Hi-quality camote developed by PhilRootcrops extensively grown in Bicol

March 8, 2010 11:57 pm 

SORSOGON CITY, March 8 – A significant hybrid of sweet potato locally known as camote propagated by the Philippine Root Crop Research and Training Center (PhilRootcrops) is now being extensively grown in Bicol because of its nutritional and calamity-resistance properties.

Called NSIC SP25 or the LSU Purple, this variety is rich in antioxidants because of its marbled purple flesh produced by anthocyanin, a water-soluble pigment that produces blue, violet and red colors in plants.

All varieties of sweet potato being grown in most parts of the country, mostly in the Bicol and Visayas regions are important crops that serve as supplement to rice when the cereal is in short supply. Some families in rural areas cook rice with pared sliced camote.

However, according to Dr. Julieta Roa, head of the PhilRootcrops based at the Visayas State University (VSU) in Baybay, Leyte, LSU Purple is more significant because it contains the highest dry matter of 36 percent, hence it is very tasty when boiled.

It is sweet as it has the highest sugar content of 4.07 percent compared to most varieties which only have two to three percent, Roa said in a statement circulated here by the office of Sorsogon provincial Vice Governor Renato Laurinaria.

The vice governor, himself a farmer is advocating in the province more involvement of local farmers in production of high-value indigenous crops that are less sensitive to abnormal weather conditions brought about by the prevailing climate change because of their importance as cash crops and food.

“We should adopt the latest technology being introduced by experts in rediscovering the importance of these indigenous crops that are available all around in farms, backyards and even in the wild for more profits and foods for every family,” Laurinaria said.

Like for example the lowly camote in which the PhilRootcrops has gone a long way in improving the productivity as well as its taste and qualities, “every farmer in the locality can easily produce food and reap profit from it when gven ample attention,” he added.

Farmers in the province, particularly in his hometown in Castilla, a key producer of rootcrops used to harvest an average of eight tons camote per hectare from their favorite varieties but today, the yield has increased to an average of 12 to 15 tons per hectare using the purple variety, the vice-governor said.

What is good about sweet potato, according to Roa in the statement is that it freely bears flowers so that it is easy for the plant breeders to cross different strains to produce hybrids. The plant breeders try to incorporate in the hybrids the desirable characteristics such as high yield as well as taste, suitability for processing and others.

At first, PhilRootcrops released VSPI, a high yielder sweet potato variety in 1983 but it was discarded for being susceptible to pests and diseases. “Worst of all, it has a low dry matter content of 26.6 percent. Roots with low dry matter content are not as tasty as those with higher content, Dr. Julie Tan, head of the Postharvest Division of the center in the same statement.

One hybrid produced by PhilRootcrops that has had a very big impact is VSP6 released in 1988. In the early 1990s, the camote plantings in Central ,Luzon, particularly in Tarlac and Pangasinan however were wiped out by the mottle virus disease, Tan said.

“We were able to come to the rescue of this variety and up to now, VSP6 is the main variety being planted commercially in many parts of Luzon. Besides giving an average yield of 21.02 tons per hectare, it has a high dry matter content of 32.90 percent. It has excellent taste as boiled camote, she added.

The most outstanding of high-yielder camote variety discovered in the calamity-prone Bicol region is the LSU Purple that matures in a relatively short period of 105 to 120 days after planting.

Tan said this variety is also usable in perfecting a sweet dessert wine with low alcohol content that is more of an energy drink.

Despite the discovery of camote varieties with high dry matter, the varieties with low dry matter and starch content still have their own uses just like an accession called RC2000 that is ideal for processing.

Tan said pickled camote made from this variety was a bestseller at P40 per small bottle during a recent garden show. Apart from making an attractive "atsara" because it has intense orange color similar to that of carrots, it is good as crunchy camote pickles and sweet camote bar.

Most of the 32 varieties released for commercial production, Tan said are products of the PhilRootcrops. A number, however, was released by UP Los Banos, Bureau of Plant Industry and the Northern Philippine Root Crop Research and Training Center based at the Benguet State University in La Trinidad.

Meanwhile, Tan said PhilRootcrops researcher Enrique Abogadie who does most of the breeding and propagation is producing about 60,000 seeds of different crosses a year but only 20,000 of these are grown and observed for their desirable or undesirable characteristics.

Some of the researches also focus on the control or prevention of pests and diseases. One of the most common problems is the infestation of the sweet potato weevil which renders the roots inedible when the infestation is serious, Tan said.

One prevention technique is to keep the soil moist so that there are no cracks in the soil for the weevil to reach the storage roots of the plants. The weevil lays its eggs on the roots rendering them unmarketable after the eggs hatch.

Meanwhile, Roa said her office is undertaking continued research for more varieties of cassava that could be use either in food or industry.

Roa said aside from researching new cassava planting materials they are also into breeding pest and disease-resistant high yielding varieties (HYV) for starch.

She said the mass propagation of HYVs and clean planting materials along with cassava seed system to improve cropping systems and cultural management to weaken gap for cassava in different agro-ecologies.

Mainly grown for its tubers which are a rich source of carbohydrates, cassava is a good source of calcium and ascorbic acid. Its food uses include confectioneries, native pastries like suman and bibingka, sago, vegetables, food seasoning, noodles and flour.

Although not the staple of Filipinos, cassava feeds about 800 million people around the world, according to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

Another important product is cassava starch, known in the world trade as tapioca flour which is extracted from the tuber and used by a wide variety of industries – food, pharmaceutical, paper, adhesive, textile, mining and other manufacturing industries.

In the food industry alone, studies show that cassava flour can substitute for wheat flour in baked products as much as 10 percent in bread and higher in other baked products, studies. It is utilized as thickener for soups, baby food, sauces and gravies.

Cassava flour is excellent filler that could supplement the solid contents of ice cream. It is also a good binder for sausages and other processed meat products to prevent these from drying up during cooking.

Its use as livestock feed in the country has also been investigated and studies at the University of the Philippines at Los Banos (UPLB) have shown that cassava meal can be used as a substitute for feed grains in compounded animal rations while cassava leaf meal contains at least 20 percent protein so that it is a good livestock feed not only for poultry but also for other livestock.

Cassava can also be a good solution to the problems of climate change and fuel shortage. In China, Thailand, and Brazil, cassava is becoming an important biofuel crop. A feasibility study has found that cassava has a very high starch-to-sugar conversion ratio which means that a high percentage of sugar can be converted from it, and which, in turn, is needed to produce biofuel. (PNA)

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