MANILA, Philippines—For those in urban areas and in many parts of the Philippines, corn may not compare to rice as the food of choice. But the Department of Agriculture (DA) said urbanites should not turn up their noses on the grain because of its health benefits and its potential to help the country attain food security.
The DA said on Sunday it has stepped up the production of low-glycemic white corn seedlings to encourage more Filipinos to include it in their diet to ease the demand on rice, the country’s main staple.
According to the DA, it will provide P7 million yearly in the next five years to the Institute of Plant Breeding-University of the Philippines in Los Baños (IPB-UPLB) to produce white corn seedlings.
The IPB, which has received a total of P40 million from the DA in the past, has been propagating the high-yielding corn variety called IPB Var 6.
IPB Var 6 gives a yield that is nearly comparable to commercial white corn hybrid. Based on the national corn testing, the yield of IPB Var 6 in Luzon was at an average of 5.84 metric tons (MT) per hectare; 5.45 MT per hectare in the Visayas; and 4.47 MT per hectare in Mindanao.
The DA has been promoting white corn as an alternative or extender to rice. According to the DA, Filipinos’ rice consumption has been increasing significantly over the years. Data from the agency said Filipinos have each been consuming about 120 kilos of rice annually.
Since the country cannot produce rice enough for national consumption, the government has been importing rice from abroad to fill in buffer stocks and keep prices stable.
This year, the country imported about 860,000 metric tons of rice to ensure food security. Some 200,000 metric tons of it was imported by the National Food Authority from Vietnam at about P4 billion. The rest was brought in by the private sector.
According to DA, only about 20 percent of Filipinos in the Visayas and Mindanao eat white corn as main staple. Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who has called on Filipinos to mix corn and rice, and other agriculture officials said this number should rise as white corn would be more beneficial than rice.
“Ultimately, this will lessen demand for rice. Just by increasing demand for corn, and we can definitely grow it productively and cheaply, we would no longer have to import rice. This is actually a part of the DA plan,” said Dr. Artemio M. Salazar, UPLB-IPB deputy director and National Corn RDE (Research, Development, and Extension) Network head.
Salazar said those in urban areas should think about including white corn in their diet.
Unlike rice, white corn has low glycemic index (GI). Low GI makes white corn slower to digest thereby releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream, thus lessening the risk of diabetes.
“Later on we’ll turn this over to the private sector because there is a big demand for it since many Filipinos are now diabetics. And this is the perfect food for diabetics,” said Salazar. Diabetes is now a top degenerative disease and a major cause of death in the Philippines.
Aside from giving consumers the health benefits, white corn will impact significantly in reducing hunger and malnutrition in the uplands. Corn, unlike rice, is also easier to grow and less capital-intensive.
“You don’t need capital-intensive irrigation facilities because corn grows whereever there is rain. The only other thing we have to provide them is the corn mill,” he added.
Salazar said the UPLB has developed a mini-corn mill that is cheaper than the high-capacity machines available in the market.
The mill would be perfect for barrios, he said, as it could process 100 kilos of corn grains per hour. At such capacity, a continuous eight-hour milling produces enough food for more than 1,000 people, assuming 300 grams of consumption per day, Salazar said.