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Conserving, utilizing native corn varieties

MANILA, Philippines -  Long before plant hybridization and other advanced breeding techniques were developed, early corn farmers have been practicing selective breeding.  

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.

Artemio Salazar of the Institute of Plant Breeding-University of the Philippines Los Baños (IPB-UPLB), said native varieties, which have been planted for centuries by early farmers, have already undergone natural, selective breeding including the various environment stresses that could affect their yield.

“Most of our native varieties are low yielders but there will always be production no matter what. Also, they were selected by farmers for quality traits for eating and for storability,” he said.

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 and DA-Regional Field Offices, is implementing a long-term program called Corn Germplasm Utilization through Advance Research and Development (CGUARD).

Funded by the Bureau of Agricultural Research,  the program 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.

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“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 Eleazar.

The traits of the native varieties will be used to further develop good quality corn seeds for farmers and protect novel local corn genetic resources, which are crucial in ensuring food security.

As of February 2017, the DA-RFOs had a total collection of 2,116 native corn varieties. Half of the collection was sent to UPLB’s National Plant Genetic Resources.

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.


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