The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is tapping the use of embryo culture to conserve and eventually raise production of a coconut variety which has a great potential to be a source of xylose, an anti-diabetic wood sugar that has high market value.
The use of embryo culture in increasing chances of propagating the Tutupaen tall coconut is being initiated by PCA’s Zamboanga Research Center (ZRC).
“Coconut is difficult to conserve because of its large and recalcitrant seeds. Dissemination of seednuts also carries the risk of transmitting pathogens and pests. But embryo culture is now enabling us to overcome these difficulties,” said PCA Administrator Euclides G. Forbes.
The Tutupaen tall variety, known to be native to Ilocos, is seen to have a great commercial potential since its thick shell is a source of xylose, a type of sugar isolated from wood. It is associated with the production of xylitol, a sugar alcohol sweetener used as an anti-diabetic, naturally-occurring sugar substitute.
“The coconut shell is one of the best sources of xylose (wood sugar). A 2B company owned by Korean and Japanese investors are now mass producing xylose in Davao using coconut shell. We expect the Tutupaen tall variety's distinct thick shell could provide higher volume of xylose than the normal coconut varieties,” said PCA-ZRC Officer-in-Charge Ramon L. Rivera.
The conservation of Tutupaen tall coconut is part of PCA’s aim to add value to the local coconut, much as how it is also using embryo culture to produce more makapuno seedlings.
“The focus now is on high value and emerging products. Makapuno meat has now been recognized as the best source for galactomannan, protein and VCO. EC technology is the only protocol that best suits the mass production of Makapuno,” said Rivera.
Embryo culture technique is also being used to promote germplasm exchange between the Philippines and other coconut-producing countries.
“EC technology addresses more the conservation and exchange of coconut germplasm. We are now embarking on collecting Neu Afa variety from Solomon Islands and other Pacific Islands for coconut husks,” he said.
PCA-ZRC’s research and development work called “Application of Coconut Embryo Culture Technique in the Field Collecting, Movement and Culture of Tutupaen Tall Variety for Ex Situ Conservation” has just made it as a finalist at the Bureau of Agricultural Research’s (BAR) National Research Symposium.
In its partnership with BAR, it also has a project called “Establishment of Core Collection of Tall Coconut Varieties using Microsatellite Marker Technology.” BAR funded this for P3 million.
PCA-ZRC is further proposing for an extended partnership with BAR on the identification of other coconut varieties that are suitable for various commercial uses. These commercial varieties must include those for highly in-demand coconut products such as virgin coconut oil and coconut sugar that have higher value added.
“Developing superior coconut varieties for value adding will contribute significantly to raising income of coconut farmers which are among our poorest farmers,” said BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar.
Coconut is one of Philippines’ biggest agricultural export earners bringing around $1 billion in foreign exchange earnings yearly.
Rivera said the ZRC’s research and development (R&D) work on embryo culture, funded by Bioversity International, has already led to government’s international exchange program with three countries. These are Ivory Coast in West Africa, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka.
This collaboration on germplasm sharing has enabled Philippines to obtain a drought-resistant coconut variety from Africa. This variety can last months of severe drought or lack of water or rainfall.
This drought-resistance trait will be of critical importance to the country’s coconut supply specially in light of the threats of climate change. But it will take time before this variety may become available commercially.
“The normal coconut cycle is four-five years. Selection may require another five years (using DNA markers). So, we need at least 10 years (to make this commercially available),” he said.
Over the long term, PCA aims to double Philippines’ coconut production from the two million metric ton (MT) level to four million MT level. Its R&D institutions like the ZRC are working on an accreditation process where coconut plantations may be recognized as sources of good coconut planting materials that may produce high-yielding coconut varieties.
“Planting materials will come from PCA-managed seed gardens and seed production sites. The greater portion of the seednuts-seedlings will come from accredited or registered coconut plantations in coconut growing regions,” he said.
Yield at present is just at 600 to 700 kilos per hectare. But PCA has recommended hybrids or cultivars developed in ZRC that can yield four to six MT per hectare. Melody Aguiba/Mr. Ramon L. Rivera, Bureau of Agricultural Research of the Philippines