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DA pushes corn as healthier alternative to rice

FOR MANY Filipinos, corn is rice’s lowly cousin. But the Department of Agriculture (DA) says Filipinos should not degrade the grain because it has health benefits and could be the ticket to the country attaining food security.

The DA revealed on Sunday that it had stepped up production of low-glycemic white corn seedlings to provide an alternative or extender to rice which is most Filipinos’ staple food.

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The DA will provide P7 million annually for the next five years to the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB) to produce the seedlings.

The IPB has been propagating the corn variety called IPB Var 6 which gives a yield that is comparable to the commercial white corn hybrid.

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Based on national tests, the IPB Var 6 yield in Luzon was an average 5.84 metric tons (MT) per hectare; in the Visayas 5.45 MT/ha, and in Mindanao 4.47 MT/ha.

According to the DA, rice consumption has been increasing significantly over the years. Agency data showed Filipinos consume about 120 kilos of rice annually.

Because the country does not produce enough rice for national consumption, the government has had to import the grain to have a buffer stock and to keep prices stable.

This year, the country imported about 860,000 MT of rice, 200,000 MT of which was bought by the National Food Authority from Vietnam at a cost of about P4 billion, while the rest was brought in by the private sector.

According to the DA, rice is not popular in urban areas. It noted that in the Visayas and Mindanao about 20 percent of the population ate white corn as a staple.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who has called on Filipinos to eat a mixture of rice and corn, and other agriculture officials said the number of corn eaters should rise as more people learn that the grain is more beneficial than rice. Rice turns into sugar in the body.

“Ultimately this will lessen the demand for rice. By increasing the 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, IPB deputy director and National Corn RDE (Research, Development and Extension) Network head.

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Unlike rice, white corn has a low glycemic index (GI) which slows its digestion, thereby releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream and lessening the risk of diabetes.

“Later we’ll turn this over to the private sector where there is a big demand for it because many Filipinos are now diabetics. And this is the perfect food for diabetics,” said Salazar.

Aside from its health benefits, white corn is easier to grow and less capital intensive than rice and thus could help reduce hunger and malnutrition in the country.

“You don’t need capital-intensive irrigation facilities because corn grows wherever there is rain. The only other thing we have to provide is the corn mill,” he said.

Salazar said UPLB has developed a mini-corn mill that is cheaper than the high-capacity machines available in the market.

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TAGS: Agriculture, corn, Department of Agriculture, Diabetes, Food, Grains, Irrigation, Rice production
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