Agricultural Biotechnology in the Philippines9

In 1997, the combined area devoted to agriculture in the Philippines was 10.3 million hectares (ha), with coconut being the most widely planted crop (4 million ha), followed by rice (3.5 million ha), maize (1.2 million ha), banana (200,000 ha), pineapple (40,000 ha) and others (Bureau of Agricultural Statistics Report, 1997). The country is a major producer of coconut, sugarcane, banana, and pineapple. The export value of sugarcane and coffee has declined considerably in recent years.

More than 70 percent of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. Most of the land is owned by small-scale farmers. Increases in population have placed tremendous pressure on agricultural lands. Prime agricultural lands are being converted to resettlement areas and to industrial use.

The Philippines started its biotechnology programs in 1980 with the creation of the National Institutes of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BIOTECH) at the University of the Philippines at Los BaƱos (UPLB). In 1995, three other biotechnology institutes were established within the University of the Philippines (UP) System. They are located in the UP Diliman campus for industrial biotechnology, UP Manila for human health biotechnology, and UP Visayas for marine biotechnology.

BIOTECH continues to provide leadership in agricultural, forestry, industrial, and environmental biotechnology. Other research institutes at UPLB are also doing biotechnology research. Among these are the Institute of Plant Breeding, Institute of Biological Sciences, Institute of Animal Sciences, Institute of Food Science and Technology, and the College of Forestry and Natural Resources. Outside UPLB, other research institutes and centers such as the Philippine Rice Research Institute, Philippine Coconut Authority, Cotton Research and Development Institute, Bureau of Plant Industry, Bureau of Animal Industry, and the Industrial Technology and Development Institute are also involved in biotechnology research and development (R&D).

The type of research undertaken in the Philippines from 1980 to 1999 was mainly conventional biotechnology, with the exception of a

small amount of work on molecular markers and the development of genetically improved organisms (GIOs) with useful traits (Table A8.1).

In 1998, five high-level biotechnology research projects were funded by the government:

(i) Transgenic banana resistant to banana bunchy top virus and papaya resistant to papaya ringspot virus.

(ii) Delayed ripening of papaya and mango.

(iii) Bacillus thuringiensis maize.

(iv) Marker-assisted breeding in coconut.

(v) Coconut with high lauric acid content.

About 80 percent of the total annual budget for biotechnology R&D comes from the Government, 15 percent from international development agencies, and 5 percent from the private sector. The private sector is expected to provide more funding in the future as companies see the potential of biotechnology in agriculture.

Table A8.1: Philippine Biotechnology Projects Funded from 1980 to 1999

Type of R&D

Projects (no.)

Percent of total




Soil amendments






Tissue culture



Feed component









Farm waste






Animal reproduction



Molecular markers









GIO = genetically improved organism.

Source: Survey conducted by UPLB BIOTECH, 1999.

GIO = genetically improved organism.

Source: Survey conducted by UPLB BIOTECH, 1999.

In 1997, the Agriculture Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) became law. The main objective of AFMA is to modernize agriculture including infrastructure, facilities, and R&D. AFMA recognizes biotechnology as a major strategy to increase agricultural productivity. The law states that AFMA will provide 4 percent of the total R&D budget per year for biotechnology during the next 7 years. This allocation provides an annual budget for biotechnology of almost $20 million. Before AFMA, the annual budget averaged less than $1 million.

AFMA operates through National Research, Development and Extension (RDE) networks of 13 commodities and 5 disciplines. The 13 commodity networks are rice, maize , root crops, coconut, plantation crops, fiber crops, vegetables/spices, ornamentals, fruit/nuts, capture fisheries/aquaculture, livestock, poultry, and legumes. All of these commodities include biotechnology in their RDE agenda. The five discipline-oriented RDE networks are (i) fishery postharvest and marketing; (ii) soil and water resources; (iii) agricultural and fisheries engineering; (iv) postharvest food and nutrition, social science, and policy; and (v) biotechnology. Biotechnology focuses on upstream (basic) research, which includes work in molecular biology. The commodity networks focus on downstream (applied) research.

The main goal of biotechnology R&D under AFMA is to harness the potential of this cutting-edge technology to increase productivity of all the commodities in the agriculture and fishery sectors. Biotechnology will therefore play a major role in the selection and breeding of new varieties of plants and animals. It will also provide the inputs required such as biofertilizers and biocontrol of pests and diseases. Biotechnology will also be used to produce genetically improved crops with insect- and disease resistance, for accurate diagnosis and control of diseases in plants and animals, for bioremediation of the environment, and for bioprospecting. The benefits derived are intended for the small farmers and fishermen.

The Philippines does not have adequate human resources required for biotechnology R&D. As of 1999, there were only about 250 scientists qualified to do high-level biotechnology R&D. Most of the researchers are affiliated with universities, particularly UPLB.

Adequate laboratory facilities and equipment for upstream biotech-nological research exist at a number of institutions in the Philippines including UPLB BIOTECH and UP Diliman, Institute of Biological Sciences, Institute of Plant Breeding, and Philippine Rice Research Institute. There is a need, however, to upgrade most of the laboratories in the country.

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