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Fungus is key to UPLB’s ambitious greening plan

MANILA, Philippines—They may be invisible to the eye, but the microscopic fungi spores used by the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) as organic fertilizer have the strength to keep alive millions of trees.

A fungus-based fertilizer called Mykovam, which was developed by UPLB scientists, is the secret ingredient of the government’s ambitious six-year greening program that aims to resurrect eight million hectares of denuded forests, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said.

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“We will use science for the seeds and seedlings to survive,” Paje said in his speech at the launch of the program last week. “This is not for show, this is for grow,” he added.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said there were approximately eight million hectares of forest land that were unproductive, open, denuded or degraded.

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If the current reforestation average of 30,000 ha per year is not accelerated, it would take 280 years to rehabilitate the eight million hectares,” Paje said. Past greening programs failed because the government did not tend to the trees, he added.

So Mykovam will help in fast-tracking the rehabilitation of Philippine forests and ensure that seedlings would take root and grow, he said.

According to Paje, Mykovam triples the root surface and aids in the survival of seedlings against the elements and infections.

In a statement, UPLB Chancellor Luis Rey Velasco said the microbial fertilizer “will solve the problem of the low survival of trees.” The government, he noted, has begun the mass production of planting materials to enable impoverished upland communities to become more responsible environmental stewards.”

According to the UPLB’s biotechnology website, Mykovam contains a species of fungi called vesicular arbuscular mycorrhiza (VAM) which infects the roots and increases the plant’s absorption of water and nutrients.

“The fungi can also prevent root infection by pathogens and increase plant tolerance to drought and heavy metals,” the website said. A kilo of the biofertilizer will sustain 400 seedlings, it added.

Mykovam is also environment-friendly. The university said it replaces about 60-85 percent of the plants’ chemical fertilizer requirement and improves soil properties and fertility.

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Aside from providing organic fertilizer, Velasco said the university would provide DENR seedlings of indigenous trees for reforestation.

Among the tree species UPLB is propagating with the use of biofertilizers are penus, dipterocarps, alnus, casuaria, acacia and eucalyptus, Velasco said.

Research projects are being undertaken as well to improve indigenous Philippine species of teak, molave and narra using the best possible scientific techniques, he added.

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TAGS: DENR, fungi, greening program, organic fertilizer, Secretary Ramon Paje, University of the Philippines (UP)
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