AS PLANTGROWTH BOOSTER Research on irradiated carrageenan shows promise
RICE is a major staple for Filipinos, and the demand for sufficient supply has made the Philippines one of the world’s largest importers, with 1.8 million tons in 2008 alone, according to the World Rice Statistics.
There are a lot of factors affecting the production of rice. Increasing population, limited land area and constant calamities make rice yield lower than what is expected. Farmers use fertilizers, such as the inorganic ones, to boost rice production.
Constant research and experiment have led the researchers of the Department of Science and Technology ( DOST), particularly its agency, the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD), to the discovery of the potential of irradiated carrageenan as an effective plant- growth regulator.
“This is food for rice,” Dr. Jocelyn Eusebio, director of the Crops Research Division of the PCCAARD, told the BusinessMirror in an interview.
“In our research, the carrageenan plant-growth regulator [CPGR] has a potential to help farmers get a higher rice yield of 15 percent to 30 percent, and results are consistent,” Eusebio explained.
The science of irradiated carrageenan
CARRAGEENAN is an indigestible polysaccharide. Polysaccharides are large chain-like carbohydrate molecules and are energy sources. Carbohydrates are a great source of energy for humans, as such they are also good for other living things. The research started as a concept for plant growth and inducers of resistance against pests.
“We started the project with carrageenan as biostimulant for plant growth in rice, mung beans and peanut,” said Angelito T. Carpio, PCAARRD science research specialist and project coordinator.
“Within a three-year plan, significant results occurred in rice and, thus, narrowed the road to focus on rice applications alone,” Carpio added. Although there has been studies on the potential of carrageenan as growth regulator, the method the DOST-PCAARRD used, together with the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), the council that performed the irradiation of carrageenan, enhanced the capabilities of carrageenan to a more useful product for rice.
“Carrageenan drippings have already been used as growth regulators and have given good results. Its extract is used by some farmers. Yet, upon application on rice fields, the amount of time for rice to absorb these drippings took longer,” Eusebio said. This has led the team to explore the possibilities of carrageenan, if further broken down into smaller molecules.
Through the PNRI, carrageenan was subjected to irradiation, or exposing the product to lowlevel radiation. Irradiation of products, including food, is safe, according to the PNRI. The carrageenan, originally from red edible seaweed, when subjected to irradiation, enhances the availability of its micronutrients. “These micronutrients, such as boron, calcium and zinc, are needed by rice at small but sufficient amounts to enhance its growth,” Eusebio added.
The carrageenan is first processed into powdered form and dissolved in water. When dissolved, it is then subjected to ir radiation to further break down its particles. The irradiation does not only enhance the availability of micronutrients but also breaks the carrageenan down to nanoscale level for the rice to easily absorb when sprayed by farmers.
“We need to break down the carrageenan into smaller particles and reduce its molecular weight so it can be easily absorbed by plants,” Eusebio explained. The effects of using the CPGR on rice plants does not only make rice resist diseases but also increases its immunity, hence, withstand certain adversities than those not applied with CPGR. Promising future BLARING results were definitely noted, most especially when Typhoon Land oh it the multi locationtrial rice fields. There was a good harvest of rice, despite the farms having been hit by the typhoon. The fields that were not treated by the product were lodged. In multilocation trials held in Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Iloilo and Laguna, particularly at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, increased yields of about 15 percent to 30 percent have been found. A higher application of the CPGR gave a 60- percent increase in Bulacan. “This is a promising technology, because it is compatible with farmers’ practice,” Carpio told the BusinessMirror.
He said there is no genetic intervention, which makes this breakthrough a nongenetically modified product. “CPGR is approved by the Food and Fertilizer Authority as a plant- growth promoter,” Carpio added. Science Secretary Mario G. Montejo was also impressed with the results of this project.
During last week’s Science Nation Tour in General Santos City, Montejo highlighted the research as a solution for affordable and effective growth regulator.
“The investment in this project is around P15 million, and imagine the thousands of hectares that can benefit from [it],” Montejo said.
As for the cost, Eusebio reiterated that the technology is competitive and can lower the cost of application.
“The CPGR costs around P700 for a hectare. The reduction [in price] is big compared to inorganic fertilizers and other varieties that cost around P1,000 to P1,500 per hectare,” Eusebio said.
Because of the positive results, the DOST has partnered with the Department of Agriculture, together with Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, through a memorandum of agreement in 2015 to upscale the verification tests in seven regions in the country.
DR. Jocelyn Eusebio, director of the Crops Research Division of the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development, talks about the science of the carrageenan plantgrowth regulator which enhances rice yields 15 percent to 30 percent.