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11-March-2007 The Philippine STAR

VALENCIA, Negros Oriental - Biotechnology has come all the way to this remote town, providing a big boost to the town's agricultural sector with a timely intervention from the government in partnership with the private sector.

For starters, Valencia Con-tract Growers Association, headed by Florante Vicuna has agreed to venture with a biotech firm called Secura for the production of natural ingredients extracted from malunggay, also known as kalamunggay to the local farmers.

Vicuna said they have committed 20 hectares of agricultural land owned by the association's 45 farmers. These lands will be planted with malunggay and harvested for its leaves which are in great demand in the world market. A two-hectare farm are has been set aside to test malunggay's productivity in the area.

"With our venture with Secura, we would be ensuring the improvement of the lives of our members, as well as providing up to 300 jobs to local farmers," Vicuna said.

The group has previously entered into an agreement with Secura for the planting of papaya. Secura extracts natural ingredients from papaya, such as latex and papain.

Vicuna said they are currently "growing papaya on 10 hectares of farm lands and are planning to expand this to 20 hectares".

Vicuna said they are confident about the expansion since their papaya fruits are being bought by Secura at a very reasonable price and that this exchange will continue to progress as long as there is still papaya to be harvested from their farms.

"This also provides labor opportunities for the unemployed residents of Valencia that currently represents 60 percent of the municipal population", Vicuna adds.

Despite financial challenges hampering the smooth operation of their venture with Secura, the association, sup-ported by the local government is willing and able to continuously engage in the production of biotech products.

According to Mayor Rodolfo Gonzales, the local government is willing to fund such projects and has allocated P10 million for agricultural projects, especially those that involve high value crops.

"We need to start investing on agricultural industries that have practical implications and technologies," the mayor said. "There is no question that biotechnology is the way to the future," Gonzales adds.

With the introduction of yet another product to the natural ingredients industry, malunggay farming is foreseen to be a very fruitful venture. Due to the high nutritional content of malunggay, it is becoming a very popular food supplement all over the world. With this demand, Secura is now opening its doors to farmers, not only in Valencia, who can join them in this venture.

According to Danny Manayaga, president of Secura, Valencia is a very suitable place to put up facilities for the planting and processing of malunggay. "We are planning to set up facilities to process papaya and malunggay and also facilities for essential oil production," Manayaga said.

"The farmers need to organize themselves and link-up with BioNET where the supply chain for their products is set for the planting of non-traditional, high-value crops," he added.

With the target establishment of biotechnology facilities, municipalities all over Negros Oriental are encouraged to venture into the farming of non-traditional high value crops for the worldwide Natural Ingredients industry.

BioNET was introduced during a recent seminar workshop on economic opportunities in biotechnology in the municipality of Dauin, also in Negros Oriental.

Spearheaded by Director Alice Ilaga of the DA-Biotechnology Implementation Unit, the workshop provided the much needed link between the farmers and the private sector. "What we are introducing here is an opportunity for the local farmers to have a stake in the growing natural ingredients industry," she said. - Biolife News Service

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