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by Jonathan Mayuga (Correspondent)
29-January-2007 BusinessMirror

Biotechnology experts and advocates have lauded the approval of nine applied biotech-research projects as part of government’s effort to modernize agriculture and make the advance technology accessible to the farmers in the future.

Dr. Emil Javier, president of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), said Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap’s announcement of approving the projects all aimed at increasing the country’s production of abaca, coconut, makapuno, and papaya which will be implemented this year is a welcome development.

“It means the government is serious in making the technology accessible to farmers,” Javier said.

Javier said the Philippines should take full advantage of biotechnology, particularly its application to agriculture, noting that biotech crops offer better opportunity for farmers to increase their income and improve their living condition.

According to Javier, the Philippines is not yet taking full advantage of biotechnology, citing the case of Bt corn. He said the Philippines can be corn self-sufficient if the government, as well ass the private sector, adopts the superior corn variety and maximize area planted to the corn.

Bt corn has been approved for commercial production in 2003 and areas planted to the crop has grown from 70,000 hectares in 2005 to 16,000 hectares at the end of December 2006.

Dr. Randy Hautea, global coordinator and director of Southeast Asia Center for the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), reported that the increasing farmers’ acceptance and awareness of the benefits of biotechnology, particularly to corn farmers in the Philippines is becoming more and more evident and clear.

“Secretary Yap’s approval of biotech projects is a very welcome development. We need to invest in more research and development. The technology is there and we at ISAAA will always be here to help,” he said.

ISAAA is providing assistance to developing countries to identify biotech needs and priorities and assessing their potential socioeconomic impacts. It also facilitates the acquisition of new crop biotechnology applications with benefits for resource-poor farmers like the Philippines.

Last week, Agriculture undersecretary for policy and planning Segfredo Serrano announced that nine projects had been approved for implementation by Yap.

Serrano said the projects have been carefully evaluated and approved for funding, which will partly come from various agencies of the DA, namely, the bureau of Agricultural Research, Biotechnology Program Implementation Unit and other funding institutions of the Department of Science and Technology.

Aside from coming up with a genetically modified abaca resistant to bunchy-top bract mosaic and mosaic viruses, scientists will develop and identify new and improved hybrid-rice parental lines resistant to bacterial blight, establish the genotypic identity of commercially released hybrid-rice cultivars and their parental lines.

For coconut, Serrano said scientists from the Philippine Coconut Authority are now refining techniques in cloning coconut. Another coconut project involves the accelerated development of coconut synthetic variety. Serrano said the DA will also conduct agents against the coconut leaf beetle.

Scientists are also working on the micropagation of makapuno using plumular tissue as explants.

Meanwhile, scientists at the University of the Philippines Los Baños are now working on the introgression of the papaya ring spot virus-resistance into transgenic into transgenic papaya with delayed ripening trait.

According to Serrano, the implementation of the projects is part of the full implementation of the 10-year DA Biotechnology Research, Development, and Extension Program of the “DA Biotech Roadmap” which was developed last year by experts in the field of biotechnology.

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