IAEA - International Atomic Energy Agency

01/11/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/11/2019 08:36

Philippines: Radiation-Processed Seaweed Increases Typhoon Resistance of Rice

Researchers in the Philippines have found that an extract of seaweed, when processed with radiation, can make plants more resistant to typhoons and boost rice production by 20-30%. The extract, called carrageenan, comes from algae that is abundant in the sea. While carrageenan is already used widely as a gelling agent and thickener in the preparation of processed foods, this is the first time researchers - with the support of the IAEA - have applied it on a large scale as a plant growth promoter.

'It worked from the very first day I used it,' said Isagani Concepción, a supervising engineer and part-time farmer at San Manuel in the central province of Tarlac. Concepción's four-hectare rice field was used for testing. After he applied the modified carrageenan, he noticed a 30% increase in production. 'I used to get 291 cavans, now I get 378. Even spraying only a small dose is as effective as using organic fertilizer.' One cavan is a sack of approximately 50 kg.

Carrageenan plant growth promoter is the answer to harvest shortage. This technology increases harvest yield and, with it, farmers' livelihoods.

Plants also started growing more extensive roots, sturdier stems and more tillers. This, Concepción said, has made them resilient to typhoons. In Bulacan, Typhoon Lando in 2015 devastated all the control plants, which were not given irradiated carrageenan. Those treated with the new growth promoter remained standing.

For farmers in East Asia, the irradiated product is pertinent at a time when - according to projections by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - rising temperatures will heat the oceans. The implication for farmers is that warming oceans can lead to more intense and frequent typhoons.

Agricultural researchers at the National Crop Protection Center of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños tested the benefits of carrageenan as a plant growth promoter on more than 5000 hectares. The IAEA provided the irradiators and the training of local experts on their use. In a study in Pulilan, a central province of Bulacan, researchers found that sprayed areas produced crops with yields 65% above that of the control group, while using only half of the recommended fertilizer dose.

'The first difference we noticed was that its fertilizing effect lasted a long time,' said Joselito Colduron, a farmer in Bulacan. 'And that the grain-bearing tip part of the stem was full to the brim.'