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Passionate About Macapuno

IF THERE IS SOMEBODY who is most passionate about developing the makapuno industry in the Philippines, it is lady scientist Erlinda Rillo, a recent retiree from the Philippine Coconut Authority research station in Guinobatan, Albay. Even after retirement she is actively pursuing her passion, particularly the propagation of makapuno planting materials that produce 100 percent makapuno fruits.

Propagation of the coconut that bears 100 percent makapuno was discovered by the late Dr. Emerita de Guzman of Los Baños in the early 1960s. Normally, the makapuno nut will not germinate but by nursing the embryo in a nutrient solution, Dr. de Guzman was able to germinate and grow the makapuno embryo which produced all-makapuno nuts. A considerable number of makapuno seedlings were produced during the time of Dr. de Guzman and a few years later but it could not be said that the technology was really commercialized.

It is Erlinda Rillo who has been passionate enough to promote the commercialization of makapuno in more recent years, improving the technique of propagation in the process.

Her interest started in 1989 after attending a coconut convention in Bangkok, Thailand. At that time she saw the many makapuno nuts from the Makapuno Island in Kanjanaburi being sold in Bangkok. The trees were propagated by the Bangkok Orchid Center using makapuno embryos from the Philippines, air-freighted to Bangkok by a Thai student in Los Baños who bought the embryos from a makapuno factory in Alaminos, Laguna. This particular information was given to us by Dr. Uthai Chanarasri, the scientist responsible for growing the embryos that came from the Philippines.

Since that trip to Thailand, it became a personal challenge for Linda to do something positive about makapuno. After all, she had trained on coconut tissue culture in England in 1984. She had also trained on tissue culture at the Colorado State University in the United States.

After her trainings on tissue culture, she had tried to ask her superiors at the PCA for her to have a research project on the propagation of 100-percent makapuno planting materials. She was routinely told, however, that there was no fund available. Makapuno production, she was told, was not a priority.

Meanwhile, her professor at the tissue culture institute in England had earlier urged her to make a proposal to GTZ, the German agency for technical cooperation, for a grant to finance a coconut tissue culture laboratory. She reluctantly made the proposal in 1986, not really expecting much to happen. In fact, she had forgotten all about it when in 1989 a private consultant of the German agency arrived in Guinobatan. He asked her what she intended to do if the GTZ would approve her proposal. Still, she was not sure that anything would materialize.

Before long, however, she was advised that the GTZ grant was approved for putting up a modern tissue culture laboratory, perhaps more sophisticated than any other such laboratory in the country. She would be spearheading the Philippine-German Coconut Tissue Culture Project, not necessarily for the production of makapuno planting materials. The project ran from 1990 to 1998 under which she trained her staff on tissue culture techniques. She has shown that coconut can be cloned using immature flowers of the ordinary variety.

Meanwhile, her desire to do something about the makapuno was always in her mind despite the fact that her superiors had routinely told her that no funds were available for that purpose. Then came STAND or Science and Technology Agenda for National Development of the Department of Science and Technology which provided a big break for her. DOST’s Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) funded a three-phased project titled "Makapuno Comprehensive Technology Development and Commercialization Program."

Of course, even before that project, she had already done her own experiments on culturing makapuno embryo. She had found that with the use of a nutrient developed at the University of London, she could propagate the 100-percent makapuno planting materials faster.

In the beginning, her pace in producing planting materials was rather slow due to limited number of embryos available. Within a few years, though, she was able to produce enough materials for an investor from Pilar, Sorsogon, to plant 10 hectares. That eventually became the main source of embryos that she cultured in the laboratory.

Soon she was able to produce more and more planting materials. In fact, one investor from Masbate made an initial purchase of 2,000 seedlings to be followed by another 2,000.

Meanwhile, because planting materials could not be shipped outside Bicol due to the cadang-cadang disease, she helped government institutions as well as private investors to set up their own laboratories and also trained their personnel on the fine points of germinating makapuno embryos in the laboratory. Such laboratories include those in Leyte, Davao City, Zamboanga, Cavite State University in Indang and in Sta. Barbara, Pangasinan. Dr. Lita Ago of Legazpi City and PhilHybrid, Inc. in Los Baños are the private entities she assisted in putting up their own laboratories.

PhilHybrid is now producing a lot of planting materials. From its makapuno farm in Batangas, it is harvesting 2,000 makapuno nuts a month, its source of embryos for propagation. Ready-to-plant seedlings are being sold at R650 a piece.

Meanwhile, Linda continues to pursue her crusade. A local government unit in Bohol is now consulting her on how to put up a laboratory for makapuno propagation. There are also other frontiers that could be tackled like producing dwarf makapuno hybrids and crossing makapuno with the sweet coconut.

(source:http:/ /www.panorama.com.ph/news.php? aid=1408)

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