LEGAZPI CITY, Nov. 19 (PNA) -– Apart from the uniqueness of edible seaweeds as a highly nutritious food commodity, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has found out that it can also provide a natural fertilizer capable of increasing rice yield by over 65 percent.
DOST Bicol Regional Director Tomas Briñas here on Thursday said a field trial conducted in Bulacan by the team led by Dr. Gil Magsino from the National Crop Protection Center of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB-NCPC) recently came out with this breakthrough.
In the study, carrageenan, an indigestible polysaccharide (carbohydrate) extracted from edible seaweeds, when degraded into a nanoparticle size through irradiation, turns out to be an effective growth promoter and inducer of resistance against rice’s major pests, Briñas said.
Seaweeds are marine resources of various economic uses.
In 1964, two red seaweed varieties were found to be abundantly and naturally grown in the Philippines – Eucheuma cottonii and E. spinosum.
Eucheuma is the source of carrageenan, a natural gum used as additive, binder and emulsifier on food, pharmaceutical, beverage and cosmetic industries.
The major products derived from the utilization of seaweeds are agar, algin or sodium alginate and carrageenan.
The UPLB-NCPC study found out that at a very small dose, carrageenan -- which is mainly used as thickener or stabilizer in the food industry or as a binding agent for domestic products such as toothpaste and shampoo, and in many biotechnology and pharmaceutical products -- is an effective organic fertilizer, he said.
For human consumption, seaweeds are low-calorie food, with a high concentration of minerals, vitamins, proteins and digestible carbohydrates, and some lipids.
It also contains fats and rich in iodine, iron, magnesium and sodium and has high amounts of calcium and phosphorous while experts say this could be an answer to heart disease and hypertension.
For agriculture, Briñas cited UPLB-NCPC as recently reporting that the application of 20 milliliter per liter carrageenan in combination with three to six bags per hectare of fertilizer significantly increased the grain weight by 63.6 to 65.4 percent; the productive tillers by 83-102 percent; and panicle length by 3.5-12.5 percent over that of the farmers’ conventional system which uses nine bags per hectare of fertilizer.
Productive tillers are the rice stems that bear the panicles or rice inflorescence with fertilized grains, while longer rice panicle is associated with producing more rice grains.
As a growth promoter, carrageenan, according to the study, offers an array of benefits and makes the rice stem stronger, thus, improves rice resistance to lodging.
It is compatible with farmers’ practice on fertilizer application, thus, giving higher grain yield potential; and promotes resistance to rice tungro virus and bacterial leaf blight.
The seaweed extract, being environment-friendly, it said, also enhances the presence of natural enemies that fight major pests in rice field and promotes more efficient absorption of plant nutrients.
Briñas said this development emanating from the “Multi-location Field Trials of Radiation-modified Carrageenan as Growth Promoter and Inducer of Resistance against Major Pests of Rice” project being funded by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) of the DOST is a good news for Bicol.
The region’s coastal waters, he said, is being tapped by the Department of Agriculture (DA) through the National Seaweed Technology and Development Center (NSTCD) of its Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) as sites for commercial production of seaweeds.
Initially, on-farm research and a seaweed nursery were established in 2003 through a Community-based Participatory Action Research-funded project on seaweeds production that became a model farm for the coastal municipalities of Sorsogon and eventually, in the whole region.
With enough harvests of seaweeds, the fisherfolk, through the continuous assistance of the different bureaus of DA, have found ways to market their produce and came upon the idea of processing them into various food products.
The project, "Product Development/Improvement and Commercialization of Seaweeds in Bicol " paved the way for developing seaweeds into various innovative food products.
Specifically, the project was aimed at systematizing and creating a comprehensive development and commercialization of seaweeds and processed seaweed products in the region and to establish village-level seaweed production and processing enterprises.
As a strategy, the project tapped the existing people's organization (PO) and assisted them in the production, development and formulation of processed food products derived from seaweeds.
Training and seminars were also conducted to educate farmers and the PO members on the principles of good manufacturing practices and sanitation standard operating procedures which are prerequisites of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points program and a guarantee of the quality of seaweed food products produced.
The project is funded by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) under its National Technology Commercialization Program, one of its banner programs designed to promote viable technologies on agriculture and fisheries by providing financial assistance, and to encourage small farmers and fisherfolk to engage in agribusiness.
With the discovery of carrageenan as fertilizer, the uses of seaweeds harvested in Bicol and elsewhere around the country now become not only limited to food and industrial products manufacturing but also as vital to improved rice production, Briñas stressed. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD