Thursday, December 3, 2009

Part 1. Green Revolution - Village Biotechnology

Dr Abe V Rotor
Basi for tourists and Ilocano balikbayan


Basi stands with other brands in the world market. It passed
the European standard for sherry, champagne and port.


My father, a gentleman farmer, was a brewer. He inherited the trade from my grandfather and from previous generations. I still use today the good earthen jars in producing the same products – basi, the traditional Ilocos wine, and its by-product, natural vinegar - using the same indigenous formula.

The making of basi and vinegar, as well as a dozen other products of sugarcane, like panocha, pulitiput, kalamay, sinambong, and kinalti, is a traditional cottage industry in the Ilocos region which is traced back to the Pre-Hispanic era when hundreds of small independent brewers like my father lived comfortably on this once flourishing industry.

Things appeared simple then. But time has changed. We know that sugarcane has long been planted with rice, legumes and vegetables, but it sounds like new in modern parlance with terms like crop rotation or crop diversification. Making of wine, vinegar and confectionery products are under agro-industry. Because the process generates profit, we call this value-added advantage. So with the tax that is now slap manufactured products. To determine the business viability of a business we determine its internal rate of return (IIR) and its return on investment (ROI). Brewing today is agro-processing and an agribusiness. And my father would be called not just a proprietor, but a business partner since family members and relatives share in the operation of the business. Possibly his title today would be general manager or CEO.

Things in my father’s time had become outdated, shifting away from traditional to modern. But it is not only a matter of terminology; it is change in business structure and system.

Big business is name of the game
Like many other village industries, the local breweries bowed out to companies that now control the production of commercial and imported brands. The proliferation of many products and the inability of local products to keep up with the growing sophisticated market have further brought their doom. Definitely under such circumstances the small players under the business parameter of economics of scale find themselves at the losing end. Bigness is name of the game.

Monopolies and cartels now control much of the economy here and in other countries. Transnational companies have grown into giants, that one big company far outweighs the economy of a small country. Total business assets of North Carolina is more than that of Argentina, which is one of the biggest countries of the world in terms of land area and population.

Today agribusiness and biotechnology are corporate terms that are difficult to translate on the village level and by small entrepreneurs.

All these fit well into the present capitalistic system that is greatly under the influence of IMF-WB on borrower-countries, and terms of trade agreements imposed by GATT-WTO on its members, many of which reluctantly signed the its ratification. Under the capitalistic system there has been a shift of countryside industries into the hands of corporations, national and transnational. Take these examples.

Coffee is raised by millions of small farmers all over the world, but it is monopolized by such giant companies like Nestle and Consolidated Foods. Cacao is likewise a small farmer’s crop, but controlled by similar multinationals. So with tea, the world’s second most popular beverage.

Unfortunately this inequity in the sharing of the benefits of these industries is exacerbated by the absence of a strong and effective mass-based program that emphasizes countryside development through livelihood and employment opportunities. Multi-national monopolies thrive on such business climate and biased laws and program in their favor.

We import rice, corn, sugar, fruits, meat and poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables in both fresh and processed products, when in the sixties and seventies we were exporters of the same products. We were then second or third in ranking after Japan in terms of economic development.

“Small business is beautiful”

There must be something wrong somewhere. But while we diagnose our country’s ills, we should make references to our own successes, and even come to a point of looking on models within our reach and capability to imitate. There are “unsung heroes” in practically all fields from business, agriculture, manufacturing to folk medicine and leadership. Perhaps for us who belong to the older generation, it is good to feel whenever we recall old times when life was better – and better lived.

“The biggest piracy that is taking place today is not at sea and on the rich. It is stealing people’s resources – from herbal medicine to indigenous technology – stolen by rich countries and big corporations. Biopiracy and technopiracy constitute the greatest violation to human rights and social justice in that the people are not only deprived of their means of livelihood; they are forced to become dependent on those who robbed them.”

Informal or “underground” economy is the lifeblood of rural communities. They are the seat of tradition, rituals, barter and other informal transactions. They link the farm and the kitchen and the local market. They are versions of agro-processing and agribusiness on the scale of proprietorship and family business. They strengthen family and community ties.

It is for this reason that the NACIDA – National Cottage Industry Development Authority – was organized. And truly, it brought economic prosperity to thousands of entrepreneurs and families in the fifties to sixties.

South Korea for one in the late sixties, saw our PRRM and NACIDA models and improved on them with their SAEMAUL UNDONG development program which ultimately brought tremendous progress in its war-torn countryside. In Tanzania, one can glimpse some similarities of our program with LAEDZA BATANI (Wake up, it’s time to get moving) rural development program. The Philippines stood as an international model, recognized by the WB and ADB, for our countryside development program – cottage industries, farmers’ associations, electric cooperatives, rice and corn production program, which made us agricultural exporters. So with our biotechnology in farm waste utilization through composting with the use of Trichoderma inoculation, and in natural rice farming by growing Azolla in lieu of urea and ammonium nitrate. Another area of biotechnology is in the retting of maguey fiber, which is a work of decomposing bacteria.

Today there are many opportunities of biotechnology that can be tapped and packaged for small and medium size businesses and organized groups of entrepreneurs and farmers. These opportunities also pose a big challenge to the academe and to enterprising researchers in government and private institutions.

Important organisms for biotechnology

Spirulina (blue-green alga or Eubacterium) - high protein, elixir.
Chlorella (green alga) – vegetable, oxygen generator
Pleurotus and Volvariella (fungi, mushroom) – anti-cancer food.
Azolla-Anabaena (eubacterium with fern)– natural fertilizer
Porphyra, red seaweed, high-value food (“food of the gods”)
Hormophysa (brown alga) – antibiotics
Eucheuma (red alga) – source of carageenan, food conditioner
Gracillaria (brown alga) – source of agar, alginate
Sargassum (brown alga) – fertilizer and fodder
Saccharomyces (fungus, yeast) – fermentation
Aspergillus (fungus) – medicine, fermentation
Penicillium (fungus) – antibiotics
Caulerpa (green alga) – salad
Leuconostoc (bacterium) – nata de coco, fermentation of vegetables
Acetobacter (bacterium) – acetic acid manufacture
Rhizobium (bacterium) – Nitrogen fixer for soil fertility
Nostoc (BGA or Eubacterium) – bio-fertilizer
Ganoderma (tree fungus) – food supplement, reducer
Halobacterium and Halococcus (bacteria)- bagoong and patis making
Lactobacillus (bacterium) lactic fermentation, yogurt making
• Candida (yeast) – source of lysine, vitamins, lipids and inveratse
• Torulopsis (yeast) – leavening of puto and banana cake
• Trichoderma (fungus) – innoculant to accelerate composting time.

Before I go proceed allow me to present a background of biotechnology in relation with the history of agriculture.

Three Green Revolutions

The First Green Revolution took place when man turned hunter to farmer, which also marked the birth of human settlement, in the Fertile Crescent, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers where the present war in Iraq is taking place.

The Second Green Revolution is characterized by the improvement of farming techniques and the expansion of agricultural frontiers, resulting in the conversion of millions of hectares of land into agriculture all over the world. This era lasted for some three hundred years, and marched with the advent of modern science and technology, which gave rise to Industrial Revolution. Its momentum however, was interrupted by two world wars.

Then in the second part of the last century, a Third Green Revolution was born. With the strides of science and technology, agricultural production tremendously increased. Economic prosperity followed specially among post-colonial nations - the Third World - which took the cudgels of self rule, earning respect in the international community, and gaining the status of Newly Industrialized Nations (NICs) one after another.

Towards the end of the last century, the age of biotechnology and genetic engineering arrived. Here the conventions of agriculture have been radically changed. For example, desirable traits are transferred through gene splicing so that trans-generic – even trans-kingdom – trait combination are now possible. Bt Corn, a genetically modified corn that carries the caterpillar-repelling gene of a bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, exemplifies such case. Penicillin-producing microorganisms are not only screened from among naturally existing species and strains; they are genetically engineered with super genes from other organisms known for their superior production efficiency. ~

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