Seaweed additive can boost rice yield by 65% – gov’t scientists

MANILA, Philippines – Government research into how a substance from seaweed can increase the productivity of rice fields across the country has paid off.

Carrageenan, a carbohydrate found in edible seaweeds, was found to increase rice yield by 63.6% to 65.4%, according to scientists from the National Crop Protection Center (NCPC) at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, the country’s premiere agricultural school.

The findings were the result of a field trial conducted in Bulacan. The trial showed that adding small portions of carrageenan to fertilizer led to higher grain weight, thereby increasing rice yields.

The team led by Gil Magsino of NCPC found that adding 20 milliliters per liter of carrageenan to 3 to 6 bags of fertilizer per hectare led to an increased grain weight of 450 and 455 grams. This is compared to 275 grams of grain weight produced after applying 9 bags per hectare – the usual practice of Filipino farmers.

The research was funded by the Philippine Council for Agriculture Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology.

Previous studies showed that when carrageenan is degraded or reduced to tiny sizes through irradiation technology, it can promote growth in rice plants and make it resistant to certain pests. Thus, at very small doses, it becomes an effective natural fertilizer.

Higher yield, more savings

Carrageenan can improve rice productivity by strengthening rice stems which, according to the Department of Agriculture, helps prevent lodging or when stems become too weak to carry the weight of the rice grains that they fall to the field.

The substance can also promote resistance to rice plant diseases like the rice tungro virus and bacterial leaf blight.

“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,” said Science Secretary Mario Montejo.

Because the use of carrageenan was found to decrease the number of bags of fertilizer needed per hectare, this could mean bigger savings for farmers who devote much of their expenses to farming inputs.

The government’s finding could also impact other agricultural workers, namely seaweed farmers, by boosting demand for the substance.

Seaweed is heavily farmed in places like Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga, Bohol, Cebu, Leyte, Samar, and Antique. In fact, the Philippines is a major global supplier of carrageenan. In 2011, it reportedly supplied 80% of the world's seaweed needs.

It is commonly used as a thickener or stabilizer for food products like ice cream and salad dressing, or as a binding agent for toothpaste and shampoo. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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