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by Ira Karen Apanay and Ruben D. Manahan IV
10-Nov-2008 Manila Times

A biofertilizer made from coconut that helps crops to yield more was developed by scientists at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB).

Dr. Lorele Trinidad of UPLB says the biofertilizer, called Cocogro, could replace inorganic fertilizers, reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of nitrogen and other elements.

“It’s a crude mixture of growth hormones. There are growth hormones good for rooting, good for shooting, so if you have vegetable seeds, the shooting is good, as well as the germination. If the germination is good, more plants are expected to grow because they already have a headstart,” Trinidad said, describing the product.

Trinidad, a member of the team that developed Cocogro, said the biofertilizer was a result of an effort to use coconut water as culture medium to cut costs.

“We found out that coconut water has many nutrients, it has ceased to be a mere culture medium and has become the focus of our study,” she added.

Trinidad noted that a lot of coconut water goes to waste and utilizing it will avoid contamination of the environment.

“We extracted the most important of the nutrients, that which costs most. And we thought of getting growth hormones,” she said. “You deal with the coconut wastewater. You no longer have to pay for the treatment and you get an economic return because you have a high-value product,” she added.

Trinidad said that coconut water used in backyards for growing orchids and flowering plants was later shifted to seed germination and tissue culture.

According to her, they have used Cocogro as a substitute growth hormone for banana-tissue culture. She said that it was a most profitable substitute since imported growth hormones are expensive, sometimes reaching P1,000 per milligram.

Trinidad added that research on Cocogro was stopped in the mid-1990s when Dr. Juanita Mamaril, Trinidad’s former superior and pioneer of Cocogro, retired. Trinidad herself went on a study leave.

“When I returned, the demand was great because it was already tested, though not really on a commercial scale. Those who bought Cocogro to be used on orchids came back repeatedly,” Trinidad said.

Due to demand, she and the rest of the team continued the research. “We need to go through the next phase, which is purification, because the first is a crude mixture.”

Trinidad said that as of this writing, Cocogro does not have a Fertilizer and Pesticides Authority (FPA) license yet since the research is still concentrated in the laboratory and going large-scale requires a bigger budget.

“We need the FPA’s approval. Testing from an accredited researcher costs P80,000 per run five years ago. We need two. We don’t have the money,” she added.

According to her, they have been getting inquiries from coconut growers from Mindanao and the Visayas.

“Many desiccated-coconut factories that throw their coconut water away are looking for a technology in which the wastewater can be used because of the high cost of wastewater treatment,” she said.

She admitted, however, that much work still has to be done to produce Cocogro on a commercial basis.

“We need to study more range of the product’s effectiveness. We have used it on vegetables and the seeds germinated fast. Lately, we have been testing it on recalcitrants, low-germinating seeds that companies find hard to market. That’s our target,” Trinidad said.

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