Seaweeds as potential plant growth stimulator

The National Crop Protection Center – University of the Philippines Los Banos (NCPC-UPLB) is currently conducting a three-year project study on the effectiveness of red seaweeds as inducer of growth in plant and resistance to pests.

In partnership with the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD), the study titled “Biological Efficacy Evaluation Radiation-Modified Carrageenan and Chitosan as Inducers of Resistance against Major Pest and Diseases in Rice” is headed by Dr. Gil Magsino, a researcher from NCPC-UPLB.

The study is under the program of PCAARRD, “Plant Bio-Stimulants and Elicitor from Radiation-Modified Natural Polymers” which is divided into three projects. The first project is the one being managed by NCPC and the other two are: Evaluation of the Effects of Radiation-Modified Carrageenan and Chitosan on the Growth and Yield of Mungbean (Vigna radiate) and Peanut (Arachis hypogea), headed by Dr. Lucille V. Abad, a chemist from the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute; and Elucidation of Growth Promotion Mechanisms of Radiation-Modified Carrageenan and Chitosan on Rice, headed by Dr. Constancio A. Asis, Jr. of Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice).

The program was officially started on May 15 but the start of the actual research work for the project is mid-August this year. Planting of rice crops to be used for the experiments should be synchronized to the actual planting season of farmers in order to get accurate and corresponding results from real-life set-up. Two weeks will be allotted for land preparation, but there is no definite day of planting yet since other factors like weather condition should be taken into consideration.

The constant rain and storm threats delay the process, due to the plant’s sensitivity to excessive moisture. Strong wind may also destroy the seedlings when planted without proper planning.

The proposal to do the study was passed in year 2010 but only got its approval recently this year. It was presented to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) but it was PCCAARD that approved the idea.

According to Maureen de Roxas, a Research Assistant under Dr. Magsino, the idea of doing a research study on the effects of seaweeds to agricultural plants was introduced to them by Dr. Abad.  The lack of sufficient knowledge about entomology and plant pathology brought Dr. Abad to seek for partnership with Dr. Magsino. “It was the concern for plants’ health that influenced Dr. Magsino to accept the offer,” said de Roxas.

Studies on the effects of seaweeds in the growth of plants were already done in other countries like America. Results of study conducted in Washington States in 2011 suggest that seaweed extract applications can reduce pest mite population.

Another study in Vermont in 2009 and 2010 showed that seaweed extracts reduce fruit damage of some fruit varieties. According to Majelia Magallona, University Extension Specialist, also a member of Dr. Magsino’s team, Dr. Magsino learned that Malaysia has been mass producing seaweeds to be used as plant fertilizers. However, when asked about the basis of their practice, there was no research presented. According to them, they just saw the improvements to their crops that is why they adopted it.

Even though the use of seaweed extracts as plant growth stimulator in agriculture has been known in some countries, it is not yet introduced here in the Philippines. The main concern of the study is to be able to publish a research that will prove the effectiveness of the technology.

The project will be utilizing Euchuma or red seaweeds which contain three types of carrageenan namely: Iota, Kappa and Lambda. The focus of the study will be the effect of these carrageenan in plant vigor. High plant vigor means high resistance of plants against pests and diseases. When plants have high vigor, the input of pesticides and other harmful substances will be lessened, thus stimulating a healthier and natural growth in plant.

PCCAARD allotted 3.4 million for the three-year project and PNRI has the source of seaweeds which they will be supplying to the project sites.

When asked about the possible benefits of the study, de Roxas said “If it will be proven effective, the benefit will be healthier farmland due to less input of chemicals… and if it’s cheaper, it will benefit the farmers.” (Caress L. Tolentino)

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