Corn-rice mix answer to food security, malnutrition amid rice supply threats due to China’s dams in Mekong River

December 30, 2019

Food security perils resulting from threats of severe drought in rice-exporting countries due to dams being built in  Mekong River should prompt Philippines to introduce corn grits into daily rice meal.

   The mix of rice and corn as staple may still be new to most Filipinos, particularly Luzon natives.

   However, the rice-corn mix endorsed as staple by the Department of Agriculture (DA) should be consumed more now amid threat of declining supply of rice in the world market, according to experts at the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB).

   The Mekong River recorded in July 2019 an all-time low water level in 100 years, causing drought among rice-exporting countries. 

   This should prompt government leaders to adopt  the program of using nutritious Quality Protein Maize (QPM) as a well-suited mix to rice, according to Jaia Gabrielle L. Lapiz,IPB research associate.

   The Mekong River is recognized as the most important river in Southeast Asia.  Its water irrigates agricultural lands throughout China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

   It is foreseen that droughts may turn worse as some 300 dams are reportedly being built or proposed in China and Laos.

   “Why would the drought in the Mekong River be of concern to the citizens of the Philippines? Because we get 91% of our imported rice from the countries (mainly Thailand, Vietnam) sitting on the Mekong River,” said the IPB researcher.

   IPB of the University of the Philippines-Los Banos (UPLB) has repeatedly proven viability of the rice-corn mix as a palatable substitute to the regular rice on the Filipino table.

   “Eating corn grits in not an unfamiliar topic. When the Marcos Administration was hit with a rice crisis that almost depleted the national stock, they had to add corn grits to the mix just to continue the supply,” said Lapiz.

Corn grits and corn grit recipes. Image credit:,,,

   “Today, eating corn grits is only unfamiliar to Luzon dwellers. Filipinos in Visayas and Mindanao continue to eat corn grits as their staple food.”

   Artemio M. Salazar, IPB rogram leader, said IPB has a seed production program to produce the QPM seeds in greater quantity.

   “Farmers in the uplands will most benefited.   IPB Var 6 gives a yield that is nearly comparable to commercial yellow corn’s yield,” said Salazar. 

  Based on a previous test, the yield of IPB Var 6 in Luzon was at an average of 5.84 metric tons (MT) per hectare; in Visayas, 5.45 MT per hectare, and in Mindanao, 4.47 MT per hectare.

  “ These seeds are distributed to DA’s regional offices.  IPB is tasked to produce foundation and registered white corn seeds which will be mass-propagated in the regions.

   “We aim to bring this technology to the uplands the boondocks where there are many people who don’t have anything to eat,” said Salazar.

   Lysine, tryptophan

   A unique nutrition advantage of the IPB Var 6 is its high quality protein.  It has high content of essential amino acids lysine and tryptophan.

    Unlike rice, white corn has low glycemic index (GI).  Low GI makes white corn slower to digest thereby releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream.  Thus, the risk of diabetes, now among top 10 killer diseases in the country, is lessened.

   It has more dietary fiber found to enable the body to fight cancer risks.  It has more minerals and more antioxidants than rice.


   The high protein in QPM becomes a solution to a nutritional case called “kwashiorkor” (African).  It is a protein deficiency problem that leads to brain use impairment.

   Lysine is an essential amino acid that plays a big role in muscle building and the body’s production of hormones, enzymes, and antibodies.  This white corn is also rich in tryptophan, another essential amino acid.

   Intake of a 3 piece of  20-gram IPB corn pan de sal with 20% corn grit supplies 25 percent of a two-year old child’s daily nutritional requirement out of the required 44-64 milligrams per one kilo of weight.

   Lysine contributes to the production of carnitine which helps lower cholesterol. It is important for the absorption of calcium and the formation of collagen needed in building bones and connective tissues.

Agronomic advantages

   Growing corn likewise has huge implications in agriculture.

   Corn has what is known as the “C4” biochemical photosynthetic pathway. That enables it to more efficiently collect energy from sunlight that is converted to biomass.  Rice has the less efficient C3 biochemical photosynthetic pathway.

   “The Holy Grail in rice breeding is genetically transforming the photosynthetic pathway of rice from C3 to C4 in order to increase grain yields,” said IPB Founder Dr. Emil Q. Javier

   Corn also requires less water to grow, bearing higher drought tolerance with its more efficient water use.

   “Corn requires much less water to produce a kilogram of grain compared with rice. Corn therefore is the better alternative in farms without irrigation which constitute the majority of our arable lands,” he said.

  What is good about corn is it does not need capital-intensive irrigation facilities, unlike rice.  For corn grows wherever there is rainfall. UPLB and IPB have also developed a corn mill that may be portably taken to upland areas for processing of the QPM.

     The white corn variety used is an open pollinated variety.  That means seeds can be repeatedly used by farmers for free. The OPVs, developed by IPB, yield a relatively high four metric tons (MT) per hectare, still higher than most OPVs yielding two to three MT.

   The availability of the portable corn mill is expected to encourage farmers to plant  white corn,.

   “If there’s a small machine, farmers have an assurance of a market for corn,” said Salazar.

    At approximately just P100,000 per unit, its benefit to the rural poor will be immense.

Supply problems

   As corn grits are hardly available in Luzon, government (a function used to be with the National Food Authority) may take on tasks of  grain purchasing, storage, milling and distribution of white corn grits and rice-corn grit mixtures.

   DA has been funding the seed production of the  QPM.  

      An earlier proposal of the Philippine Maize Federation Inc. (PMFI) is for government’s initial release to market of 300,000 MT of rice-corn blends for 5 years.

   It will be consumed by constituents of subsidized food at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology,

   It will also be used for the school/nutrition feeding of the Department of Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of National Defense, and Department of Health.

Taste tests

   Based on tests, a mix of 70:30 (rice-corn) has been found by nutritionists at UPLB to be acceptable to common rice consumers in Luzon.

   The corn grit part to the blend may be raised as soon as consumers get used to the texture and taste.


   The last 2008 National Nutrition Survey (NNS) of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute indicated that underweight children aged 0-5 affected numbered 3.35 million, an increase of 26.2 percent from the last NNS held every five years.

   For aged 6-10, underweight prevalence also rose from 22.8 percent to 25.6 percent, affecting 2.6 million kids.

Pan de sal

   As corn may be mixed with rice, corn may also be used as substitute for wheat flour up to 20 % based on an IPB bread program.

   Salazar said Philippines can save P5 billion yearly if it can replace wheat flour by just 20 percent.  IPB Var6 has been used on commercial scale production of pandesal in a community in Calauan, Laguna led by the Salesians of Don Bosco.

African program

   IPB Var 6 is a corn variety developed for local growing conditions by a team of IPB breeders led by Salazar.

   Its original parental lines came from a program of CIMMYT meant to aid Africa to feed malnourished children with QPM. Since corn has been a staple in Africa, it wasn’t too difficult to introduce QPM there.

   “Actual nutrition trials in Ghana and several other countries have demonstrated that

children fed with QPM corn were healthier, suffered fewer fatalities and had better growth rates

than those fed with normal corn,” said Javier.

   The same was true with parallel tests with animal feed rations. Tests in El Salvador

showed that as much as 50% of the soybean meal can be replaced with QPM corn resulting in

savings of 3–5% of feed cost.

   These were the foundation genetic materials out of which Dr. Artemio Salazar and his

team at IPB developed a Filipino version adopted to Philippine growing conditions and tolerant to prevailing pests and diseases. Melody Mendoza Aguiba

SEARCA pushes for favourable biotechnology regulations amid calls for Golden Rice permit revocation

Pro Vitamin A-rich Golden Rice. Image credit: International Rice Research Institute

December 30, 2019

ASEAN’s farm research center SEARCA is boosting support for  favourable agri-biotechnology regulatory policies amid local calls for the revocation of the commercial permit of pro-Vitamin A-rich Golden Rice.

   Believing agri-biotechnology will be key to food security and upliftment of farmers’ lives,   the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture said it has

 partnered with three expert groups for this program to boost expert knowledge in regulations on Living Modified Organisms (LMOs).   LMOs include farm products more known to be the controversial GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

   This is through the opening of the program “Second Asian Course on Agribiotechnology.”

   Despite safety questions on these biotechnology products, SEARCA deems it important to harness the fully potential of agri-biotechnology through “effective communication and science-based regulatory frameworks.”

   SEARCA Director and National Academician Glenn B. Gregorio, highlighted SEARCA’s important role in advancing science-based innovations to address poverty and food security.

   “We stand behind products of agribiotechnology that increase agricultural productivity to feed a growing population in the midst of dwindling natural resources and erratic changes in climate,” Gregorio said. 

   “Due attention must be given to our resource-poor farmers by providing them access to information, best practices, and new technologies that gives them a fighting chance to cope with the many challenges they face and to open up better opportunities for them and their families so that they can have better quality lives,” said Gregorio. 

   According to Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan, ISAAA Global Coordinator, “we organized this training program to bring our Asian stakeholders updated information and hands-on experience on agribiotechnology, exercises on food/feed safety assessment, and tips on strategic communication, and risk management and communication.” 

   This year’s Asian Short Course on Agribiotechnology gathers 25 participants from both public and private sectors of eight countries. These are China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.  

   SEARCA’s partnership is with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA), Malaysian Biotechnology Information Center, and Monash University.    

   The program focuses on Agribiotechnology, Biotechnology Regulation, and Communication. 

   While government has just approved permit for use for food, feed, and processing of Golden Rice, Greenpeace  has reportedly filed a petition for the permit’s revocation.

   Golden Rice has been questioned by interest groups due to the technology that inserted a gene into the grain that enables the staple to produce increased Vitamin A, helping reduce massive Vitamin A-deficiency (VAD).

    It is targeted at preventing blindness that develops in around 500,000 people, mainly children, yearly, reported the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board (GRHB)

   “Nearly nine million children die of malnutrion every year. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) severely affects their immune system, hence it is involved in many of these children’s deaths in the guise of multiple diseases. Malaria deaths in children under five years of age has been linked with deficiencies in the intake of protein, vitamin A and zinc,” said the board.

   The rice technology will have huge economic impact for poor farmers as they no longer have to invest more into the seed.  The technology is being offered for free by humanitarian groups that helped its development. 

   Developers include Sygenta, the Philippine Rice Research Institute and International Rice Research Institute, among others.

   “The technology is built into each and every harvested seed, and does not require any additional investment. Let’s consider the potential of a single Golden Rice seed: a single plant will produce in the order of 1,000 seeds; within four generations or less than two years, that one plant will have generated seeds (amounting to more than 10to the twelfth power)”.

   “This represents up to 28-thousand metric tons of rice, which would be already sufficient to feed 100-thousand poor people for one year,” said the GRHB. Melody Mendoza Aguiba

Economists, rice leaders: Sustain rice tariffication, but guarantee farmers’ support, correct trade imbalances– rice hoarding, illegal trading, pricing; form farmer alliances

Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio (fifth from left), SEARCA director, leads forum on Rice Tariffication Law

December 4, 2019

Economists and rice sector leaders have pushed for mixed policy recommendations in light of the rice tarification law (RTL) — pressing for sustained implementation yet strong and “guaranteed” farmer support, or the RTL may turn to be “disastrous.”

   Safety nets for the protection of farmers are of prime importance as these apparently have not been installed as evidenced by farmers’ poor plight from palay’s collapsing price.    

   This has been raised during the “Regional Implications in the Philippines’ RTL” forum organized by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA). 
   “The challenges we always face every cropping season relative to systemic barriers to farmers’ income  were not addressed head on in the RTL,” said Cresencio C. Paez, director of Asian Farmers Association for Rural Sustainable Development.

   “Safety nets for the protection of the farmers and consuming public were not taken into account concretely and strongly. A lot is said about promises. (But there is a need for) ‘guarantee’ of protection.”

   The challenges waiting to be addressed, Paez said,  amid the RTL’s implementation are “price volatility, land productivity, climate change’s effects, market power which involves cartel (traders hoarding rice) resulting in market abnormalities, governance, corruption, weak government agencies, and faulty extension delivery.” 

   “The RTL, if not well calibrated in its implementation, will be disastrous, and it is now happening this early,” said Paez at the SEARCA forum.

   SEARCA, in its mandate to help upgrade graduate education in agriculture in South East Asian countries, believes the vision toward a common ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) market is steering farms to form regional alliances. 

   That leads to“promoting and strengthening intra-ASEAN trade.” A liberalized rice sector under the RTL regime readies Philippines   in such globalized trade,

   Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA director, said government should have a system by which the
“right price of the right rice” can be determined. 

   This has significant implication for both the farmers and consumers, Gregorio said.

   Farmers depend on the right price of rice for their income and livelihood.  Consumers likewise depend on the right price of rice for their economical consumption of the staple as an important factor in keeping a desirable standard of living.  

   The ASEAN Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve (APTERR), designed to beef up food security in emergencies in among ASEAN countries, should be sustained, although threatened, with the RTL.

   Jansinee Kankaew of the APTERR Secretariat, said the National Food Authority (NFA)’ s function has been altered as a result of the RTL.  This may adversely affect implementation of APTERR. 

   Thus, the APTERR program should be maintained for emergency purposes amid the RTL, Kankaew said at the SEARCA forum.

   APTERR is a reserve fund of 787,000 metric tons (MT) contributed by ASEAN members for emergency use .  Philippines contributes 12,000 MT of rice for this reserve.

   Jerry E. Pacturan International Fund for Agricultural Development country program officer, said the RTL is in track in supporting rural transformation and modernization. 

   “It will foster better use of resources, higher productivity, farm consolidation, mechanization of the rice sector, and improved focus on suitable rice areas,” he said at the SEARCA forum.

   Nevertheless, government should have a “more responsive strategy” so that vision toward diversification of the agriculture sector will be a reality.  With diversified agriculture, farmers will be able to shift or add growing of more profitable high value crops—fruits and vegetables–  and earn higher income.

   “If resources are managed properly and government focuses equal attention on other high value crops that the country has competitive advantage in,  a highly productive, quality-oriented, product-differentiated, and modernized rice industry will improve agriculture performance,” said Pacturan.

   The country may even be able to export specialty and heirloom rice from upland farms, he said.

   Dr. Ramon L. Clarete of the UP School of Economics said that there has been initial shock as Philippines appears imported rice this year at a higher 10% of  total consumption.

   That is a significant jump compared to just 5-7% imports in previous years. 

   Yet this import percentage will likely no longer exceed 15%, Clarete said.

    This is as the rice sector steps up to demands of competitiveness as a result of the RTL

   “The import liberalization may cause higher productivity to local rice farms and efficiency along its local rice value chains– milling and logistics. We will retire those inefficient and marginal rice farms, and what’s left would be the efficient farms. Old rice mills would have to go.  Like Cambodia the remaining rice millers invest in modern rice mills and much larger storage and other post-harvest facilities,” he said.

   Clarete’s policy recommendation is for government to help facilitate alliances of farms in order to boost productivity.  This will help small farms to commonly achieve economies of scale.

   “The one-hectare farm household or so can still be part of the industry. The farm can actually boost its productivity if it joins an alliance of several others and get their aggregated farm managed professionally.” (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)