New Rice Strain Rich in Iron, Zinc Developed

Article excerpt

Byline: MELODY M. AGUIBA

The Philippines has released a bio-fortified rice rich in iron and zinc as a first stage of a long-term development of multi-nutrient rice which is seen to become a trend over the decade.

"Philrice (Philippine Rice Research Institute) released it. It's now being planted in Bukidnon and Laguna," said International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) deputy director William G. Padolina in an interview.

IRRI, a little reluctant to label that the rice called Maligaya Special (MS 13), is "iron-rich," stressed the commercialization of the bio-fortified rice as approved by the National Seed Industry Council will continue to undergo evaluation, testing, and improvement.

"We're saying this is just an initial release. As times goes, we'll be releasing improved bio-fortified rice. We don't want to say it's iron rice, and then its price will go up so that only the rich can afford. Who's going to buy it? Our aim is to improve iron content without labelling ," said Dr. Glenn Gregorio, IRRI scientist.

IRRI started developing the bio-fortified rice in 1996 and was in fact a flagship program of then Estrada administration.While rice is basically all starch, some varieties have higher iron level. Here, an iron-rich rice variety from Africa was crossed with a high-yielding local variety to produce a progeny that is high-yielding and iron-rich.

This has more than double iron content from 1.5 parts per million (PPM) to five PPM while zinc content is also double. Increased zinc content in the rice variety itself is beneficial for the plant, for insects, and for human since plants cannot readily obtain zinc from the traditionally zinc-deficient soil.

Despite the development, rice breeders must continue developing the variety since iron content still falls below nutritional requirement of iron-deficient population.

Besides, absorption of iron in the body can be a major hurdle.

"There's only 15 percent absorption which is very low," said Gregorio who stressed Filipinos with iron deficiency should both be given bio-fortified rice and an education on rice cooking practices. …