Biotechnology in the Philippines
Biotechnology in the Philippines is so important that a new biotechnology center is being built to support the Philippine Department of Agriculture. The project is being funded mainly by the U.S. Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act, Public Law 480. Agriculture makes up 20 percent of the Philippine’s GDP, yet Filipinos dependent on agriculture as their main source of income are some of the poorest in the nation.

Biotechnology in the Philippines

Biotechnology is a science that allows farmers to be more efficient and environmentally conscious by growing more crops resistant to pests and diseases on less land. This scientific advancement is essential in the nation, as almost half of Filipinos work in agriculture and the country is experiencing significant population growth.

Rice is a staple in Filipino culture, but it is not the most nutritious of foods. Biotechnology in the Philippines is helping researchers develop Golden Rice, which is genetically modified rice that contains Vitamin A — a vital nutrient for human health. Just by increasing food production, biotechnology works to assist an ever-changing world facing overpopulation, starvation and climate change.  Climate change is changing the way people farm, as droughts and deforestation alter the amount of water that can be used for farming.

“The goal of constructing this center is to generate improved technologies, increase productivity, and enhance commercial value of DA’s priority crops such as rice, abaca, coconut, white and yellow corn, cotton, cassava, sweet potato, yam, tomato, and eggplant,” Dr. Roel R. Suralta, head of DA’s Crop Biotechnology Center.

Producing more crops more rapidly means more money in Filipino farmer’s pockets, and creating pest-resistant crops with the help of biotechnology will increase the likelihood that crops will be lucrative once harvested.

The Philippine Rice Research Institute

The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is the other main partner for the new biotechnology building in the Philippines. The organization was created in 1985 by the Filipino Department of Agriculture to ensure that the production of rice in the Philippines could feed all Filipinos. PhilRice’s mission is simple: produce quality rice to make sustainable and environmentally sound profits.

Biotechnology and plant breeding help rice crops stay pest-resistant in economically sound and sustainable ways. PhilRice also researches the creation of new, more nutrient-dense and water-efficient soil, and genetic modification of rice strains works to make the most cost-effective, pest-resistant breeds.

While the Rice Chemistry and Food Science Division analyzes the progress of these new technologies, the Rice Engineering and Mechanization Division looks to develop farm machinery for pre- and post-production to modernize rice farming operations. Such efforts have been met with policy support to ensure such new technologies and practices are successfully put into practice.

A communication team has also been put in place to educate and bring awareness to farmers and the general public on Rice Science for Development (RS4D). Training and education of new technologies and methods are projected to increase productivity and income for farmers.

Future Growth

In 1954, President Eisenhower enacted PL 480 in the United States to ensure that the U.S. provides food assistance abroad. Aside from continued research, the new building and continued efforts in the Philippines will uphold this 70 year-old promise, and educate and train people to utilize biotechnology for international good.

Biotechnology in the Philippines increased the agriculture market by $642 million, and 14 climate change resistant rice strains have been created in recent years. The strains in-use now only take 5 to 7 years to breed as opposed to 10 to 12, and such results provide international hope for feeding ever-growing populations and combating a changing climate. For these reasons, it’s essential for U.S. foreign aid to continue and for biotechnology in the Philippines to remain active in agriculture.

– Hope Kelly
Photo: Flickr