume wise and quality wise. The small growers cannot compete with big growers. It will be easier to meet the quality, but the volume needs more attention,” she said.

Another problem is access to credit, according to Rosario .

“Investors are slow in getting into the business since lending agencies or banks always demand feasibility studies. Big growers are quite hesitant to provide information because of inherent competition,” she said.

Raising entrepreneurs

May 18, 2013

How I wish I can raise my son as an entrepreneur much as how I’ve always wished to be one and as how I wonder how my grandparents once made a small business successful. Entrepreneurship– how I love it :-)

Raising entrepreneurs



Category: Life
Published on Thursday, 16 May 2013 18:39
Written by Charlie Hamilton / Lemonade Day

CHILDREN come into the world curious. No one knows this better than parents who spend the first few years of a child’s life simply trying to keep them from hurting themselves as they explore the brand-new world. However, something happens by age 13 and that curiosity evolves into an “I know it all” mentality. That means there is a critical window of time in which to develop your young entrepreneur. It starts with encouraging curiosity.

My wife and I are busy raising two entrepreneurs, but not because we are better parents than most. We aren’t. In fact, we spend many a date night talking about how much we stink at this thing called parenthood. If we are all being honest, that parental guilt plagues most of us.

However, there are age-old principles that we all can easily apply to help a child develop in this one crucial area.

It starts by saying NO.

As parents who have already “fessed up” to feeling guilty, I can also admit that we are more prone to compensate by making life easier on our kids than we had it growing up. We buy them way more than what they need, just because we can. However, just look around at most “rich kids” and you may see nothing but attitudes of entitlement. That attitude doesn’t do any more for a child than generational dependence. Both ends of the spectrum can produce lazy and entitled offspring.

What if instead of giving your child a fish, you taught them how to fish? It’s not hard. Start by watching for them to express a “want.” This shouldn’t take long. Explain that if they want to get that toy, go to summer camp, etc…they will have to earn it. You must persist past your child’s initial negative reaction in order to watch their curiosity blossom as they try to figure out a way to make it work.

Successful adults often worked when they were young. They mowed lawns, babysat, or had a lemonade stand. Learning how to work hard, provide good customer service, overcome challenges, ask for the sale, and understand the value of a dollar are invaluable life lessons that kids simply can’t get from a textbook.

Once a child learns these life lessons, they look at money differently. When told they will have to spend their own money on that toy at the checkout line, they don’t want it quite as badly. They learn that hard-earned profits can be spent responsibly, saved for a rainy day and shared with a charity of their choice. The self-satisfaction and confidence that the child develops as a result of these experiences prepare him or her for adulthood.

Another benefit of entrepreneurial training is quality family time. As parents, you will need to guide your young entrepreneur carefully through this project. This parental involvement has a dual benefit since it helps with the stinky parental guilt too. Seriously, time spent learning the life lessons of starting a business can bond families together in a way that watching Duck Dynasty just can’t quite accomplish. Many parents have remarked at how rewarding it is to help their child figure out how to meet the challenges that arise as they start their new business and then rejoice together over their success in the end.

Want to raise an entrepreneur? Wait until they want something then use the 14 steps of Lemonade Day ( and work together to build a small business. You will surprise yourself and your child at how much you accomplish together.

Languages your company should speak (but has never heard)

May 10, 2013

Languages your company should speak (but has never heard)



Category: Perspective
Published on Sunday, 28 April 2013 15:11
Written by Nataly Kelly


IN December Microsoft announced the release of Windows 8 in a language that many tech analysts found to be a surprising choice—Cherokee. Just a decade ago, this Native American language had no speakers under the age of 40 with conversational fluency. Today there are roughly 16,000.

In a similar vein, Google announced its support last June for the Endangered Languages Project, an initiative promoting the sharing of resources and information about languages on the verge of extinction. Of around 6,500 languages spoken today, approximately 3,000 are considered to be endangered.

Providing members of linguistic minority groups with access to technology in their native tongues enables these languages to survive and thrive in the digital age. But before we jump to the conclusion that Microsoft’s and Google’s efforts are solely altruistic, let’s consider some important facts.

Back in 2003, Mark Davis carried out an important analysis for the Unicode Consortium of gross domestic product by language use. He found that speakers of English and Chinese had the most purchasing power, followed by other languages used within major world economies, such as Japanese and Spanish. However, the amount of spending power represented by the remaining thousands of languages was significant—accounting for 12.5 percent of the world’s GDP.

More recent data from Internet World Stats displays a similar trend. Of the 2.1 billion Internet users estimated in 2011, 82 percent spoke one of 10 macro-languages—English, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, German, Arabic, French, Russian and Korean. And the remaining 18 percent? They spoke another one of the world’s 6,500 languages.

Less common languages might not seem that important individually, but when you take them collectively, they pack a powerful economic punch. What’s more, their force only stands to grow stronger as time goes on. Meanwhile, the relative importance of English is predicted to decline.

Companies like Microsoft and Google care about less common languages, but not out of charity alone. If you want to secure your future status as a market leader, one of the savviest moves you can make is to develop the market itself. This involves not just taking your product into a new market with known demand, but creating conditions that will enable that demand to emerge in the first place. And one of those conditions is the ability to offer your products to people in a language they can call their own.


Nataly Kelly is the vice president of market development at Smartling, a cloud-based enterprise translation management company based in New York.

DA to initiate DNA fingerprinting of indigenous black rice

May 9, 2013

DA to initiate DNA fingerprinting of indigenous black rice
By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: May 9, 2013

The government is initiating a DNA fingerprinting of its black rice and other export-bound fancy rice as part of promoting indigenous variety in international trade as it just shipped out to Dubai 35 metric tons (MT) of such special rice early this week.

Department of Agriculture (DA) Sec. Proceso J. Alcala said DA will seek for an international registration of the country’s special rice varieties that should identify their DNA characteristics as uniquely Philippines’ own.

“We will register our rice with an international agency for their DNA identification so we can protect them in the market,” said Alcala during a ceremonial sendoff of the special rice.

“We can’t just use jasmine because it’s Thailand’s, and we can’t use basmati because Pakistan says that’s theirs. But we have a black rice that is different from Thailand’s. Ours can be steamed like ordinary rice, while Thailand’s is a sticky one,” said Alcala.

The export volume, considered historic as part of government’s sustained export plan, consists of 15 MT of organic black rice from Cotabato produced by the Don Bosco Multipurpose Cooperative (MPC) and 20 MT of Jasponica and Miponica Dona Maria brown and white rice of SL Agritech Corp. (SLAC).

DA is adopting the export strategy in order to maintain rice sufficiency so that the Philippines will become a net exporter perhaps by 2014.

The Philippines stands to achieve rice sufficiency next year with imports just reaching to 187,000 MT in 2013. This came from a peak of 2.4 million MT in 2010 that decreased to 870,000 MT in 2011 and 500,000 MT in 2012.

“At the start we were only targeting rice sufficiency. But then we realized we’re really capable of exporting. And if we’re only targeting sufficiency, the tendency is if we will have excessive rice, prices will go down. So we should export,” Alcala said.

Export of premium rice will also be the means to achieve a goal of raising farmers’ income since price can go up to P60 per kilo while the price that goes to farmers’ pockets from ordinary rice only amounts to P17-P18 per kilo (unmilled rice) based on National Food Authority buying rate. 

When demand picks up, DA will produce more special rice seeds together with the Philippine Rice Research Institute and DA regional field units.

Many of the country’s upland ricelands have so much potential to be planted with high-value special rice. However, lack of irrigation will be a problem in these mostly rainfed areas. A public private partnership is being eyed to solve this.

The Philippines has many types of special rice that have good market potential and that can compete well in the international market, according to DA Asst. Sec. Dante Delima.

“Other countries don’t have a place like Cordillera through which to replicate our special rice. They don’t have dinorado, they don’t have hinumay. We can really be proud of our rice,” said Delima. 

The Don Bosco MPC’s black rice even obtained an organic certification from Europe which will further strengthen its export potential and its command for higher price, he said.

Government should help fancy rice producers by improving packaging and by providing post harvest facilities.

Delima said there are negotiations to export fancy rice to Hong Kong and Singapore. However, countries like Singapore require exporting countries to store rice in cold storage facilities prior to shipment in order to assure quality.

There is also a signed purchase order for fancy rice to the United States for a target shipment this November.

“With the development in export now, we may already hit by July our target of 100 tons of export for the whole year,” Delima said. “But our problem is how to sustain our export. That’s the big challenge. Exports benefit our farmers because they earn an additional P15,000 for every P3 per kilo increment in price for every 5,000 kilos.”

But while targeting to export fancy rice, Delima said government also has a program to expand distribution of fancy rice locally so that Filipinos who can afford it can have access to the nutritious fancy rice.

Black rice and other special rice varieties are rich in iron and other nutrients since they do not go through intensive milling and refining as that of the regular rice.

Tablet to bridge farm extension work

May 7, 2013

Tablet to bridge farm extension work
By Melody M. Aguiba
Published: May 6, 2013

The Information Technology Center for Agriculture and Fisheries (IT-CAF) is pursuing a tablet computer project for agriculture technicians in a hope to bridge the gap in farm extension work through cost-effective technology tools.

Extension, the function involving transfer of technology to farmers’ field, has been a difficult task in the farm sector. Filipino farmers remain distant from using technology, leaving them impoverished despite the pervasive IT age.

But the use of tablet computers will help solve problems on lack of infrastructure and limited human resources.

Portable tablets can already bring to farmers, especially resource-poor smallholders, the learning that they need to apply in their fields in order to maximize harvest and income, according to Dileepkumar Guntuku, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (Icrisat) knowledge sharing and innovation global leader.

IT-CAF, together with the tablet computer project funder Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), are now in the formulation process in the project.

“We have initiated discussions with ITCAF and BAR. The project proposal is now under formulation phase. We will use the tablet, and we will identify pilot locations,” said Guntuku in an interview. 

The government is usually not capable of providing a huge budget to hire many technicians who will teach farmers ways to raise their yield—such as reducing acidity in the soil or solving a pest problem.

But information and communication technology (ICT) can help reduce the number of technicians needed to train more farmers.

“In earlier days, if you would like to reach out to 200 farmers, one person needs to provide advisory to them. But now one person can send information through mobile (devices) to many more people,” said Guntuku.

“Dr. (William) Dar (of Icrisat) is thinking of how we can take these opportunities to bring research results to farmers’ fields.”

Guntuku presented before the Department of Agriculture-BAR the proposed “ICT Approaches for Agricultural Knowledge Sharing and Information to Satisfy Needs of Various Stakeholders.”

He cited that India, where Icrisat is based, is now in the third generation of ICT agricultural extension work. The first generation ICT reached out to farmers through “kiosks” or physically-constructed Common Service Centers (CSC) where farmers go to for technical help.

“We have more than 200,000 kiosks where we bring to farmers various services. We need to have intermediaries to facilitate exchange bet lab (laboratory) and land,” he said.

Now the present generation ICT tools can better help farmers. Smart phones can easily take photos of a diseased rice plant and send this photo to technicians that can rapidly respond on how to cure the disease.

“The ICT tool may be computers, internet, mobile phone, tablet. But we need to understand what works best in a given kind of situation,” he said.

Also part of the project is the introduction of market-oriented development approach. 

This should help turn farmers into entrepreneurs since through the internet they now have access to global prices of commodities by which to benchmark their goods.

Icrisat has an access to the Indian Telephone Industry which can fabricate cheap tablets. 

The project should provide farmers easier access to geographic information system or GIS that can contribute to crop yield increase by guiding farmers on how to improve soil quality, irrigation, fertilization, and other crop management best practices. 

But the tablet project can bring to farmers the following:

• Awareness databases that facilitate proper understanding of the implications of weather, quality seeds, farm practices, and markets (to sell the harvest)
• Decision Support Systems that facilitate farmers to make a proper analysis to take appropriate decisions when contingencies arise
• Monitoring systems for corrective measures bring them in direct contact with Scientists and Research workers
• Information on new opportunities expands farmers’ horizon to soil management, biotechnology based fertilizers, drip irrigation, pesticides and insecticides, and opportunistic crop rotation.


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