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Local bio-fertilizer sans harmful chemicals to benefit Pinoy farmers

Sunday, January 31, 2016 12:00 AM    Views : 277by:Monch Mikko E. Misagal

Here's a piece of good news that Filipino farmers should be excited about.

Soon, another "proudly-Pinoy" invention will help further increase the yields of their crops, thanks to a newly developed bio-fertilizer produced using natural components that can give more nourishment to various plants.

An agriculturist-researcher is the brains behind this alternative farming provision.

University of the Philippines-Los Baños National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (UPLB- BIOTECH) University Researcher II Dr. Jocelyn Zarate Jocelyn-Zarate Dr. Jocelyn Zarate UPLB- BIOTECH University Researcher II , along with retired professor and former BIOTECH director Dr. Reynaldo dela Cruz, has developed the MykoPlus Bio-fertilizer through some five years of studies and trials.

MykoPlus contains bacteria that can carry nitrogen in the air, and mycorrhizae – composed of fungi and roots – that can provide phosphorus.

"Since endomycorrhizae enter the plants' roots, with their hyphae appearing outside, the roots can sip larger amounts of water and nutrients. They can also cover the surfaces of the [roots]," Zarate said. "Because of their presence, plants can be more resilient from droughts."

The bio-fertilizer also contains a handful of minerals, such as zinc and calcium, and growth hormones that can speed up the growth of roots, and enhance their capacity to hold water.

MykoPlus also takes advantage of the pore spaces of soils, and the abundance of nitrogen in nature.

Bio-fertilizers, also called microbial inoculants, are "packets containing live or latent cells of effective strains of microbes that increase the release and availability of nutrients for the crops."

QUALITY PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

Zarate said that their idea to develop bio-fertilizers began in the 1980s, amid an energy crisis that was characterized by rising gasoline prices.

"We researchers thought that we could create fertilizers that contain live components, utilizing microbes," Zarate said. "We in BIOTECH have a program that aims to develop products that can be bio-fertilizers."

Earlier, bio-fertilizers produced by BIOTECH include NitroPlus, which is very host-specific; Mykovam, which is a fungus-based fertilizer; and Bio-N, which contains nitrogen fixers.

"MykoPlus was developed to check, correct, or improve on the earlier technologies," Zarate said.

The development of MykoPlus began in 2010, as growing corn involves large amounts of fertilizers.

"There was already Bio-N that is re-used for corn, but [it] provides only nitrogen," Zarate said.

The Department of Science and Technology's Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD) helped develop MykoPlus through various experiments that aimed to make it better and finer, and increase its production levels.

Among the studies that have contributed to the product's development are "Product Development of Quality Bio-fertilizers and Other Soil Amendments for Potential Agribusiness Opportunities," and "Optimization and Scale-up Production of MykoPlus for the Bio-fertilizer and Bio-Organic Fertilizer Industries."

"The bio-fertilizer is also suitable for the cassava industry," Zarate said. "The response by rice fields to the product is also positive… The farmers themselves are saying that they are experiencing up to 25 percent increase [in yield]," Zarate said.

Microorganisms to be used for MykoPlus are grown separately, producing carriers that harbor these microorganisms.

CREATING A MARKET

Zarate said that they want more Filipinos, especially farmers all over the country, to know more about MykoPlus, starting within UPLB.

"We are also partnering with local government units, particularly that of Manaoag, Pangasinan. We set up trials there, and the farmers' clamor for more samples is continuous," she said, adding that the "requests" from the rest of the Ilocos Region eventually followed.

Some investors have expressed their interest to help produce MykoPlus, as collaboration is being encouraged.

"The patent may be owned by myself and Dr. Dela Cruz, but the technology belongs to UP Los Baños. So the process to grant the licensing to a private company is starting," Zarate said.

She clarified, though, that they are not yet selling the product, but are trying to promote it.

"We're distributing samples to people for them to test it. So [we would] create a market, then validate the results from the users. "Maybe we need to improve on what's lacking in the product," Zarate said. "But we have no definite plans yet."

MykoPlus can reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium requirements of plants, and can speed up and enhance bearing of fruits.

"Applying the bio-fertilizer has led to better survival of the plants from stresses such as storms and floods, "Zarate said.

One can apply the fertilizer by seed coating, mixing it in the germination bed, transplanting, banding, or soaking it.

Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry – Los Baños National Crop Research, Development, and Production Support Center Agriculturist II – Organic Focal Person Lorna Tepper said that when she used the product, she observed that the bio-fertilizer could lead to the formation of several splits for shallots, for instance.

"As it has a high phosphorus content, MykoPlus can help nourish crops that require large amounts of phosphorus," Tepper said. "It's not only for bulbs, rhizomes. More splits mean an increase in size in the number of bulbs and in weights."

She expressed confidence that MykoPlus will be sold cheaper than imported fertilizers, is easy to handle, and can help farmers augment their income.

Tepper, however, admitted that the bureau is not involved in the product's commercialization.

CHALLENGES, OPPORTUNITIES

The lack of sufficient funding for the bio-fertilizer hampers its production, which is done in the BIOTECH premises.

"When the budget is not yet released, we have to shell out [our] own money. I realized that there are various classes of farmers," Zarate said. "The problems we encounter are production-wise."

Zarate cited the need for more staffers who will help support the tasks of marketing and further researching about the product.

"We also encountered problems when fields were affected by a storm, with plants devastated, leading us to report no results," she added.

However, MykoPlus is "more complete" than other fertilizers, coming in very handy packages.

‘BRIDGING THE GAP'

As a Filipino inventor who has an academic background in agriculture and microbiology, Zarate would look into a certain problem, find the best solution for it, and determine her capacity in creating a product.

"And then we try to bridge the gap between the solution and the problem. My heart also goes out to the farmers, as they provide food for us. So, as much as possible, we must help them," Zarate, who was also responsible for helping invent Mykovam, said.

Working in the bio-fertilizer industry, she has observed the "great usage" of chemical pesticides in the country's agricultural practice, which is "bad to the environment and people's health."

"Plants are just there above the soil, they cannot dodge all pests," Zarate said. "So what I'm looking forward to in the future is to make plants resilient to pests and

Source: http://www.mb.com.ph/local-bio-fertilizer-sans-harmful-chemicals-to-benefit-pinoy-farmers/#R4xES8v9ZxMO52Dt.99
S & T Trivia

" In Spring 1999, the water-based insect buster called Household Insecticide (HI) won Gonzalo Catan Jr. the Silver Medal at the 27th International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva, Switzerland. This Filipino innovation makes use of 21 useful microorganisms, among other materials, to kill flies, mosquitoes, termites, ants, roaches, as well as dog ticks, fleas and lice. "

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