Home Featured Article PRODUCING GRAINS AT A TIME FOR REJUVENATION Phl rice varieties conserved for...

Phl rice varieties conserved for posterity


(Rejuvenated rice seed varieties are inspected and cleaned one by one before packaging and placing them in the storage room of the PhilRice Gene Bank. Photo by Anselmo Roque)

SCIENCE CITY OF MUÑOZ – RICE varieties which are no longer found in the market, or are not used by farmers for planting anymore, are not lost forever. Given the time for growing and reproduction, they can appear and re-appear in tons upon tons on the agricultural front.

These rice varieties, which have been collected and properly catalogued, are saved in a seed bank at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) here. Many others are being traced and would be preserved.

Then PhilRice executive director Eufemio Rasco said, “They should be conserved as they are not only important as the building blocks for breeding new rice varieties but as our national heritage.”

He agreed that some of these Philippine rice varieties, especially those used several centuries ago, may have been lost forever. But out there in some of the 7,100 islands in the country, he added, there may still be “real treasures” in the form of traditional varieties not yet conserved.

Rice is not originally with Filipinos. The aborigines then used root crops as their staple food. The rice, which is the main dish of most Filipinos at least three times a day daily, was brought by migrants centuries ago.

According to the PhilRice’s Knowledge Bank, the rice produced in many parts of the world today started from the wild rice which was spread through the extinct supercontinent “Gondwanaland” (land masses in today’s southern hemisphere) that drifted apart to become Asia, Africa, Australia and Antarctica. It charted a unique place in mankind’s history for having the longest period of feeding and nourishing a large number of people compared to other crops.

It was China which domesticated rice by developing a process of cultivating the soil and refining the system of transplanting it. The process was spread by migrants to the country.

Archaeologists, accounts said, found evidence the use of wild rice and cultivated rice around 3,200 B.C. in the Andarayan Plain in Cagayan. Around that time, people in the country were “then in a state of settled society and no longer moving around in groups to hunt, gather berries and leaves”.

Also, more than 3,000 years ago, the Ifugaos built the rice terraces in the Cordillera mountain ranges for cultivation of upland rice. Up until now, they are planting what is called as “heirloom rice” on those terraced farms.

Records say that the efforts of collecting rice seeds for conservation started in the country in the 1900s. Rice breeders affiliated with the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and the College of Agriculture of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños made independent efforts to do it.

In the early 1960s, separate collections were consolidated by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that resulted in the deposit to the agency’s seed bank not only samples of the rice seeds in the country but throughout the world.

IRRI has seed collections of about one-fifth of the world’s 500,000 rice varieties.

In 1985, PhilRice put up its own seed bank composed of the duplicated seeds of Philippine rice varieties at IRRI and from its own efforts in collecting them.

The PhilRice seed bank is officially named “PhilRice Genebank”.

Accessions, collections

“We have an accession of 5,205 and a collection of more than 13,000 that have yet to be accessioned,” said Melvin Duldulao, data base manager of the PhilRice Genetic Resources Division.

The division takes care of the germplasm management, conservation, distribution and utilization of the conserved varieties.

By accessioned varieties, it means that they have “passport” data (background information, history, and cultural and conservation processes), samples of the seeds or panicle, images of in situ (in site) cultivation and packaged. The collected samples, on the other hand, have yet to undergo accessioning.

“They used to be 7,129 accessioned seeds but we found out that although they have different names, they have the same passport data,” Duldulao said. “Of late, we found 108 heirloom rice varieties in Sarangani province and most of them were already packaged,” he added.

The accessioned seeds are placed in packets of 50 and 200 grams.

The 50-gram packets are stored in upright freezers (-18 degrees Celsius temperature) for long term conservation while the 200-gram seeds are for short-term conservation in 10-11 degrees Celsius temperature.

“The short-term conserved seeds are the ones distributed to requesting researchers, students, breeders, other stakeholders,” Duldulao said. “They are given 10 grams of the samples per request.”

He added that the seeds for distribution are rejuvenated, or given viability testing, every five years. It means, he added, that they are grown for reproduction and stored again. “We are keeping them alive,” Duldulao said.

“We are alert 24/7 for their conservation needs, especially as regards the maintenance of their needed temperature,’ she added.

Better conservation facility

The PhilRice seed bank is in placed in the agency’s newly constructed facilities adjacent to the main headquarters.

Breeders know very well the importance of the rice seeds. They said they are the raw materials for breeding new rice varieties.

They are survivors of stresses, pest and diseases ‘that’s why they are our wealth’.

When asked why there is need to breed new varieties when there are already many in the market, a top-ranking PhilRice breeder said:

“The changing rice environment is a race for breeders. They must develop location-specific varieties in order to maximize their output per unit area per unit time”.

They also said that present, all new varieties have the said characteristics like “being soft, aromatic, and pest resistant”.

“If they are attacked by pests and diseases, and since they are almost of the same characteristics, they may be wiped out,” said Maria Cristina Viray-Newimgham, an officer of the gene bank division. “It happened to potato in the mid-1800 in Ireland when the potato plants were killed prematurely by the leaf blight fungus,” she added.

“That’s why we have to maintain, and maintain it well, this rice gene bank,” she said.



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