PCCI joins IPB in high value crop research

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RESEARCH into the breeding of high-value crops such as okra and the “Edamame” variety of soybeans for the Japan market can now move forward, thanks to a technical assistance (TA) program agreement between the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industries (PCCI) and the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB).

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The planned breeding of high value crops—particularly okra and soybean vegetable “Edamame” for the Japan market—may be the top priority of the IPB-PCCI partnership, according to PCCI Agriculture Committee Chief Roberto Amores.

Okra alone already has a $15 million annual market in Japan, which is expected to grow to as much as $100 million over the next five years.

An initial discussion on the TA was conducted last June 2 at the IPB-University of the Philippines Los Banos.

“For me the breeding of okra and soybean for the Japan market should be a priority for this partnership with IPB,” said Amores. “Genetic improvement in our fresh vegetables for Japan will be the key to increasing productivity of farmers.”

Funding needed
PCCI member company and Filipino agribusiness exporting firm Hi Las Marketing Corp., which Amores heads, may look for funding for the research.

“PCCI knows how important agriculture is. We want to have a national consultation for agriculture. We’re pushing for government’s financing of agriculture especially for the small ones,” said PCCI President George Barcelon.

“For infrastructure, there should be irrigation, power facilities, and roads. There should be information on prices of agricultural supplies like fertilizers.”

IPB Co-Founder Dr. Emil Javier said that possible financiers for the okra breeding are the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development, an attached agency of the Department of Science and Technology, and the Bureau of Agricultural Research, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Both agencies have the mandate to finance research in agriculture.

IPB’s earlier research on the disease resistant Bt eggplant was financed through a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) grant and a counterpart fund from UPLB and the DA.

The PCCI-IPB program will also involve a comprehensive collaboration resulting in easier, faster access of small farmers to financing; marketing of farmers’ produce direct to markets including hotels and restaurants; and development of contract growing business models.

Javier said IPB’s collaboration with PCCI must zero in on enabling farmers to be part of the value chain. Filipino farmers do not just become suppliers of cheap raw materials to big manufacturers or retailers. They become partners of agri-businesses.

IPB and PCCI will also look into successful models of contract growing with small farmers.
Contract growing enables small farmers to keep up with international safety standards of agriculture and food production imposed on big food companies.

When small farmers’ production is consolidated through cooperatives that may have a partnership with PCCI, they will be able to bargain for higher, market-based prices for their produce due to being able to supply a bigger volume.

Glenn Baticados, UPLB Technology Transfer director, said IPB-UPLB might also partner with the private sector through commercialization of its technologies.

“Jollibee is interested in getting 11 technologies that we developed,” said Baticados.

PCCI will also have a scholarship for agriculture families. It will introduce a mentoring program for farmers to become entrepreneurs rather than just stay as recipients of dole-outs, according to Barcelon.

Crop improvements
The okra breeding program is intended to improve the productivity of small farmers planting okra who are currently using imported hybrid seeds from Japan. This okra should be disease-resistant and should have longer shelf life to be competitive.

“With the breeding program of IPB, cost of seeds will be reduced for okra and soybeans,”said Amores. “We will create more jobs using these varieties.”

For the Edamame soybean, a preparation of boiled or steamed soybeans in the pod in Japanese cuisine, the breed is to be developed with deeper green color and bigger pods compared to what can be grown currently in the Philippines.

Edamame soybean’s market extends beyond Japan as well. The market in the US alone is estimated at up to $200 million by American Vegetable Soybean & Edamame Inc.

“Edamame’s popularity appears to be growing. Edamame is found mostly in health food stores, or stores that specialize in Asian products. Edamame is consumed green. Its beans are larger than traditional soybean varieties. Some believe that the demand for Edamame will increase due to the health benefits from eating the product,” a Michigan State University study explained.

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