MANILA, JUNE 26, 2006
(STAR) By Rocel C. Felix - The local agriculture sector is increasingly turning to agricultural biotechnology to modernize food production and diversify product outputs.

In the next two to five years, Agriculture Secretary Domingo F. Panganiban said several promising "Pinoy Biotek" products developed by Filipino scientists will be commercially produced and distributed in the local market as the government steps up efforts to raise agricultural production and meet the requirements of a growing population.

"If we are to raise the productivity of the agriculture sector, we have to eventually put to good use ongoing research and development on agri biotech and see that it is accepted and embraced by farmers," said Panganiban.

Among the "Pinoy Biotek" products is the cloned carabao dubbed "Super buffalo" of the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC), which is currently carrying out a massive artificial insemination program of carabao in Luzon. The PCC will come up with the cloned buffalo within the next two years.

The program aims to teach villagers how to artificially inseminate female carabao with the semen of the "Super Buffalo" to increase milk and meat production. The "Super Buffalo" is bigger in size and produces more milk than the native carabao.

Panganiban said the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines-Los Banos is also working on Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant that would be resistant to insects such as whitefly.

Its commercialization would boost farmers‚ income as consumer consumer demand with its average current production volume of 20,000 hectares annually, continues to outstrip demand for other high-value crops. Eggplant production however, requires the use of costly fertilizers and pesticides that result in higher production costs while posing health and environmental hazards.

On the other hand, the Institute of Plan Breeding of the University of the Philippines-Los Banos already submitted to the National Biosafety Committee of the Philippines (NBCP), its application for the field testing of a GM papaya that is ringspot virus resistant and the delayed ripening papaya that extends the shelf-life of the fruit.

Scientists as well as papaya producers are banking on GM papaya to improve local production and increase the country’s share in global papaya trade.

Papaya is a major fruit crop in the Philippines with 94 percent of production used for food and six percent for feed. Although less than four percent is exported, it has substantial economic value because of its varied food and industrial uses.

Some of the preferred varieties are the Solo variety which is popular in the foreign market, the Cavite and Morado specials, while a hybrid cultivar Sinta, the first Philippine-bred hybrid papaya developed by IPB, has found a growing niche in the local market with potential for international sales. In recent years, demand for high-papain varieties like red Solo has been increasing because of its growing use for beauty products.

Another "Pinoy Biotek" product in the pipeline is the multivitamin-enriched rice being developed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice).

The Philippine Coconut Authority is also making progress in coming up with a cadang-cadang resistant coconut variety which would bolster efforts to re-open the exports of fresh coconut to Saudi Arabia, mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The Philippines, for more than five years now, has been barred from shipping fresh coconut to these countries because of the prevalence of the cadang-cadang disease in coconut trees.

Cadang-cadang pest infestation is endemic in the Bicol region and has spread over Quezon provinces including Polillo Island , its boundary with Aurora and Homonhon Island in Eastern Samar. The highly-contagious disease that can spread easily from one coconut tree to another results in the premature decline and death of coconut and palm trees in the Philippines associated with viroid infection.

In the fisheries sector, Panganiban said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is also developing improved breed of tilapia and milkfish (bangus) that are better-tasting, fast-growing and can live in different conditions.

Recently, BFAR came up with tilapia that can survive in cold and salt water, and are now being cultured in upstream waters of the Cordillera region and Mindanao.

In the area of bio-pharming, one product that has commercial potential is the edible vaccine of being developed by Dr. Nina Gloriani Barzaga, of the College of Public Health of the University of the Philippines.

The edible vaccine in banana and tomato is currently in the pipeline and scientists are seeking a P50 to P100 million funding to make the edible vaccine available in seven to 10 years. Panganiban stressed the agriculture sector has to rely more and more on breakthroughs in agri-biotech to increase food production to solve the problem brought about by the diminishing land area devoted to food production.

In the last 10 years, about 500,000 hectares have been converted for industrial, commercial and residential uses, and only through modern agriculture technology that the country can cope with the increasing demand for food. In 2003, the country released the Bt corn that is resistant to the dreaded

Asian corn borer. Bt corn is induced with the Bacillus thuriengiensis, a bacteria known to be the natural enemy of corn borer.

This significantly raised corn yield while reducing the need for expensive chemical pesticides. "We should continually harness agri-biotech programs in various areas such as varietal improvement if we want the agriculture sector to really take off. While working on these, the government should also provide an environment to encourage the private sector to also start their own initiative and see to it that it also benefits their primary clients, which are the farmers, and more so, the consumers." said Panganiban.

Unioil sells alternative fuel products By Donnabelle L. Gatdula The Philippine Star 06/26/2006

Unioil Philippines Inc. has joined other oil firms that are offering alternative fuels in its retail stations, an industry official said.

"We are wondering why there was no mention of Unioil as one of those oil firms that are carrying biodiesel products in their gasoline stations. In fact, Unioil is one of the most supportive and strongest advocates of the biodiesel products," Chemrez Inc. public affairs manager Carlos Palad said.

Chemrez is one of the Department of Energy (DOE)-accredited manufacturers of coco-biodiesel under a brand name of "Bioactive".

At present, Petron Corp., a semi-government and country’s leading oil company; Flying V and Eastern Petroleum Corp., two of the most aggressive independent oil players, also sell bottled coco-biodiesel products in their respective selected gasoline refilling stations.

Palad said they are optimistic that more and more oil companies will see the benefit of promoting and selling coco-biodiesel products.

To increase awareness on the biodiesel benefits, Chemrez along with Flying V conducted a series of seminars for the past two weeks in Luzon.

"This is in preparation of the eventual rollout of B-1 (pre-blended biodiesel) product of Flying V in all of its 50 stations nationwide," Palad said.

Palad said they hope that Petron would do the same. "We would appreciate it very much if Petron, in support of government’s initiative to promote the use of alternative fuels in the transport sector, will carry the coco-biodiesel products in most or if not all of its stations," he said.

Next month, Palad said they would embark on a roadshow in every region in the country to introduce its biodiesel product to gasoline dealers and large industries.

"We will meet representatives from the industry like gas dealers and interested biodiesel dealers to introduce the product and its benefits to consumers and the country’s economy as a whole," he said.

He said so far, Chemrez has distribution units in all parts of the country except in Mindoro, Southern Panay, Palawan and islands of Negros.

"We will try to tap these markets soon through this roadshow," he said.

At present, Chemrez is one of the largest producers of coco-biodiesel in the Philippines and in Asia. It recently inaugurated its P950 million biodiesel plant in Quezon City which will enable it to to produce 60 million liters capacity a year.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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