The Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Program Office is eyeing to develop Central Luzon as a hub for agricultural biotechnology products and has conducted a series of seminars in the region to promote the cultivation of crops with many byproducts to raise rural incomes and improve nutrition.
Zambales Governor Amor Deloso and Bataan Vice Governor Serafin Roman attended the seminars in their provinces.
These seminars were attended by farmers, educators, businessmen, non-government organizations and representatives of local government units.
Malunggay production was a key topic in the seminars since the versatile tree has proven to be a major source of iron, Vitamin A, zinc and other micronutrients crucial to the improvement of health among children and adults alike.
DA-BPO officials led by Director Alicia Ilaga have been crisscrossing the country to expand the hectarage devoted to malunggay cultivation and in the process have increased the business opportunities offered by the lowly malunggay (scientific name Moringa oleifera Lmk).
Malunggay has also been known to increase the motility of sperm and improve lactation among nursing mothers, which is a boost to children who need to suckle their mothers in order to avoid contracting primary complex, which leads to lung diseases in adulthood.
Other studies conducted in India and other countries showed that the roots of malunggay have anti-cancer agents that can be isolated and used profitably by the global pharmaceutical industry.
Moreover, LGUs interested in joining the biofuel bandwagon also have a ready energy source in malunggay since its trunk can be used to produce ethanol while its seeds are a fount of biodiesel.
Central Luzon is known is the primary rice producer of the Philippines, with 525,700 hectares of land devoted to the staple. Nueva Ecija alone produces about 8 percent of the total national production of palay.
The total hectarage for rice comprises 41 percent of the region's total territory.
Other agricultural products in the region are sugarcane, corn, mango, and cutflowers.
In Zambales alone, 25,412 hectares are utilized for rice production.
On the other hand, Bataan has 29,938 hectares earmarked for rice cultivation.
In the seminars conducted by DA-BPO, participants were shown malunggay's potential as a commodity that has various applications and even bakeries, pastry shops and noodle manufacturers are now using malunggay leaves as ingredients for their products, some of which have already penetrated the international market.
Secura International president Engr. Danilo Manayaga also joined the seminars and discussed how how Moringa oil can be profitable for malunggay growers.
He further said that as the world market shifts to biofuel as a primary energy source, the demand for Moringa oil will rise tremedously.
In an interview, Vice Governor Roman said Bataan is now ready to make malunggay a primary product.
"Bataan is a mountainous area, so maraming upland farming, ang malunggay ay hindi nangangailangan ng maraming tubig, kaya kung upland farming, suitable ang lugar para sa pagtatanim ng malunggay," he adds.
When asked on the province's stand on biotechnology, he said Bataan has been cultivating Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn to help the farmers gain more profit. Corn is a prime crop in Bataan.
Roman added other crops like coconut and cassava are open to enhancement through biotechnology.
While the land devoted to farming is small, the people of Bataan are very keen on intensifying agricultural production through the efficient use of farms.
Lagundi, another plant that has gained fame for its medicinal properties, is cultivated in Bataan. A pharmaceutical company in Bagac is planting it and manufacturing various preparations from the active ingredient derived from the plant.
There is also a plan to set up a malunggay nursery in the province to help boost the growing malunggay industry. This, he said, will be realized through the collaborationn of the LGUs and the DA-BPO.
Biotechnology is a major part of Gov. Deloso's vision to develop Zambales as a key agricultural producer.
His long term plan for Zambales is to create a community that can stand on its own. Biotechnology should play the role of realizing the industrialization of the province as well.
Deloso said that while the province is undergoing industrialization, biotechnology should take care of the food and nutrition needs of the people of Zambales.
"Napapabayaan," this was his answer when asked on the status of malunggay farming in the province. "Hindi talaga tinutuunan ng pansin. Pero kung mayroon talagang magbibigay ng primary concern diyan, lalaki kasi we can easily adapt to malunggay."
He also revealed the provincial government's plan to buy malunggay seedlings and distribute it to his constituents.
Zambales is also working on a project to build a biogas plant, where waste generated by Zambales, including Olongapo, will be used to produce butane.
Aside from Bataan and Zambales, a malunggay nursery has been put up in Tarlac earlier in this year.
This was done through the initiative of BIONet-Pilipinas, an organization that aims to help farmers and stakeholders reach their products to the market, DA-BPO and the LGU. (biolife news service)