New hope for ‘makapuno’ growers in Calabarzon
BY RENATO U. SOLIDUM JR. SECRETARY OF DEPARTMENT OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
The Manila Times
“KAHIT ano namang sinisimulan, mahirap eh; ‘yung passion ng bawat namumuno ng ahensya, ay maging passion din ng lahat — kasama kaming mga farmers.” These are the words of Joel Arandela, awarded as the Best Makapuno Island Farmer in Alabat during the 2nd National Makapuno Summit in 2020, when he gave his testimony and showcased his farm interventions during the Makapuno Farmers Training on Proper Embryo-Cultured Makapuno (ECM) Farm Management and Makapuno Food Processing on April 12–13, 2023. Arandela shared his journey of growing and cultivating his farm ever since the project began in 2017. How it began In 2009, the Southern Tagalog Consortium for Industry and Energy Research and Development (STCierd) joined hands with the Department of Science and Technology (DoST)-Calabarzon to enhance the makapuno value chain and revitalize its industry in the region. In the process of establishing the Makapuno Production and Processing Roadmaps, it has been found that this high-value commodity holds potential not just in the food industry but also in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. Because of its growing demand in the market, the mass propagation of makapuno through embryo-culture technology has been strengthened. In 2017, the project titled “Establishment of Embryo-Cultured Makapuno (ECM) Island in the Municipalities of Alabat, Quezon and Perez in Quezon Province” was proposed, aiming to establish a Makapuno Island that would showcase it as a high-value crop and significantly contribute to the island’s economy and eventually to the country. In fact, the Calabarzon Region (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) is blessed with the AlQueRez Island (Alabat, Quezon and Perez) in Quezon province because it has the conditions and resources for growing ECM. This is seen as the firstever “Makapuno Island” in the country that will be the prime producer of makapuno and can significantly address the increasing demands for this commodity. DoST-Calabarzon, together with the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Philippine Coconut Research and Development Foundation Inc. (PCRDF), Department of Agriculture Regional Field Office 4A (Darfo 4A), Department of Trade and Industry 4A (DTI 4A), Department of Labor and Employment 4A (DoLE 4A), National Irrigation Administration 4A (NIA 4A), Philippine Chamber of Commerce (PCC), Office of the Provincial Agriculturist (OPA) Quezon, Southern Luzon State University (SLSU), and Office of Rep. Angelina Tan of the House of Representatives, continues to collaborate with the local government units (LGUs) of Alabat, Quezon and Perez, Quezon to further this cause. The interagency efforts and initiatives to strengthen the makapuno industry are paramount to capacitating its stakeholders and revitalizing the makapuno industry in the whole region. Emerging high-value crop Mylene Culing, the OIC-municipal agriculture officer of LGUAlabat, mentioned the difference in value between makapuno and a normal coconut. She said, “Malaki ang economic value ng makapuno, may potential talaga ang beneficiary kumita, unlike coconut na kapag dumami ang supply — for example, ‘yung copra — ay babagsak ang presyo. Ang market natin for makapuno ay available naman, ang kailangan lang talaga ay ma-sustain natin ‘yun.” Do you know that the value of makapuno lies not only in its potential for the food industry but also in its capability to be utilized in non-food products? The project, “Technology Commercialization of Makapuno Products (Galactomannan and Powder) as Immediate Raw Materials,” implemented the pilot testing and commercialization of makapuno products, including Makapuno Liquid Endosperm (MLE), Makapuno Galactomannan and Makapuno Powder for R&D. In fact, under the project, the PCRDF, under its project leader, Vermelyn Evangelista, has developed various cosmetic products from makapuno galactomannan, such as lotion, cream and exfoliating soap. PCRDF has also established processing protocols for these products and is currently working on protecting the intellectual property (IP) of these technologies. In addition, tests were done for the dietary fiber content of makapuno galactomannan and the hypoallergenicity of the developed makapuno lotion, which both garnered positive results with promising potential for these products. In 2018, QTR Pharma Sciences Inc., led by its president, Ma. Teresa Vergara, signified its intent to adopt the established technologies of PCRDF through the conduct of commitment signing with DoST Calabarzon and PCRDF. The company launched Maka-Pnoy Inc., a cosmetic trader that will produce the cosmetic products. As of now, the galactomannan exfoliating soap is the only product with a prototype and an established packaging material. Productive, cooperative network A study published by the Philippine Journal of Science said, “Only people with higher levels of income can afford to plant makapuno coconut” since an embryo-cultured makapuno (in vitro-cultured) seedling is expensive. Culing also shared, “May kamahalan talaga ang isang seedling at mag-i-i-start ka magaral sa lahat ng aspeto. Kaya mahalaga na makita namin ang commitment ng farmers sa pagtatanim ng mga binibigay nating seedlings sa kanila.” Aside from forging partnerships with agencies and establishing support from the industry, coordinating with those at different levels of the value chain is equally important. The government, together with a strategic and synergistic network of makapuno growers, processors, distributors and retailers, is keen on strengthening cooperation among stakeholders to achieve this endeavor. Ever since Makapuno Island launched in 2018, DoST-Calabarzon, in close coordination with project partners, has been conducting a series of initiatives, including the delivery of ECM seedlings, monitoring of ECM planting sites, holding consultative meetings with focal officials, training makapuno growers on the island, reviewing and updating the roadmaps, and continuously developing and promoting both innovative makapuno food and non-food products. When the pandemic hit, these efforts were ensured to be implemented — even strengthened — to adapt to the “new normal” modes of interaction. In 2020, a virtual launching of the DoST-funded projects “Technology Piloting of a Tissue Culture Growth Chamber of Mass Propagation of Coffee and Embryo-Cultured Makapuno (ECM)” and “Operationalization of Makapuno Research and Development, Resource and Innovation Center (MRDRIC)” were virtually launched during the 2nd National Makapuno Summit. The MRDRIC aims to strengthen the regional makapuno research, development and extension (RDE) network in the region and formulate an updated makapuno RDE agenda. Current developments and plans As a component of the project, the training conducted on April 12–13, 2023, brought together about a total of 60 participants, comprising ECM farmers from Alabat Island, representatives from government agencies, NGOs, MSMEs and the academe. Technical experts from the PCA, the SLSU and the PCRDF and Sunlight Food Corp., a private company, share various lectures to engage farmer-learners in municipalities within Quezon province on matters of ECM planting, intercropping, environmental protection, integrated farming, pest and disease management, developed products from the Makapuno Galactomannan, and makapuno processing. Through farmers’ training and development, makapuno growers on the island are empowered to realize their critical role in boosting the makapuno industry in the country. At the same time, they are also encouraged to begin and continue their commitment to nurturing their own seedlings. A farmer-beneficiary by the name of Nelson Omila from Quezon, Quezon, reminded his fellow makapuno growers, “Kapag nagtanim ka ng mga ganitong product, dapat isa-puso natin bilang farmer para quality ang kalalabasan. Ipagpatuloy natin ang pagtatanim para sa kinabukasan ng mga anak natin.” Moving forward, to support the current initiatives for ECM, the interagency collaborators plan to establish a centralized processing facility on Alabat Island, which will act as the main distributor of harvested ECM nuts from the island to target markets and processors in other parts of the country. Furthermore, a tissue culture laboratory is also planned to be established on the island for the propagation of ECM plantlets for planting and will also cater to clients that wish to venture into makapuno planting. DoST-Calabarzon is one of the regional offices of the Department of Science and Technology and is located at Jamboree Road, Barangay Timugan, Los Baños, Laguna. For more information, you may visit it on Facebook at facebook.com/ dostcalabarzon or on the website www.region4a.dost.gov.ph.