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CGUARD: Safekeeping native seeds, securing the future

CGUARD project in region 2Long before plant hybridization and other advanced breeding techniques were developed, early corn farmers have been practicing selective breeding. They examine the plants and save the seeds that possess the qualities that they like such as big kernels, tastier, and high-yielding. These seeds that they have collected and saved will be planted for the next cropping season.

With the world experiencing climate change, along with continuous increase in population and dwindling agricultural lands, farmers are compelled to produce more food. Thus, they rely on hybrid seeds which are more expensive and unsustainable.

“This calls for varieties that are tolerant to various environmental stresses and generally native varieties are just like that, they are stress tolerant,” explained Dr. Artemio Salazar of the Institute of Plant Breeding-University of the Philippines Los Baños (IPB-UPLB). “Through almost five centuries of corn production in our country, we have tremendous genetic variability in the field. In fact, the most reliable source of genetic resistance to the then most serious disease of corn in Asia could be traced to our native variety, Tiniguib,” he added.

According to Salazar, native varieties, having been planted for centuries by early farmers, have already undergone natural, selective breeding including the various environment stresses that could affect its yield. “Most of our native varieties are low yielders but there would always be production no matter what. Also, they were selected by farmers for quality traits for eating and for storability,” he said.

Given this, varieties that do not need chemical inputs and have acceptable taste quality are the specific types that must be considered in addressing food security, climate change, conserving biodiversity, and sustainable agriculture.

 

Conserving, utilizing native corn varieties

 

To conserve the country’s native corn varieties, which were saved and developed by farmers for thousands of years, the IPB-UPLB, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plants and Industry (DA-BPI) and DA-Regional Field Offices (RFOs), is implementing a long-term program called Corn Germplasm Utilization through Advance Research and Development (CGUARD). Funded by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), the program, which was initiated in 2015, aims to collect, conserve, and develop native corn germplasm for agronomic response to different environment and physiological stresses including pests and diseases, soil acidity and salinity, soil fertility, drought, and water logging.

“The thrust of this program is really to focus on the utilization aspect which means breeding which will be used in developing the varieties that the farmers can use,” said BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar.

Meanwhile, Dr. Salazar, CGUARD program leader, further that study showed that these native varieties have resistance to varying stresses naturally occurring in various corn farms.

The traits of the native varieties will be used to further develop good quality corn seeds for farmers. “By doing so, we are also protecting our novel local corn genetic resources, which is crucial in ensuring food security and safeguarding the future generations, that they too will still be able to see and taste this native varieties that, if not conserve will be gone on the face of the earth,” he said.

 

Accomplishments of the program

 

The collection of seeds is being done by the 16 participating DA-RFOs. “All the collections in the country will be done by the regions, they will coordinate with the farmers and the seeds collected will then be screened and characterized. This collection will be then be maintained and conserved as part of our genetic diversity,” Dr. Salazar explained.

As of February 2017, the DA-RFOs have a total collection of 2,116 native corn varieties. Half of the collection has been sent to the National Plant Genetic Resources (NPGRL) of UPLB for breeding while the other half has been characterized in their respective research stations.

“NPGRL is also our partner in this program. It houses all the germplasm collections of the country for long term storage. NPGRL also coordinates with the DA-RFOs and advices them on how to properly conduct the seed collection and conservation process,” reported Dr. Salazar.

Among the significant findings of the program included the identification of an early maturing variety, CGURD Cn N48 or “Abra Glutinous” which is harvestable as green corn in 55 days. Meanwhile, CGUARD Cn N34 or “San Jose White” and CGUARD Cn N10 or “Calimpus” were varieties identified to be high in lysine, an essential amino acid for human health.

Three native varieties that were identified to have high downy mildew resistance were CGUARD Cn N 15 or “Tiniguib D”; CGUARD Cn N33 or “Manggahan White”; CGUARD Cn N 17 or “Bulldog” while two were found to have potential resistance to Asian Corn Borer: CGUARD Cn N 42 or “Lawaan Bukidnon” and CGUARD Cn N36 or “Valencia Orange”.

 

Future activities

 

Director Eleazar emphasized that CGUARD is a long-term program that aims for a long-term impact, specifically the generations to come. “CGUARD is one of the priority programs of Secretary Piñol in line with the Food Security Program of DA. Corn is the second most important staple crop in the Philippines. As a staple crop, (white) corn substitutes for rice especially in the South and during rice scarcity. So this also supports the rice program of the government,” he said.

As this is a continuing program of DA, all RFOs will continue the collection and characterization of native corn varieties and develop their CGUARD posters by featuring the best native corn variety. Meanwhile, IPB-UPLB will continue the population improvement work for selected entries.

“What we are doing with this CGUARD Program is that we make the industry self-sufficient and food secured, that what we are eating is nutritious and healthy. At the same time, we want to provide our farmers with good livelihood. We are not only working for ourselves but for the future of the generations even after us,” concluded Dr. Salazar. ###(Rita T. dela Cruz)