A sea plant nurturing the growth of another plant, is it possible?

Yes, indeed. Scientists from the National Crop Protection Center at the University of the Philippines Los Banos conducted a thorough research on the ordinary seaweed or carrageenan and employed innovative technology and the result was simply amazing --- boosting rice yield by more than 65%.

This project by our own Filipino scientists was funded by the Philippine Council for Agriculture Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

“The DOST invests in research and development in agriculture that leads to ensuring food security. Not only do we find ways and means to increase farm yields and make crops pest- resistant but we also use science and technology to benefit the common ‘tao’, to put food on the table of Mang Juan and Aling Maria,” said DOST Secretary Mario G. Montejo. 

Carrageenan is an indigestible carbohydrate (polysaccharide) extracted from edible seaweeds. To those unfamiliar with its many uses, seaweed is commonly used as thickener or stabilizer by the food industry and also used as a binding agent for domestic products such as toothpaste and shampoo and are found in selectedpharmaceutical products.

Some studies showed that when polysaccharide or carbohydrate is degraded or reduced to tiny sizes by a safe technology process called irradiation, it can be an effective growth promoter and makes rice resistant to major pests. In fact, at very small doses, it is an effective organic fertilizer.

Carrageenan as a growth enhancer offers an array of benefits that result in improved productivity. Used properly as prescribed, it makes the rice stem stronger thus improving rice resistance to lodging. It also promotes resistance to rice ‘tungro’ virus and bacterial leaf blight therefore giving farmers increased harvest.

What is good in this seaweed additive is that it is compatible with the traditional practice on fertilizer application, thereby allowing easy acceptance and less resistance from farmers. It also promotes sustainable agriculture since it is environment-friendly and enhances the presence of natural enemies that fight major pests in rice fields. Lastly, it promotes more efficient absorption of plant nutrients that enables improved growth.

In a field trial conducted in Bulacan by the research team using carrageenan, rice yield was significantly increased by 63.6 – 65.4%.This treatment provided higher grain weight (of 450 grams and 455 grams, respectively) compared to traditional farmers’ practice of applying nine (9) bags of fertilizer per hectare that yielded only 275 grams.  Application of six bags of fertilizer per hectareplus 200 ppm (or 20 milliliters) of carrageenan is more or less comparable with the application of justthree bags of fertilizer per hectare with the same mixture.

“This innovation of applying seaweed as fertilizer empowers our farmers to have access to cheaper but highly effective plant growth enhancers that boils down to improved harvest and increased income, and this is the essence of what DOST is doing” concluded Montejo.

The Incredible Rice. Standing rice in abundance in Carrageenan-treated field (Left) vs. Lodged rice using farmer’s traditional practice (Right) in an experimental rice field inPulilan, Bulacan (Photo from UPLB).

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