Pinoy breeds new, drought-resistant corn

But a scientific breakthrough practically made that history after local farmers here witnessed for themselves how a new corn variety developed by a local biotechnology company was able to survive a drought for 29 straight days. 

"It's both a miracle and a genetic breakthrough. It's just timely to have this new weapon when our worst fears about global warming are unfolding before us," said plant scientist Dr. Antonio Mercado. 

Mercado, a University of Philippines Los Banos (UPLB)-trained plant breeder, spent almost five decades collecting various corn varieties available in the planet on his quest of a perfect genetic base for his pet project. 

After 10 years of continuous research, Mercado finally cracked the right genetic make-up for probably the first drought-resistant corn variety in the world. Mercado's own biotechnology firm ACM genetics eventually launched Gloria I Socialized Hybrid Corn Seed, which has been dubbed as "the answer" to the worsening effects of global warming in the country. 

Mercado personally named the new corn variety "Gloria" in honor of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. 

Despite lacking enough financial backup and working by himself, Mercado still managed to launch his project a decade ago at his farm in barangay Reyes here. He squeezed his own savings in order to put up his own corn gene bank and a small research station. 

Mercado said he started his research by studying the genetic traits of some of the corn genes that he had collected from his travels to various parts of the world. He eventually developed Gloria variety out of a broad genetic base, primarily from corn varieties in Mexico, Thailand and UPLB. 

"Its parent gene is from diverse origins and I carefully selected them out of the traits that are needed for a heat-tolerant variety," he said. 

Mercado said he has tested the Gloria variety in Bukidnon, Wao in Lanao del Sur, North Cotabato, Sarangani and Isabela and the results turned out favorable. 

"It's tested and proven to thrive in both wet and dry seasons in any part of the country," he said. 

Early this year, ACM Genetics started the commercial distribution of the product at a price much lower to other branded hybrid varieties. A bag of the Gloria corn variety, which is just enough for a hectare of farmland, has approximately 65,000 seeds and costs at least P1,700 only. 

Owing to Mercado's successful research, the local government has invested on establishing its own gene bank in a bid to develop more hybrid corn varieties in the future. 

The investment is in line with the efforts of Banga Mayor Isidro Janita to develop this once sleepy municipality into a "corn-based agri-industrial center in the south" and eventually the country's corncapital. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)