Philippines: Challenges, Opportunities,
and Constraints in Agricultural Biotechnology
Reynaldo E. de la Cruz
he Philippines has a land area of 30 mil- mendous pressure on agricultural lands. Prime
lion hectares and a population of over 70 lands are now being converted into resettlement
million (1998). In 1997, the combined area areas and for industrial uses. Agricultural land
devoted to agriculture was 10.3 million hectares, area has therefore been decreasing through
with coconut being the most widely planted crop, time.
followed by rice, corn, banana, pineapple, and
others. The area and production of some impor- Biotechnology in the Philippines
tant agricultural crops are presented in Table 1.
Rice and corn lead in area and production. The The Philippines started its biotechnology pro-
country is a major producer of coconut, sugar- grams in 1980 with the formal creation of the
cane, banana, and pineapple. The export value National Institute of Molecular Biology and Bio-
of sugarcane has gone down considerably in re- technology (BIOTECH) at the University of the
cent years. Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB). In 1995, three
More than 70 percent of the population is di- other biotechnology institutes were established
rectly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. within the University of the Philippines System.
Most of the land is owned by small farmers. Sig- They are located in the UP Diliman campus to
nificant increases in population have placed tre- focus on industrial biotechnology, UP Manila to
focus on human health biotechnology, and UP
Visayas to focus on marine biotechnology.
Table 1 Area and production of some
The biotechnology institute in UP Los Baños
important agricultural crops
continues to provide leadership in agricultural,
Area Production forestry, industrial, and environmental biotech-
Agricultural in million in million nology. Other research institutes at UPLB are also
crops hectares metric tons
doing biotechnology research. Among these are
Rice and corn 4.75 26.9 the Institute of Plant Breeding, Institute of Bio-
Coconut 4.00 12.0 logical Sciences, Institute of Animal Sciences, In-
Sugarcane 0.70 3.4 stitute of Food Science and Technology, and the
Banana 0.21 21.6 College of Forestry and Natural Resources. Out-
Pineapple 0.04 1.6 side UPLB, other research institutes and centers
Coffee — 0.1
such as the Philippine Rice Research Institute,
Total 10.30 68.0 Philippine Coconut Authority, Cotton Research
and Development Institute, Bureau of Plant In-
Source : Bureau of Agricultural Statistics Report, 1997. dustry, the Bureau of Animal Industry, and the
Philippines: Challenges, Opportunities, and Constraints in Agricultural Biotechnology 59
Industrial Technology and Development Institute AFMA recognized biotechnology as a major
are also involved in biotechnology R&D. strategy to increase agricultural productivity.
The type of research undertaken in the Philip- The law states that AFMA will provide a budget
pines from 1980 to 1999 is mainly conventional of 4 percent of the total R&D budget per year
biotechnology, with the exception of a small for biotechnology during the next 7 years. This
amount of work on molecular markers and the allocation provides an annual budget for bio-
development of genetically improved organisms technology of almost US$20 million. Before
(GIOs) with useful traits. The results of a survey AFMA, the annual budget for biotechnology
on the budget spent for biotechnology R&D in the averaged less than US$1 million.
country from 1980 to 1999 are given in Table 2. AFMA operates through National Research,
In 1998, five high level biotechnology research Development and Extension (RDE) network sys-
projects were funded by government: tems of 13 commodities and five disciplines. The
• Transgenic banana and papaya resistant to 13 commodity networks are rice, corn, root crops,
banana bunchy top virus and papaya ringspot coconut, plantation crops, fiber crops, vegetables/
virus, respectively spices, ornamentals, fruit/nuts, capture fisheries,
• Delayed ripening of papaya and mango aquaculture, livestock and poultry, and legumes.
• Bt corn All of these commodities include biotechnology
• Marker-assisted breeding in coconut in their RDE agenda. The five discipline-oriented
• Coconut with high lauric acid content. RDE networks are fishery postharvest and mar-
Almost 80 percent of the total annual budget keting, soil and water resources, agricultural and
for biotechnology R&D comes from the govern- fisheries engineering, postharvest, food and nu-
ment. Fifteen percent comes from international trition, social science and policy, and biotechnol-
development agencies, while the private sector ogy. As a discipline, biotechnology focuses on
contributes approximately 5 percent. The private upstream basic research, which includes work in
sector is expected to provide more funding in molecular biology. The commodity networks fo-
future as they see the potential of biotechnology cus on downstream (application) research.
in agriculture. The main goal of biotechnology R&D under
In 1997, the Agriculture Fisheries Moderniza- AFMA is to harness the potential of this cutting
tion Act (AFMA) became law. The main objec- edge technology to increase productivity of all
tive of AFMA is to modernize agriculture, the commodities in the agriculture and fishery
including infrastructure, facilities, and R&D. sectors. Biotechnology will therefore play a ma-
jor role in the selection and breeding of new vari-
Table 2 Type of biotechnology R&D, number eties of plants and animals. It will also provide
of projects, and percentage of total projects the inputs required such as biofertilizers and
funded from 1980 to 1999 biocontrol of harmful pest and diseases. Biotech-
Type of biotechnology Number of Percent
nology will also be tapped to produce genetically
R&D projects of total improved crops with resistance to harmful pests
and diseases, for accurate diagnosis and control
Biocontrol 55 20.5 of diseases in plants and animals, for bio-
Soil amendments 44 16.5 remediation of the environment, and for biopros-
Food/beverage 43 16.3 pecting. AFMA envisions that the benefits derived
Tissue culture 52 19.5
Feed component 20 7.5
from biotechnology will reach the small farmers
Enzymes 16 6.0 and fishermen.
Diagnostics 7 2.6 The Philippines does not have the critical hu-
Farm waste utilization 4 1.5 man resources required for biotechnology R&D.
Vaccines 3 1.1 As of 1999, there were about 250 scientists quali-
Animal reproduction 3 1.1 fied to do high-level biotechnology R&D. Most
Molecular markers 12 4.6
GMOs 7 2.7
of the researchers are affiliated with universities,
Total 266 100.0 particularly UPLB.
Adequate laboratory facilities and equipment
Source : Survey conducted by UPLB BIOTECH, 1999.55 for upstream biotechnological research exist at a
60 Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor
number of institutions in the Philippines, includ- wide. Protocols are needed to assess risk of GIOs
ing BIOTECH based at UPLB and UP Diliman, and to manage any identified risk factors. The
the Institute of Biological Sciences, Institute of challenge is for the Philippines to develop its ca-
Plant Breeding, and Philippine Rice Research In- pability to undertake risk assessments and man-
stitute. There is a need, however, to upgrade most agement, based on scientific evidence.
of the laboratories in the country.
Regulation of Biotechnology Products
The commercial release of new products must be
Although the country recognizes the tremendous regulated. At present, all regulatory bodies such
potential that can be achieved from biotechnol- as the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), Bureau of
ogy, several challenges need to be met before the Animal Industry (BAI), Fertilizer and Pesticide
goals set can be achieved. Administration (FPA), Bureau of Food and Drugs
Administration (BFAD), and the Environment
Increase Productivity and Management Bureau (EMB) do not have a
policy and guidelines to regulate the commercial
Yields of crops and livestock have been declin- release of new genetically improved products. In
ing, while demands are increasing, because of the addition, the institutional support system, such
rapid increase in population. Conversion of prime as laboratories and infrastructure is not in place.
agricultural lands into other uses has placed tre- The challenge is to create guidelines to regu-
mendous pressure on the agricultural sector to late commercialization of GIOs, the establish-
increase productivity per unit area. Productivity ment of support laboratories and infrastructure,
has been affected by poor soil fertility, the inci- and the training of people for these regulatory
dence of pests and diseases, abiotic stresses such bodies.
as drought caused by El Niño and climatic fac-
tors especially typhoons. The challenge is to use Transfer of Technology/Commercialization
biotechnology to increase productivity and yield
on the farms using minimal inputs. Products of research will not create any measur-
able impact unless they are transferred to end-
Global Competitiveness users and/or commercialized. The challenge is
to transfer products to users, particularly to small
With impending trade liberalization, the country farmers and fishermen. This requires the proper
expects to receive cheap agricultural products packaging of the product to attract private inves-
from other countries, thus widening its balance tors for eventual commercialization.
of trade. In 1997, the value of Philippine exports
was US$25.2 million while imports were valued Trade-Related Issues
at US$35.9 million giving a negative trade bal-
ance of US$10.7 million. The challenge is to use Transgenic crops and other GIO products may
biotechnology to produce local products that are become trade-related issues in the future because
highly competitive with those from foreign of trade liberalization. It is expected that new
sources, thereby promoting exports of quality genetically improved crops will be imported into
products while reducing imports. the Philippines. The challenge is to create public
awareness of the benefits and risks of any new
Biosafety and Risk Assessment product and assist acceptance of new technolo-
gies by consumers, where these are beneficial.
The Philippines is sensitive to the issue of
biosafety. We have one of the strictest biosafety Intellectual Property Protection
guidelines in the world to undertake R&D and
for field testing. The challenge is to improve and Because the process, products, and genetic mate-
better implement the current biosafety guidelines, rials used in biotechnology R&D have proprietary
taking advantage of knowledge generated world- considerations, issues of intellectual property
Philippines: Challenges, Opportunities, and Constraints in Agricultural Biotechnology 61
protection by patents and plant variety protec- vaccines for foot and mouth disease and hemor-
tion (PVP) will arise. The present Intellectual rhagic septicemia, for diagnostics, and in vitro
Property Code of the Philippines allows the pat- fertilization.
enting of microorganisms, but not plants and
animals. Plant varieties will be protected by sui Microbial Products
generis mechanism if the PVP bill is passed by
both houses of Congress. The challenge is for the Opportunities are available for the use of micro-
country to strengthen its IPR laws to provide pro- organisms for biofertilizers, biopesticides, and
tection to researchers, discoverers, and investors. bioremediation of the environment.
Opportunities for Biotechnology Bioprospecting
Although the Philippines is lagging behind the The Philippines is blessed with rich genetic re-
industrial countries and its ASEAN neighbors in sources waiting to be tapped for food, fiber, en-
terms of R&D in biotechnology, many windows zymes, and drugs. New beneficial genes are
of opportunities are open. expected to be discovered in the highly diverse
species of plants, animals, microorganisms, and
Increased Yield of Plants marine organisms. The challenge is to save and
use judiciously the rich biodiversity of the coun-
Biotechnology provides the opportunity for re- try which make it one of the hotspots of biological
searchers to improve plant growth, development, diversity in the world.
and yield by providing for the basic needs of the The rich biodiversity of the country offers
plant such as biofertilizers and biocontrol agents. many opportunities in the search for novel genes
and gene products. The Philippines has in place
Genetically Improved Plants a law governing access of genetic resources by
foreign and local bioprospectors. This law is de-
The country recognizes the tremendous poten- signed to protect both the bioresource and the
tial of improved crop plants containing genes that bioprospectors.
provide pesticidal properties, resistance to her-
bicides, tolerance to pests, disease, and stress (salt, Introduction of Foreign Technologies
heavy metals, and drought), or combinations of
these properties. Such improved plants are ex- Because of the importance given to R&D in bio-
pected to reduce considerably production costs technology under AFMA, introduction of foreign
such as inputs of fertilizers and pesticides. Once technologies, including genes that offer unique
the issues of biosafety regulations and intellec- advantages, may have great potential for the
tual property have been settled, the country will country. For example, the sugar industry had
be open to use such new plant technologies that been declining because of competition with high
are now limited to only a few countries. fructose syrup and other sugar substitutes. There
are opportunities to use sugarcane, a highly effi-
Marker Technologies cient plant to produce high-value products such
as oral vaccines, biodegradable plastics, and other
These technologies may help speed up the selec- products.
tion and production of more effective hybrids.
Most breeding work in the country is now using Joint R&D Collaboration
this technology, specifically in rice, corn, banana,
and coconut. Collaboration between Philippine and overseas
researchers is one opportunity that is now well
Livestock in place. Many researchers actively collaborate
with researchers from Australia, Canada, USA,
Tremendous opportunities are available for live- Japan, South Korea, and countries of the Euro-
stock biotechnology, including the production of pean Union.
62 Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor
Constraints products. This is a major constraint because any
potentially useful new product cannot be com-
Although the R&D opportunities are evident, mercialized after the field trials.
there are some additional constraints that need
to be addressed. How CGIAR Centers Can Help
Difficulty in Accessing New Technologies The CGIAR centers can play a larger role in as-
sisting national centers develop their R&D capa-
Development of the local biotechnology indus- bilities in biotechnology. Some activities that
try has been hampered because of the inability of CGIAR centers can undertake include:
researchers to access state-of-the-art technologies.
Researchers are therefore repeating work done Germplasm Exchange
elsewhere rather than being able to adopt cur-
rent technologies. Most CGIAR centers hold extensive collections
of germplasm, the starting point for selection,
Antibiotechnology Groups breeding, and genetic manipulation. The centers
are in a position to share or exchange this
Some NGOs and individuals in academe and germplasm with local researchers or institutes.
government services do not support biotechnol-
ogy. These groups are well organized and well Joint Collaborative R&D
funded, and are highly successful in promoting
anti-biotechnology sentiments in the country. Centers should encourage more joint collabora-
They are also instrumental in convincing legisla- tive research with local institutes and share their
tors to enact resolutions imposing moratoria on financial and human resources and infrastructure
research and commercialization of GIOs. While with less well-endowed local research institutes.
they focus on GIO products produced and Centers are also in a position to assist through
brought into the country by multinational com- training, workshops, and scholarships, human
panies, they also affect the R&D of local re- resources development.
Centers should help countries develop their
The present set of biosafety guidelines is one of
biosafety protocols and competence in risk assess-
the strictest in the world. The guidelines were
ment and management of biotechnology prod-
originally patterned after those first used in the
ucts. Centers may also be able to assist countries
United States, Australia, and Japan during the
in developing regulatory mechanisms and insti-
early 1980s. Since then, all these countries have
tutional capabilities for the commercialization of
relaxed most of their guidelines as a result of new
technical data and familiarity in dealing with new
products. However, the Philippines did not relax
its guidelines. Advocacy
Commercial Release CGIAR Centers should be more proactive in pro-
moting popular awareness and acceptance of the
New genetically improved products cannot be products of modern biotechnology.
commercialized in the country because the regu-
latory bodies cannot issue the required permits Conclusion
or licenses. The regulations allow only limited
field trials of genetically improved organisms. Researchers, policymakers, industry people, and
The regulatory bodies lack the proper guidelines the CGIAR system must address the challenges,
and institutional support to regulate the new opportunities, and constraints that face R&D in
Philippines: Challenges, Opportunities, and Constraints in Agricultural Biotechnology 63
biotechnology at this critical time of increasing centers at a country level, with harmonized ac-
population, globalization, trade liberalization, tivities at internatiobnal, regional and country
concerns with biosafety, regulation, and intellec- levels.
tual property. All countries share these same chal- For developing countries, the small farmers
lenges, opportunities, and constraints although and fisherfolks should be the main beneficiaries
at different levels. of biotechnology R&D. Biotechnology will only
The above challenges, opportunities, and prosper if the private sector actively participates
constraints can be addressed by CGIAR centers in the R&D aspect as well as in the commercial-
at the international level and by national R&D ization stage.