A strong research and development (R&D) pillar built around a robust and creative scientific community that is able to generate novel and beneficial technologies is needed to realize the potential benefits of biotechnology
for the country, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said.
In statement, Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Segfredo Serrano said that it has long been the primary concern of the DA to promote agricultural development, translated into improvement of farm income and generation of work opportunities for farmers, fishermen and other rural workers.
The statement followed a call for project proposals seeking funding under the DA Biotechnology Program for the second quarter of this year. Priority areas being considered include basic and applied biotech research; institutional capacity enhancement; policy research and advocacy; and information, education, and communication.
Food security, climate change key issues
“A modernized smallholder agriculture and fisheries and a diversified rural economy that is dynamic, technologically advanced and internationally competitive are envisioned by the Department,” Serrano said.
The DA official also noted that the challenges that the country continues to face include food security, poverty alleviation, environmental problems and impacts of climate change.
“The pursuit of securing food and improving levels of living, with adaptability to climate change in our minds, has led us to explore several ways and technological means to help address productivity and resiliency issues in Philippine agriculture,” he said.
Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Program Office (DA-BPO) Director Antonio Alfonso said biotechnology can help in the country’s drive for food self-sufficiency, and can also help us adapt to climate change.
He emphasized, however, that R&D should continue in order to realize these benefits in the form of improved varieties of crops and strains of animal and livestock commodities. Other important products of biotechnology are natural ingredients and bioactive compounds with numerous applications.
“Biotechnology has been used in the development of climate-ready crops,” he said.
He added that tissue culture, a biotechnology tool, is being used in the DA’s High Value Crops Development Program in mass propagating coconut, abaca and banana planting materials.
Biotechnology is used in developing natural health products from indigenous Philippine plants and in the development of biopesticides for the control of insects that attack jackfruit and other crop commodities, Alfonso said.
According to Alfonso, because of our rapid population growth, the Philippines’ agricultural lands grow smaller every day, as rice fields give way to subdivisions and the environment is degraded.
“As our farmlands shrink, we are faced with the challenge of producing more food, feed, fiber and even biofuels,” Alfonso added.
He stressed that biotechnology is vital in the development of drought and flood tolerant crops that can be dispatched to affected areas whenever there is a projection of flooding or prolonged dry spell.
On the other hand, the DA promotes ‘submarino’ rice variety, which can withstand long periods of being submerged, to flooded areas. The ‘submarino’ type palay of the DA, he added, can withstand being submerged for 14 days. Meanwhile, saline water and high temperature tolerant crop varieties are being developed through conventional breeding and using tools of biotechnology, Alfonso said.
The Philippines, as reflected in its national policies, has been open to modern technologies such as biotechnology to improve the efficiency of our agricultural system, thereby increasing productivity in a sustainable manner, Alfonso added.
According to Serrano, the global recognition of the potential contribution of biotechnology and its application to securing food is unprecedented, for it offers adaptive technologies and farming approaches that ensure crop production through sustainable agriculture, improve resource efficiency, minimize wastage/losses in the supply chain, ensure affordable prices, and improve food utilization.
Agriculture sector source of poverty
Philippine agriculture continues to exhibit a declining contribution to the national economy over the past years—around 11 percent share of the economic growth pie as compared to 30 percent back in 1946.
Poverty has stricken the agriculture sector as farmers and fishermen are among the least paid workers in the Philippine economy. Yet agriculture employs, on average, one-third of the total labor force.
“It is precisely this reason that agriculture still plays an indispensable role in the Philippine economy. It remains a main pillar of the Philippine economic growth and a crucial sector for reducing poverty,” Serrano said.