Native corn varieties getting conserved

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The Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) sees native corn’s continued cultivation in the Philippines despite the growing popularity of higher-yielding hybrid varieties.

BAR, an agency under the Department of Agriculture, is cooperating with the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (IPB-UPLB) and DA regional field offices (RFOs) in implementing a long-term program called Corn Germplasm Utilization through Advance Research and Development (CGUARD) to preserve native corn varieties.

Research professor Artemio Salazar of the Institute of IPB-UPLB, the CGUARD program leader, said native corn varieties, having been planted for centuries by farmers, have already undergone natural, selective breeding including the various environment stresses that could affect yield.

“Most of our native varieties are low yielders but there would always be production no matter what. Also, they were selected by farmers for quality traits for eating and for storability,” he added.

Funded by BAR, the program aims to collect, conserve, and develop native corn germplasm for agronomic response to different environment and physiological stresses including pests and diseases, soil acidity and salinity, soil fertility, drought, and water logging.

Among the objectives of the program is the identification of varieties that are early maturing, high in lysine, highly resistant to downy mildew, and potentially resistant to the Asian corn borer.

“The thrust of this program is really to focus on the utilization aspect which means breeding which will be used in developing the varieties that the farmers can use,” said BAR Director Nicomedes Eleazar.

Long before plant hybridization and other advanced breeding techniques were developed, early corn farmers have been practicing selective breeding. They examine the plants and save the seeds that possess the qualities that they like such as big kernels, tastier, and high-yielding.

“Through almost five centuries of corn production in our country, we have tremendous genetic variability in the field. In fact, the most reliable source of genetic resistance to the then most serious disease of corn in Asia could be traced to our native variety, Tiniguib,” Salazar said.

Major accomplishments

As of February, the DA-RFOs have a total collection of 2,116 native corn varieties. Half of the collection has been sent to the National Plant Genetic Resources (NPGRL) of UPLB for breeding while the other half has been characterized in their respective research stations.

“NPGRL is also our partner in this program. It houses all the germplasm collections of the country for long-term storage. NPGRL also coordinates with the DA-RFOs and advices them on how to properly conduct the seed collection and conservation process,” Salazar said.

Among the significant findings of the program included the identification of an early maturing variety, CGUARD Cn N48 or “Abra Glutinous” that is harvestable as green corn in 55 days. Meanwhile, CGUARD Cn N34 or “San Jose White” and CGUARD Cn N10 or “Calimpus” were varieties identified to be high in lysine, an essential amino acid.

Three native varieties that were identified to have high downy mildew resistance were CGUARD Cn N 15 or “Tiniguib D”; CGUARD Cn N33 or “Manggahan White”; and CGUARD Cn N 17 or “Bulldog.” Meanwhile, two were found to have potential resistance to Asian Corn Borer: CGUARD Cn N 42 or “Lawaan Bukidnon”; and CGUARD Cn N36 or “Valencia Orange.”

“CGUARD is one of the priority programs of [Agriculture] Secretary [Manny] Piñol in line with the Food Security Program of DA. Corn is the second most important staple crop in the Philippines. As a staple crop, [white]corn substitutes for rice especially in the South and during rice scarcity. So this also supports the rice program of the government,” Eleazar said.

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