Another bit of good news about agriculture for a change:
PCA produced half a million coconut hybrid seedlings in 2019. Finally, a large-scale commercial hybrid seed replanting program is underway.
productivity of coconut through hybrids
Our coconut industry is facing severe competition in two fronts. First, it is facing formidable competition from palm, soybean, corn, canola, sunflower, peanut and olive oils in the global vegetable market. Second, in the farms, coconut is gradually being displaced by other, more profitable tree crops.
In both instances, its obvious defense is raising the inherent primary productivity of the tree itself with high-yielding, properly fertilized hybrids.
Our average coconut yield is a measly 45 nuts per tree per year. The 12 hybrids developed by our scientists in the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) after three decades of effort can easily produce three times as much.
Finally, starting last year, PCA launched a large-scale hybrid seed production program in its five experiment stations in San Ramon, Zamboanga City; Aroman, North Cotabato; Davao City; Ubay, Bohol and Guinobatan, Albay.
Actual production was 502,797 hybrid seed nuts. For 2020, the target is 1.78 million and for 2021, 2.87 million hybrids.
Target for 10 million
hybrid seeds per year
Currently, we have an estimated 347 million bearing coconut trees of which about 20% are senile, too tall to harvest and no longer productive. Thus, just to replant the existing unproductive trees, we need about 68 million seedlings. Over a 6-year period of a presidential administration, this translates to a minimum target of 10 million hybrid seedlings per year, as we suggested at the start of the Duterte Administration.
Hybrid nuts are produced by manually pollinating the flower buds of dwarf mother palms with pollen from tall male parents. A dwarf mother palm can conservatively produce 100 good hybrid seedlings per year. Thus, to produce 10 million hybrids a year, we need to plant 100,000 dwarf mother palms.
The PCA experiment stations to date have about 20,000 dwarf mother palms. We therefore need to plant 80,000 more. However, as planned by PCA in the hybrid commercialization program, led by Research Deputy Administrator Erlene C. Manohar and plant breeder Ramon L. Rivera, the balance of 80,000 dwarf mother palms will be grown by private coconut farmers/cooperators strategically dispersed in all major coconut growing regions.
This deliberate regional dispersal of coconut hybrid gardens/nurseries will: 1) reduce logistics costs of moving seed nuts around, 2) minimize the risk of unintentionally spreading insect pests and diseases with the seed nuts, and 3) spread our risks in case of droughts, floods, and typhoons which will surely come.
But most importantly, the business of growing hybrid seeds will be privatized and democratized among so many growers and cooperators.
Proof of business concept
The feasibility of commercial production of hybrid seed nuts by coconut farmers/cooperators as a business model is in the process of being established with coconut farmer Delfin Anareta in Sampaloc, Quezon.
Mr. Anareta previously planted several hundred dwarf palms from seeds he obtained from Davao. The palms were authenticated by PCA plant breeder Gerardo B. Baylon as genuine dwarfs and have just started flowering.
From among those confirmed dwarfs, PCA rented 200 trees. The female flower buds were artificially pollinated with pollen from tall parents supplied by Zamboanga Research Center (ZRC). To date more than 1,000 hybrid seed nuts have been harvested. Their genetic identity (DNA profile) is being established by an independent party — The Institute of Plant Breeding in UP Los Baños.
Network of PCA-certified
hybrid seed producers
The farm manager of Mr. Anareta was sent to ZRC for training in coconut inflorescence emasculation, pollen conservation and manual pollination. Four more farm workers were trained on-farm in Sampaloc, Quezon on recommended coconut culture and hybridization practices. The idea is after the initial arrangement of PCA renting the trees, Mr. Anareta with his trained manager and farm workers will perform the hybridization procedure themselves under the supervision of PCA researchers with pollen from designated male parents supplied by PCA.
Mr. Anareta in time becomes a PCA-certified hybrid seed producer and markets his seeds to PCA and interested coconut growers.
Similar dwarf parent plantings have been established with cooperator Carmela Quisumbing and Leila Stuart in Tiaong and Cesar Ferias in Tagkawayan, all in Quezon province. Coconut growers in the different regions each with at least four hectares are being enlisted to establish hybrid seed gardens. Initially, PCA already identified 18 potential seedfarms nationwide. They too and others, can be certified and over time constitute a national network of hybrid nut producers.
Support for the large scale production, distribution and replanting with high-yielding locally developed hybrids will come from the Coconut Levy Funds the disposal of which we hope Congress and President Duterte can agree upon within the year.
The hybrid replanting program is one of the pillars in the modernization of the coconut industry championed by Department of Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar who is ex-officio chairman of the PCA board. The initiative provides an auspicious start to the term of the newly- designated PCA Administrator Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr.
Dr. Emil Q. Javier is a national scientist and also chairman of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP).
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