Wednesday , April 25, 2018

Domoguen: The golden rice project in the Philippines (1st of 3 parts)

IN THE continuing quest of mankind for quality existence, in times of peace or war, a retreat is not always an acquiescence, surrender, or abandonment of a great cause.

In the theatre of human struggles, the characters must reverse Lenin’s dictum and tactic. When necessary they must take “a step backward and two steps forward,” to advance their goals. The net result is progress.
In Philippine history, retreating and the promise of coming back to redeem a loss is not only a great story but a model in romance and other survival endeavors.

For rural development, it continues to inspire noble, dedicated and committed quests and aspirations for the liberation of the suffering masses and the farmers from their afflictions.

One such story of history repeating itself in this manner is the retreat of golden rice (GR) from public view only to return in several locations in the farmers’ fields, with more support from farmers, local government units, and other private stakeholders.

GR is the brainchild of Professors Ingo Potrykus (ETH Zurich, Switzerland) and Peter Beyer (University of Freiburg, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany). Their collaborative work demonstrated that ß-carotene could be turned on in rice grains using “a minimum set of transgenes.”
Dr. Karen Eloisa Barroga of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) and member of the GR Project in the Philippines said that GR was developed through genetic engineering technique as a potential new food-based approach to improve vitamin A status. The problem of Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is particularly felt severely in developing countries like the Philippines, whose food are mainly rice.

Blindness due to vitamin A deficiency (VAD) affects more than 2.1 million children and about 9 percent of pregnant women and 5 percent of lactating mothers in the Philippines, Dr. Barroga said.

Worldwide, the Helen Keller International (HKI) has been working to address VAD for well over 30 years. It has determined that around 190 million pre-school children and 19 million pregnant women are suffering from VAD. Each year, an estimated 670,000 children will die from VAD, and 350,000 will go blind because of it.

Elsewhere in Asia, particularly Bangladesh, one in every five of pre-school aged children has VAD. In developing countries whose populations are affected by VAD, “effective distribution systems for vitamin A supplementation are not in place to reach all people in need adequately and consistently. Supplementation programs incur high logistic costs that not every region can afford,” according to the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, on its web page.

The Board is composed of internationally recognized experts belonging to various “reputable” institutions who provide strategic guidance to the GR project. The Board is chaired by Prof. Ingo Potykus, co-founder of GR.
The GR Project is currently promoting GR to those who need it most “at no additional cost and that growers will be able to buy and reuse their seed as they please.”

Those most in need of this new seed-based technology are “those who can least afford to buy an adequate diet, rich in essential nutrients. The GR Project is working with its partners to make the latest, improved version of GR available for humanitarian use in developing countries, free of charge,” the GR Board has published on its web page.

After it was initiated in 1982 through the Rockefeller Foundation, the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center conducted the first field trials of golden rice cultivars in 2004. Additional trials were soon conducted in the Philippines, Taiwan, and in Bangladesh in 2015.

Results from the preliminary field tests revealed: “field-grown golden rice produces 4 to 5 times more beta-carotene than golden rice grown under greenhouse conditions.”

The Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) “leads the development of GR in the Philippines.” Dr. Barroga said.

After its experimental rice plants were “trampled, uprooted and destroyed in Pili, Camarines Sur, last August 8, 2013,” Dr. Barroga told a group of information officers from the DA’s regional offices and attached agencies, who were gathered in Tagaytay City, for their quarterly conference last month that the GR Project in the Philippines continued in partnership with its farmer-partners and other stakeholders.

It cooperated in global and local collaborative research and discussions with its partners. Thus far, the GR Project has determined that golden rice is a safe source of beta-carotene, according to Dr. Barroga. Food safety studies concluded that beta-carotene in food is a safe source of Vitamin A, she added.

GR research in the country is actively collaborating with farmers, local government units, and other private sector partners to determine the plant’s agronomic performance in full compliance with tedious and strict regulatory requirements.

Dr. Roel Suralta, GR Project leader at Philrice said that PhilRice and IRRI submitted this year, applications for a biosafety permit for the direct use in food, feed, or for processing, of a form of golden rice known as GR2E to the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry.

Completion of the food/feed safety assessment is a prerequisite for the conduct of bioefficacy studies with GR2E golden rice in the Philippines that will demonstrate its value in complementing other approaches to mitigate VAD.