Why the Philip­pine co­conut hy­bridiza­tion pro­gram should be re­stored and ex­panded

(Part Two of three parts of “Trans­form Co­conut Farm­ers from Poverty to Pros­per­ity by Re­vis­ing Govern­ment Poli­cies.” Part 1, which dis­cussed the three Philip­pine govern­ment poli­cies that con­trib­ute to mak­ing co­conut farm­ers poorer—the pol­icy on cut­ting and

Agriculture - - Contents - BY PABLITO P. PAM­PLONA, PH.D.

1. Hy­bridiza­tion gave birth to the “Green Rev­o­lu­tion”

The term “Green Rev­o­lu­tion,” as used in this ar­ti­cle, is de­fined as “crops that pro­vide abun­dant food sup­plies for Third World coun­tries (while help­ing) bring pros­per­ity to farm­ers in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.”

“Green Rev­o­lu­tion” crops came about through the work of the fa­mous No­bel Prize win­ner Dr. Nor­man Bor­laug on wheat in Mex­ico prior to the 1950s. The “Green Rev­o­lu­tion” be­came more spec­tac­u­lar with the dis­cov­ery of hy­brid “Mir­a­cle Rice” or IR8 in the Philip­pines in the 1960s.

Prior to that time, Third World coun­tries were on the brink of mas­sive food short­ages and famine caused by the in­creas­ing hu­man pop­u­la­tion—whose rate of in­crease was higher than the rate of in­crease in food pro­duc­tion. The yield of crops like rice, corn, and oil palm was less than a ton per hectare. With the ad­vent of “Mir­a­cle Rice,” the fore­run­ner of cur­rent gen­er­a­tions of high yield­ing va­ri­eties (HYVs) of rice and its hy­brids. It was cre­ated by cross­ing the tall Indica va­ri­ety and a dwarf rice va­ri­ety from China which in­creased rice po­ten­tial yield to four tons per hectare (t/ha).

Hy­bridiza­tion was then ap­plied suc­cess­fully to many other food crops such as corn, oil palm, co­conut, toma­toes, and egg­plant. Biotech­nol­ogy in the form of tis­sue cul­ture was later ap­plied to Cavendish and Lakatan ba­nana, corn, egg­plant, and tomato crops, among oth­ers. Pi­o­neer­ing breed­ers of oil palm con­fessed that the “Mir­a­cle Rice” was their in­spi­ra­tion for de­vel­op­ing hy­brid oil palm trees to in­crease yield from less than one to four tons per hectare per year.

The aban­don­ment of the re­search on, and com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion of co­conut hy­brid seedlings, to co­conut farm­ers in the Philip­pines brought back the co­conut in­dus­try to the pre-“Green Rev­o­lu­tion” era of the 1950s. It is not sur­pris­ing that the farm­ers in the co­conut in­dus­try are in the sur­vival mode rather than en­joy­ing the thriv­ing econ­omy that farm­ers us­ing “Green Rev­o­lu­tion” crops are used to.

To­day, more ad­vanced tools of sci­ence, in­clud­ing biotech­nol­ogy and epi­ge­netic re­pro­gram­ming, are be­ing used by sci­en­tists (many with Ph.D.s) to push the po­ten­tial yield of hy­brid

crops to over 10.0 ton/ha per year. The great po­ten­tial and op­por­tu­ni­ties that in­creas­ing the po­ten­tial yield of co­conut can cre­ate has been ob­vi­ated by the aban­don­ment of the hy­bridiza­tion pro­gram as per Philip­pine govern­ment pol­icy. As a re­sult, in the coun­try, co­conut has fallen out of the list of “Green Rev­o­lu­tion” crops that have been cul­ti­vated for higher yields—and the losses in the form of the food that could have been pro­duced and the pros­per­ity the co­conut farm­ers could have en­joyed is im­mea­sur­able.

2. The aban­don­ment of the co­conut hy­brid pro­gram is bad sci­ence

The de­ci­sion to aban­don the co­conut hy­brid pro­gram was based on the premise that the co­conut farm­ers don’t ben­e­fit from the co­conut hy­brids as they don’t use fer­til­izer. This premise is cor­rect; co­conut farm­ers don’t use fer­til­izer, but this is not their fault. Rather, this is due to the fail­ure of govern­ment agro­nomic and ex­ten­sion ser­vices in overcoming the farm­ers’ re­sis­tance to the use fer­til­izer. It is a known fact that hy­brid plants re­quire higher lev­els of fer­til­iza­tion, but this is be­cause the yields are also high. There­fore, it was a wrong pol­icy di­rec­tion to aban­don the hy­brid pro­gram. What the govern­ment should have done was to show farm­ers the ben­e­fits of fer­til­iz­ing co­conut hy­brids; it should also have given the farm­ers the means to ap­ply ad­e­quate fer­til­iza­tion.

Suc­cess in crop pro­duc­tion for high yields and in­come us­ing hy­brid seeds is gen­er­ally tied to ad­e­quate fer­til­iza­tion, at rates higher than those used for tra­di­tional va­ri­eties, but with yields two or more times higher. Ir­ri­ga­tion is also needed at times for higher yields. Plants are liv­ing fac­to­ries; the out­put is de­ter­mined by the in­put. One of the ma­jor in­puts for higher yield is nu­tri­ents in soil made ad­e­quate by fer­til­iza­tion. A ma­jor ad­van­tage of the use of hy­brids is the higher ef­fi­ciency of land use. Four tons of food pro­duced in four hectares us­ing a tra­di­tional va­ri­ety can be pro­duced in just one hectare of land us­ing hy­brids. This will save agri­cul­tural lands which can be used for the pro­duc­tion of other crops. There­fore, the co­conut hy­brid pro­gram should be re­stored and ex­panded to in­crease yield, help farm­ers over­come poverty, and for the more ef­fi­cient use of land re­sources.

3. Com­mer­cial­ized hy­brid/HYV crops pro­duce abun­dant sup­plies of food, help farm­ers over­come poverty, and help cre­ate pros­per­ous com­mu­ni­ties

The mas­sive com­mer­cial­iza­tion of hy­brid/high yield­ing crops has pro­duced abun­dant sup­plies of food, helped farm­ers over­come poverty, and cre­ated pros­per­ity and a thriv­ing econ­omy in many ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties of Third World coun­tries. Th­ese crops in­clude wheat in Mex­ico, rice in China and In­dia, and oil palm in Malaysia, In­done­sia, and Thai­land.

Farm­ers us­ing hy­brid rice, corn, oil palm, and other crops are thriv­ing to­day as ad­e­quate fer­til­iza­tion of hy­brid brings about high crop yields and helps in­crease farm­ers’ in­come. Rice and corn hy­brids are fer­til­ized with 12 to 14 bags of fer­til­izer per crop­ping or 24 to 28 bags of fer­til­izer of two crop­pings per year. Th­ese in­crease the yield of th­ese crops from 2 to 8 t/ ha per crop­ping. The in­come of a typ­i­cal farmer plant­ing and fer­til­iz­ing hy­brid rice and corn is five times that of the in­come of a typ­i­cal co­conut farmer.

Lakatan and Cavendish ba­nana pro­duced through tis­sue cul­ture are fer­til­ized at the rate of 43 to 45 bags/ha per year. In­deed the Cavendish/Lakatan farm­ers of Min­danao are among the rich­est farm­ers of the coun­try to­day and prob­a­bly in the ASEAN as well. The yield of fer­til­ized Lakatan/Cavendish ba­nana ranges from 25 to 50 t/ha per year de­pend­ing on the level of fer­til­iza­tion.

Twenty years ago a typ­i­cal Lakatan farmer could hardly buy a mo­tor­cy­cle to serve as farm ser­vice. When the in­creas­ing num­ber of Lakatan farm­ers adopted the fer­til­iza­tion rate be­ing used for the Cavendish ba­nana, there was a spec­tac­u­lar in­crease in the yield of Lakatan. Lakatan fruits are now abun­dant through­out the coun­try. Many Lakatan farm­ers now own brand new pick­ups, and more qual­ity farm jobs have been cre­ated.

Since last year, the pum­melo farm­ers of the Cotabato and Davao provinces have pro­duced an abun­dant (and some­times even a sur­plus) sup­ply of fruits. The rea­son is that most pum­melo farm­ers shifted from Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture’s (DA) rec­om­men­da­tion of us­ing 3 to 4 kilo­grams (kg) of fer­til­izer to 12 kg/tree per year or 48 bags/ha per year. This re­sulted in a spec­tac­u­lar yield in­crease from less than 10 to over 40 tons/ha per year.

As a re­sult, the sup­ply of pum­melo reaches many ma­jor towns and cities of the coun­try. The in­comes of pum­melo farm­ers al­lows them to buy brand new ve­hi­cles, con­struct new con­crete houses, and buy house­hold ap­pli­ances. Govern­ment as­sis­tance is needed so that pum­melo farm­ers can ex­port their sur­plus pro­duce to Hong Kong and even Europe.

Malaysian oil palm farm­ers us­ing high yield­ing oil palm hy­brid cou­pled with ad­e­quate weed­ing and fer­til­iza­tion get in­comes high above the poverty thresh­old level. Oil palm is fer­til­ized at the rate of 18 to 22 bags of fer­til­izer/ha per year. Con­se­quently, they pro­duce an abun­dant sup­ply of veg­etable oil for the world, ex­port­ing US$ 5.0 bil­lion worth of veg­etable oil pro­duced in 5.5 mil­lion ha.

At the other ex­treme are the Filipino co­conut farm­ers, the poor­est in the ASEAN, plant­ing tra­di­tional co­conut va­ri­eties and grow­ing them weedy as jun­gle trees that hardly ever see a grain of salt, much less in­or­ganic or or­ganic mult­i­n­u­tri­ent fer­til­izer. The vol­ume of their ex­ports is only US$ 1.2 bil­lion but they use over 3.56 mil­lion ha.

A ques­tion of­ten asked is: are the high lev­els of fer­til­iza­tion like those be­ing used for ba­nana detri­men­tal to the crop and the en­vi­ron­ment? The an­swer is no. Soil health in­di­ca­tors of land used for Cavendish and fer­til­izer at 45 bags/ha per year since 1970 and oil palm fer­til­ized at 22 bags/ ha per year in Malaysia re­main on the pos­i­tive side.

4. Overcoming co­conut farm­ers’ re­sis­tance to fer­til­iza­tion of hy­brid/HYVs

A chal­lenge to the max­i­miza­tion of the yield of co­conut hy­brid is to over­come the Philip­pine co­conut farmer’s re­sis­tance to us­ing fer­til­izer. Among the ma­jor food crops, co­conut is the least fer­til­ized crop in the Philip­pines. Rice and corn farm­ers are con­vinced they have to fer­til­ize their crop to in­crease yield but this is not so with most co­conut farm­ers. Rice and corn farm­ers fer­til­ize their fields even be­fore the crops are planted through basal ap­pli­ca­tion. Many of the govern­ment-dis­trib­uted fer­til­iz­ers in­tended for co­conut trees end up in rice and corn fields.

The au­thor noted in his re­search that co­conut farm­ers have in­her­ited the tra­di­tional re­sis­tance to fer­til­iza­tion. Govern­ment re­search and ex­ten­sion ser­vices have failed to over­come this re­sis­tance as they have with rice, corn, Lakatan ba­nana, pum­melo and other farm­ers.

Many co­conut farm­ers be­lieve that the co­conut trees are a gift from God and don’t need fer­til­izer. They con­form to the multi­gen­er­a­tional un­sci­en­tific be­lief that a co­conut tree can be­come “ad­dicted” to fer­til­izer—that co­conut trees, once fer­til­ized, will for­ever need fer­til­izer in or­der to bear nuts. This is not true. This wrong be­lief has brought about a multi-gen­er­a­tional curse: poverty. The curse should be bro­ken in this gen­er­a­tion of co­conut farm­ers so that they can be­gin to pros­per. One ap­proach could be to re­mind them that the Bi­ble teaches that when a tree is not pro­duc­tive, it has to be cul­ti­vated and fer­til­ized (Luke 13:6-9).

Fer­til­izer field tri­als car­ried out by Philip­pine Co­conut Au­thor­ity (PCA) re­searchers on a lim­ited scale (as com­pared to ex­ten­sive tri­als on rice and corn) show that even tra­di­tional co­conut va­ri­eties show a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in yield when fer­til­ized with salt and/or mult­i­n­u­tri­ent fer­til­iz­ers. The ef­fects, how­ever, are not con­vinc­ing enough for co­conut farm­ers, as they can­not read­ily see the pos­i­tive ef­fects. In rice and corn, the ef­fect of fer­til­iza­tion on growth and yield is seen in two to three months, but for co­conut, the ef­fect in yield is no­tice­able only af­ter 1.5 to 2.5 years. Added to this long wait­ing pe­riod is how many farm­ers main­tain their co­conuts as jun­gle crops. When th­ese trees are fer­til­ized, the sur­round­ing weeds ab­sorb the fer­til­izer faster than the co­conut trees, ren­der­ing co­conut fer­til­iza­tion prac­ti­cally in­ef­fec­tive.

The re­sis­tance to fer­til­iza­tion could have been eas­ily bro­ken by an ad­e­quate num­ber o well-trained top cal­iber agron­o­mists and ex­ten­sion spe­cial­ists given the re­sources to con­duct on­farm demon­stra­tions, farm­ers’ train­ing, and other ex­ten­sion ser­vices. Un­for­tu­nately, the num­ber of well-trained agron­o­mists and ex­ten­sion spe­cial­ists as­signed to co­conut by the PCA and LGUs was in­ad­e­quate. A ma­jor­ity of those who were as­signed had lim­ited knowl­edge of the bi­ol­ogy of the co­conut tree, par­tic­u­larly when it came to ad­e­quate weed­ing, fer­til­iza­tion, and other nec­es­sary tech­niques for pro­mot­ing growth and in­creas­ing yield. The lack of this kind of knowl­edge in many tech­ni­cians met by the au­thor only served to “con­firm” the wrong be­liefs of the farm­ers when it came to co­conut and its cul­ti­va­tion prac­tices.

Com­ing in Part III, in the March 2016 is­sue of Agri­cul­ture Mag­a­zine: Cases that show there is great hope for the Philip­pine co­conut in­dus­try

Dubbed the “Mir­a­cle Rice,” IR8 was fa­mous for its revo­lu­tion­ary high yields com­pared with other va­ri­eties ex­ist­ing at the time. (Photo cour­tesy of www.lab­o­ra­to­rye­quip­ment.com)

Jonas Mauro, man­ager of Mauro Farm, shows ripe fruits of GCTCV 219 which are sweeter than the or­di­nary Cavendish cur­rently grown in the Philip­pines. The fruit is now ac­cept­able to tra­di­tional in­ter­na­tional mar­kets like Ja­pan and China. In fact, the fruit of GCTCV 219 is clas­si­fied as an el­e­gant-tast­ing ba­nana that fetches a pre­mium price.

Dusky F1 hy­brid egg­plant seeds and Honey Se­lect hy­brid corn seeds.

Dr. Pablito P. Pam­plona, a DA Out­stand­ing Agri­cul­tural Sci­en­tist Awardee in 1997, is now a co­conut, oil palm, and rubber farmer who uses tech­nolo­gies gen­er­ated largely in Malaysia which are trans­fer­able to Philip­pine con­di­tions.

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