Thursday, January 28, 2016

History of Coconuts

The coconut (the fruit of the palm Cocos nucifera) is the Swiss Army knife of the plant kingdom; in one neat package it provides a high-calorie food, potable water, fiber that can be spun into rope, and a hard shell that can be turned into charcoal. What's more, until it is needed for some other purpose it serves as a handy flotation device.

No wonder people from ancient Austronesians to Captain Bligh pitched a few coconuts aboard before setting sail. (The mutiny of the Bounty is supposed to have been triggered by Bligh's harsh punishment of the theft of coconuts from the ship's store.)

So extensively is the history of the coconut interwoven with the history of people traveling that Kenneth Olsen, a plant evolutionary biologist, didn't expect to find much geographical structure to coconut genetics when he and his colleagues set out to examine the DNA of more than 1300 coconuts from all over the world.

"I thought it would be mostly a mish-mash," he says, thoroughly homogenized by humans schlepping coconuts with them on their travels.

He was in for a surprise. It turned out that there are two clearly differentiated populations of coconuts, a finding that strongly suggests the coconut was brought under cultivation in two separate locations, one in the Pacific basin and the other in the Indian Ocean basin. What's more, coconut genetics also preserve a record of prehistoric trade routes and of the colonization of the Americas.

The discoveries of the team, which included Bee Gunn, now of the Australian National University in Australia, and Luc Baudouin of the Centre International de Recherches en Agronomie pour le Développement (CIRAD) in Montpellier, France, as well as Olsen, associate professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, are described in the June 23 online issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

Morphology a red herring

Before the DNA era, biologists recognized a domesticated plant by its morphology. In the case of grains, for example, one of the most important traits in domestication is the loss of shattering, or the tendency of seeds to break off the central grain stalk once mature.
The trouble was it was hard to translate coconut morphology into a plausible evolutionary history.

There are two distinctively different forms of the coconut fruit, known as niu kafa and niu vai, Samoan names for traditional Polynesian varieties. The niu kafa form is triangular and oblong with a large fibrous husk. The niu vai form is rounded and contains abundant sweet coconut "water" when unripe.

"Quite often the niu vai fruit are brightly colored when they're unripe, either bright green, or bright yellow. Sometimes they're a beautiful gold with reddish tones," says Olsen.
Coconuts have also been traditionally classified into tall and dwarf varieties based on the tree "habit," or shape. Most coconuts are talls, but there are also dwarfs that are only several feet tall when they begin reproducing. The dwarfs account for only 5 percent of coconuts.

Dwarfs tend to be used for "eating fresh," and the tall forms for coconut oil and for fiber. "Almost all the dwarfs are self fertilizing and those three traits -- being dwarf, having the rounded sweet fruit, and being self-pollinating -- are thought to be the definitive domestication traits," says Olsen.

"The traditional argument was that the niu kafa form was the wild, ancestral form that didn't reflect human selection, in part because it was better adapted to ocean dispersal," says Olsen. Dwarf trees with niu vai fruits were thought to be the domesticated form.

The trouble is it's messier than that. "You almost always find coconuts near human habitations," says Olsen, and "while the niu vai is an obvious domestication form, the niu kafa form is also heavily exploited for copra (the dried meat ground and pressed to make oil) and coir (fiber woven into rope)."

"The lack of universal domestication traits together with the long history of human interaction with coconuts, made it difficult to trace the coconut's cultivation origins strictly by morphology," Olsen says.

DNA was a different story.

Collecting coconut DNA

The project got started when Gunn, who had long been interested in palm evolution, and who was then at the Missouri Botanical Garden, contacted Olsen, who had the laboratory facilities needed to study palm DNA.

Together they won a National Geographic Society grant that allowed Gunn to collect coconut DNA in regions of the western Indian Ocean for which there were no data. The snippets of leaf tissue from the center of the coconut tree's crown she sent home in zip-lock bags to be analyzed.

"We had reason to suspect that coconuts from these regions -- especially Madagascar and the Comoros Islands -- might show evidence of ancient 'gene flow' events brought about by ancient Austronesians setting up migration routes and trade routes across the southern Indian Ocean," Olsen says.

Olsen's lab genotyped 10 microsatellite regions in each palm sample. Microsatellites are regions of stuttering DNA where the same few nucleotide units are repeated many times. Mutations pop up and persist pretty easily in these regions because they usually don't affect traits that are important to survival and so aren't selected against, says Olsen. "So we can use these genetic markers to 'fingerprint' the coconut," he says.

The new collections were combined with a vast dataset that had been established by CIRAD, a French agricultural research center, using the same genetic markers. "These data were being used for things like breeding, but no one had gone through and systematically examined the genetic variation in the context of the history of the plant," Olsen says.

Two origins of cultivation

The most striking finding of the new DNA analysis is that the Pacific and Indian Ocean coconuts are quite distinct genetically. "About a third of the total genetic diversity can be partitioned between two groups that correspond to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean," says Olsen.

"That's a very high level of differentiation within a single species and provides pretty conclusive evidence that there were two origins of cultivation of the coconut," he says.

In the Pacific, coconuts were likely first cultivated in island Southeast Asia, meaning the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and perhaps the continent as well. In the Indian Ocean the likely center of cultivation was the southern periphery of India, including Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and the Laccadives.

The definitive domestication traits -- the dwarf habit, self-pollination and niu vai fruits -- arose only in the Pacific, however, and then only in a small subset of Pacific coconuts, which is why Olsen speaks of origins of cultivation rather than of domestication.

"At least we have it easier than scientists who study animal domestication," he says. "So much of being a domesticated animal is being tame, and behavioral traits aren't preserved in the archeological record."

Did it float or was it carried?

One exception to the general Pacific/Indian Ocean split is the western Indian Ocean, specifically Madagascar and the Comoros Islands, where Gunn had collected. The coconuts there are a genetic mixture of the Indian Ocean type and the Pacific type.

Olsen and his colleagues believe the Pacific coconuts were introduced to the Indian Ocean a couple of thousand years ago by ancient Austronesians establishing trade routes connecting Southeast Asia to Madagascar and coastal east Africa.

Olsen points out that no genetic admixture is found in the more northerly Seychelles, which fall outside the trade route. He adds that a recent study of rice varieties found in Madagascar shows there is a similar mixing of the japonica and indica rice varieties from Southeast Asia and India.

To add to the historical shiver, the descendants of the people who brought the coconuts and rice are still living in Madagascar. The present-day inhabitants of the Madagascar highlands are descendants of the ancient Austronesians, Olsen says.

Much later the Indian Ocean coconut was transported to the New World by Europeans. The Portuguese carried coconuts from the Indian Ocean to the West Coast of Africa, Olsen says, and the plantations established there were a source of material that made it into the Caribbean and also to coastal Brazil.

So the coconuts that you find today in Florida are largely the Indian ocean type, Olsen says, which is why they tend to have the niu kafa form.

On the Pacific side of the New World tropics, however, the coconuts are Pacific Ocean coconuts. Some appear to have been transported there in pre-Columbian times by ancient Austronesians moving east rather than west.

During the colonial period, the Spanish brought coconuts to the Pacific coast of Mexico from the Philippines, which was for a time governed on behalf of the King of Spain from Mexico.

This is why, Olsen says, you find Pacific type coconuts on the Pacific coast of Central America and Indian type coconuts on the Atlantic coast.

"The big surprise was that there was so much genetic differentiation clearly correlated with geography, even though humans have been moving coconut around for so long."
Far from being a mish-mash, coconut DNA preserves a record of human cultivation, voyages of exploration, trade and colonization.

Source: The above post is from materials provided by Washington University in St. Louis. The original item was written by Diana Lutz.

Organic Vegetable Training Class 01-16 Launched in Sagay City

More than 200 farmers belonging to the Organic Vegetable Production Training Class 01-16 attended the official launching of their three-month training in Sagay City, Last January 26, 2016.

The participants are marginal farmers, agrarian reform beneficiaries, and former rebels from the cities of Sagay, Cadiz and Escalante, and Municipality of Manapla.

The program is being implemented by the Provincial Government through the Provincial Peace, Integration and Development Unit (Pro-PIDU) headed by Negros Occ. Provincial Planning and Development Coordinator and Pro-PIDU Action Officer, Dr. Ma. Lina P. Sanogal, and the 303rd Infantry Brigade and 62nd Infantry Brigade.

Sanogal said that the main purpose of the program is to alleviate poverty, advocate organic farming, and promote lasting peace particularly in far-flung areas of Negros Occidental.

The organic vegetable production Demo Farm, located at Herbal Garden, will serve as training venue to teach farmers on the proper way to grow organic vegetables.

Sagay City Mayor Thirdy Marañon said that the said training will pave the way for the Negrenses to become suppliers of organic products, considering that there is an increasing demand of organic food worldwide.

Gov. Alfredo G. Marañon said that the farmers will also be trained on how to make organic fertilizers to augment their production. He added that this there is big money in organic farming while at the same time it is good for people who are health conscious because organic vegetables are free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. /Capitol News


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sweetpotato Roundtable Discussion Addresses Industry Gaps

Issues, trends, and imperatives to improve the country’s sweetpotato industry were tackled during the recent Sweetpotato Industry Roundtable Discussion. 

Held at the Astoria Hotel, the event was organized by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD) and the International Potato Center (CIP).

 Sweetpotato’s potential in meeting food and nutritional needs; value-adding in the competitive industry; and its role in climate change and disaster mitigation, were discussed during the event. 
Representatives from the food and non-food industries; sweetpotato producers/small rural enterprises; research and development (R&D) institutions and advocates; and the government sector participated in the event.

Nerisa Alob of the Sapang Primary Multi-Purpose Cooperative (PMPC) said that sweetpotato producers in Tarlac are faced by various constraints: lack of clean planting materials, increasing cost of chemical fertilizer, limited extension services for sweetpotato producers, lack of organized groups for sweetpotato producers, limited access to common service facilities, limited knowledge in value-addition strategies, poor infrastructures such as farm-to-market roads, and low skills in marketing and bargaining.

PCAARRD-Crops Research Division (CRD) Director, Dr. Jocelyn Eusebio, provided the overview of research and development (R&D) initiatives in sweetpotato and a briefer about sweetpotato and its production in Asia and the world. 
Eusebio  also presented the programs and initiatives of PCAARRD under the Industry Strategic S&T Program (ISP) on Sweetpotato. She explained that one  of the main outcomes of the program is to increase the sweetpotato’s national average yield from 5.11 metric tons (mt)/ hectare (ha) in 2012 to 10 mt/ha in 2016 and 12 mt/ha in 2020.

Eusebio also discussed several ongoing projects under the PCAARRD ISP on sweetpotato as well as the programs and initiatives of the Department of Agriculture (DA)-High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP) on the same concern.

DA-HVCDP strategies and policies seek to strengthen the rootcrop research and development and extension (RDE) system, increase production through intercropping with appropriate cash crops for land use optimization, improve value-added products for the local and external markets, and develop efficient supply chains.

The said strategies and policies also work on export promotion for both fresh and processed products by effecting the necessary  regulatory services and accreditation and certification system for nurseries and agricultural practices.

The Roundtable Discussion identified gaps and other researchable areas through Science and Technology (S&T)-based program approach and potential food and other industry markets, and value chain development opportunities, among others.

“Sweetpotato has a great market demand for flour and chips and other processed products such as catsup, starch, and fries. It also provides health benefits,” one of the participating groups said.
Identified as necessities in addressing the gaps facing the sweetpotato industry were: clustering production, postharvest, processing, and marketing, including the required R&D activities to achieve the efficiency  of these systems.

Other identified needs, as suggested, include marketing linkages, improved strategy on technology, knowledge and information dissemination, and collaboration. 


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sipag Fiesta: The best in Science and Technology 2010 - 2016

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) invites all to the Sipag Fiesta the Best of 2010 - 2016.

The Sipag Fiesta is composed of champion research and programs from a wide range of agriculture and aquaculture and has been in program since 2010. It aims to boost the development of Philiuppine innovation in these critical areas since these are the basic economic foundations of most Filipinos. 

Sipag Fiesta 2010-2016 will fgeaturethe best of the strategic Science and Technology Programs for Agri-Aqua Growth (SIPAG) througgh farms and industry ecounters through the Science and Technology Agenda.

Siapg Fiesta will be held on January 27 - 29, 2016 at the PCAARRD, Los Banos, Laguna.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Attain a Yield of 170 cavans per Hectare!

 Aringay, La Union farmer Federico Rullamas efforts yielded him 170 cavans of high-value organic red rice per hectare. He was awarded the “Highest Yielder of Naturally Grown Organic Rice Farming”  for 2015.

Rullamas used a new method of growing rice called the system of rice intensification (SRI), which involves a simple set of rice management practices that farmers can easily learn in one season. He also supplemented SRI with composted chicken manure plus home-made organic sprays which he learned from SRI Pilipinas trainer Venancio Garde Jr.

Rullamas employed a new method called System of Rice Intensification (SRI) wherein farmers can easily learn simple sets rice management practices within one planting season. SRI is also combined with composts from chicken manure and organic sprays produced in their own homes as instructed by SRI Pilipinas trainer Venancio Garde, Jr.

Garde calls his original formulation the “soil nutrient enhancer” but adds that this is no secret and that it can be learned for free via text to SRI Pilipinas Hotline (0939-1178999).

In a training jointly sponsored by the LGU of Aringay, La Union and SRI Pilipinas, farmers like Rullamas learned of the new method in boosting rice yields. The Dangunniang Bayan of Aringay budgeted Php300,000 annually for the conduct of SRI training among the farmers in its locality and more than 100 farmers have already become beneficiaries of the training.

The method involves planting 12 day old seedlings singly, at a distance of 12 inches. Alternate wetting and drying and the utilization of mechanical weeders to control weed infestation.

This resulted in the 170 cavans per hectare compared to the national average of 80 cavans per hectare. The use of non-fossil based chemical fertilizers reduces significantly carbon dioxide emissions and that by drying the rice field regularly minimizes methane emissions.

SRI is also considered climate-resilient, because the resulting rice plants are also sturdier, deeper-rooted, and therefore less vulnerable to droughts, floods and high winds.

(For details, contact Mr. Mangaoang at 0920-8788979 or Roberto Verzola, 0917-8117747)


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Agri Pinoy

Agrikulturang Pilipino or Agri-Pinoy is the over-all strategic framework of the Department of Agriculture that guide the various services and programs of the DA from 2011-2016 and beyond.

Agri-Pinoy incorporates principles and practices that optimize the development of Philippine resources, natural and human, to achieve Philippine goals in agriculture and fisheries, and contribute to national development.

This executive summary of Agri-Pinoy has three sections:

    The four guiding principles of Agri-Pinoy
    The Agri-Pinoy checklist
    The challenges to the DA family

Four Guiding Principles of Agri-Pinoy

    Food security and self-sufficiency
    Sustainable agriculture and fisheries
    Natural resource management
    Local development

Food security and self-sufficiency. Agri-Pinoy seeks to meet the food needs of the Philippines, particularly staple food, and make them accessible, affordable, safe and nutritious. Sapat, ligtas, at abot-kayang pagkain sa lahat.

In the pursuit of food security, Agri-Pinoy seeks to minimize our dependence on food imports, especially of staple food, by optimizing the development of the natural and human resources of the Philippines, toward increased productivity and increased incomes especially of primary producers.

Agri-Pinoy promotes the principle of food self-sufficiency with full awareness of our global interdependence, and our various commitments international trade agreements. Our trade policies and practices are integral to our efforts to achieve food security and self-sufficiency.

Sustainable agriculture and fisheries. To meet the ever growing needs of a growing Philippine population, we need to continually increase productivity. But in doing so, we must also insure sustainability, both ecologically and economically.

Agri-Pinoy’s emphasis on sustainable agricultural and fisheries principles and practices takes into account the limited bio-physical carrying capacity of the Philippines, while investing to expand the capacity of our human resources.

Natural resource management. In line with our goals of self-reliance and sustainability, Agri-Pinoy focuses on the natural resource endowments of the Philippines, and how to manage them so that they are not exhausted, while enhancing their competitive advantage.

Local development. The devolution of governance and the recognition of an eco-system framework of development reinforce the Agri-Pinoy guiding principle of local development.

While all outputs can be aggregated to calculate the total contribution of agriculture and fisheries to national development, Agri-Pinoy gives due emphasis to the contribution of agriculture and fisheries to local development.

These four guiding principles of Agri-Pinoy are interrelated and overlap. Together, they also provide agriculture and fisheries in the Philippines a better chance to face the two major challenges of climate change and changes in the global market.

The Agri-Pinoy Check List

    From Farm to Table
    Sustainable systems

Broad-based. At the heart of Agri-Pinoy is a commitment to a broad-based strategy for the growth and development of agriculture and fisheries.

Why is a broad-based strategy needed? Agricultural and rural development must start from the reality that through agrarian reform, majority of our farms are family-sized or even smaller.

This need not be a disadvantage since there are enough evidence that small farm systems can be as productive as large farms.

In fact, at their current level of productivity, the small producers still contribute the biggest percentage of production in agriculture and fisheries.

A broad-based strategy calls for equitable and proportional allocation of DA services and resources to small, medium, and big players. From the 30-35 per cent who have been traditionally reached by DA services, we need to reach out to the majority who are small producers.

The other implication is that we need to take account of the different stakeholders in the whole value chain, and adopt specific and appropriate interventions to different stakeholders

Broad-based refers not only to size but also to diversity of crops and production systems. This is important for flexibility and resilience in the face of climate change and changes in global trading system. There are many downsides to large-scale monoculture, not just because of the impact on biodiversity but also because of disproportionate risks.

From Farm to Table. Agri-Pinoy addresses the whole system, from production to consumption. Both supply-side management and demand-side management are needed.

Instead of looking mainly into production, There is a need to pay attention to the whole value chain. This includes good soil and water management, and improved seeds. The community seed-banking program seeks to encourage local seed growers to produce certified seeds and farmers to use them. The extension system needs to be revitalized through the massive retraining of technicians and farmers themselves.

The policy of the DA is to devote public resources to those items that the farmers cannot take care of, like irrigation systems, infrastructure, post-harvest facilities, and other public goods.

But the DA also has responsibility to insure food safety and quality, primarily through our regulatory function. 

Sustainable farming and fisheries systems. The need to integrate sustainability into efforts to increase productivity is well established. The challenge is to provide primary producers information and assistance so that they can adopt and develop innovative technologies and management systems.

The Gulayan sa Paaralan project with the Department of Education seeks to develop an appreciation for agriculture from an early age. We also need to review and draw lessons from programs like the 4-H clubs and Future Farmers Clubs.

But to enhance the appeal of farming and fishing,  promote a social appreciation of the role of farmers and fishers.  There is a need to develop role models of farmer-technicians, farmer-scientists, and farmer-entrepreneurs.

Resilience. Although implicit in the concept of sustainability, we give resilience a distinct emphasis because of the increased impacts of climate change and changes in the global market.

These actual and potential impacts have to be integrated into any agricultural and fisheries development plan. There is also a need to combine satellite mapping of vulnerabilities with soil suitability and market analysis.

One key strategy is the empowerment of farmers and fishers, including provision of timely and useful information about climate change and market change. This can help them shift back from a situation of uncertainty to calculable risks.

In addition, they must be assisted to diversify options and introduced to adaptive technologies.

Partnerships. The promotion and development of Agri-Pinoy calls for partnerships at various levels.

    Partnerships with national agencies. Our starting partnership is with the members of the National Convergence Initiative which is chaired by the DA – the Department of Agrarian Reform and the department of Environment and Natural Resources. However, other national agencies may come into this partnership.

    The NCI has adopted an ecosystem approach to rural development and governance: From ridge, through river, to reef. We bring to it our commitment to a broad-based approach favoring small producers and farms, but using information and organization to achieve the needed scale in planning and marketing, “from farm to table.”

    Partnerships with local governments. Devolution demands this. We need to work with the DILG to assist LGUs to integrate agriculture and fisheries into their local development plans. This calls for technical assistance and capacity building, and strategic project partnerships.

    Partnerships with NGOs and people’s organizations. The two or more million farmers and fishers are the backbone of the production system. They need to be organized and also developed to become farmer-technicians, farmer-scientists, and farmer-entrepreneurs. To accomplish this, we need to partner with rural development NGOs who are willing to work within a shared Agri-Pinoy framework.

    Partnerships with the private sector. Our Agri-Pinoy framework of “farm to table” requires that we partner with many stakeholders, and the private sector play crucial roles across the whole value chain. In addition, it is government policy to promote public-private partnerships especially in larger projects.

    In forging partnerships, we follow the principle of diversity. We are open to work with different organizations and even different political persuasions, so long as they are willing to enter into principled partnerships, based on the principles of Agri-Pinoy.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Philippines makes headway in Japonica rice production

Rice production is important to the food supply in the Philippines, with rice being a staple of the Filipino diet.

The Philippines, a tropical country, is home to Indica rice.  Japonica rice, one of the two major eco-geological races of O. sativa, thrives well in temperate countries. 

Japonica is a relatively short plant with narrow, dark green leaves and medium-height tillers. Its grains are short and round, do not shatter easily and have low amylose content, making them moist and sticky when cooked.

Cavite State University professor Antonio G. Papa said a study by CvSU researchers titled “On-farm Research Trial on the Adoptability of Japonica Rice Varieties in Cavite” yielded positive results.

The study showed that the three National Seed Industry Council’s approved Japonica rice varieties were suited for tropical cultivation, particularly in the Philippines.

Using three approved Japonica rice varieties by the National Seed Industry Council, namely: NSIC Rc170 (Maligaya Special 11 or MS 11), NSIC Rc220 SR (Japonica 1) and NSIC Rc242 SR (Japonica 2) in the trials, results showed that the yields of the newly approved Japonica varieties were comparable to that of Indica varieties which are best suited for tropical cultivation.

Papa said results of the study showed that the yield of the three varieties during the dry season were high, ranging from 4.3 to 4.6 tons per hectare.

However, only MS 11 had considerable yield during the wet season cultivation with 2.7 tons per hectare.    

“Results further indicate that cultivating Japonica rice in Cavite would generate increased income for lowland farmers,” Papa said.
Of the three Japonica varieties, MS 11 yielded the highest profit, both as raw palay or milled rice for both seasons. Japonica 1 and Japonica 2 are preferably cultivated during the dry season than wet season.

“Higher income could be observed if the farmer sells his produce as milled rice than as raw palay. Approximately, a farmer can generate annual net income of P113,059.22 from raw palay and P179,018.37 from milled rice in a one-hectare lowland farm planted to Japonica rice varieties,” Papa said.

Papa said the cultural management practices for Japonica rice production are relatively similar to that of Indica rice varieties which are known to be well adopted in Philippine conditions.

Apart from this, Japonica rice commands higher price than the typical Indica rice varieties because of its excellent eating quality, making it more profitable for rice farmers.

Sensory evaluation results showed that both MS11 and Japonica 2 have no aroma, no off-odor and no off-taste and are cohesive, glossy, tender and smooth. MS11, however, was bland while Japonica 2 was slightly tasty.

The research project was funded by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD), in partnership with the provincial government of Cavite.



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