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by Jonathan Mayuga
08-August-2007 BusinessMirror

Biotechnology experts have called on the government to employ their expertise to solve the problems facing the Philippines, such as lack of suitable biofuel feedstock. They said resolving this will spare food crops from being used and address drought-related issues in the aquaculture and agriculture.

Right now, available biofuel feedstock are coconuts, corn and sugar cane, all critical to the food-supply security of the country.

Among others, the biotech scientists say the government should intensively support cultivation of substitutes, such as the jatropha curcas plant and some other nonfood plants.

The current near drought in agricultural areas – already the Ilocos Region has been declared a calamity area for lack of water – also underscored their suggestion for the government to commit enough resources for research in agriculture to find and develop drought-resistant crops; and, in aquaculture, saline-tolerant fish to be able to transfer freshwater farmed fish to coastal seawaters and save precious water for crop irrigation.

In response, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said the government is already considering jatropha, known locally as tuba-tuba, for the production of biodiesel because this plant can be planted even in hostile terrain and the most inhospitable soil.

He added they may devote some of the agency’s vast tracts which are intended for massive tree-planting to the planting of jatropha.

The government is also trying to identify which areas could be devoted for the massive production of genetically modified sugarcane, cassava, sweet sorghum, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, and other genetically modified crops that yield between 9-percent and 18-percent alcohol, which can be used for the production of ethanol additive for gasoline.

Scientists from the Philippine Rice Research Institute and the Agriculture Technology Institute concerned with the drought have also called on Arroyo administration to develop superior crops – through the gene splicing technique – that are drought-resistant, as well as crop varieties that can survive severe flooding.

Rafael Guerrero of the Philippine Council for Marine and Aquatic Resources Research and Development, who had warned that the dry spell may affect inland fishponds and fish cages, recommended the use of high-saline-tolerant fish variety developed specifically for such weather condition.

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