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BIOTECH Finds Ways of Marketing Technology

The National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at University of the Philippines Los Banos (BIOTECH) counts a microbial based fertilizer as its most successfully marketed technology.

Bio-N, a nitrogen supplement for rice, corn and vegetables, is a microbial-based fertilizer composed mainly of living bacteria isolated from the roots of talahib (Saccharum spontaneum).  “Through government support, we have been able to create more than 60 mixing plants for Bio-N to date,” says Dr. Jocelyn T. Zarate, BIOTECH researcher.

With the mixing plants mostly owned by farmers cooperatives in a kind of franchise arrangement with BIOTECH, the technology becomes available to more farmers in the country. “That is to say, farming cooperatives can purchase a single, pack of Bio-N, mix it in the mixing plant, and produce about 20 more packs of Bio-N that they can sell at P60 each,” Zarate says. “So the cooperatives, which shell out around P500,000 per mixing plant, including training and setup, can keep on earning from the Bio-N.”

With BIOTECH bringing the Bio-N technology closer to the farmers, they give the farmers a chance to earn aside from benefiting from cheaper fertilizer costs made possible through the use of Bio-N. “The use of Bio-N can theoretically lower farmers’ need for chemical nitrogen fertilizers by half,” adds Zarate.

BIOTECH, a premier national research and development institution applying traditional and modern biotechnologies in innovating products, processes, testing and  analytical services for agriculture, health, energy, industry and the environment, has over the years produced a series of microbial-based products that are cheaper than conventional chemical based products and completely environmentally safe.

It also functions as a marketing and agri-entrepreneur agency that continues to bring its products from the laboratories down to the end-users. This involves showing farmers the economic benefits of using BIOTECH products. The task has been a challenge to the scientists, ~-ho have been trained largely in biological research.

“Each and every technology we develop has its own marketing technology,” says Zarate. She feels having an active partner to handle the marketing of the products might help, but she believe, that information dissemination whether through the media or by word-of-mouth is still the way to go in order to bring these products to more and more users who would benefit the most from them.

Aside from Bio-N, BIOTECH is marketing the fertilizers Mykovam, Nitro-plus, Biogroe, Bio-quick, and Bio-fix.

Vam Root Inoculant, Mykovam and Mycogroe utilize plant-friendly and naturally-occurring fungi, vesicular arbuscular mycorrhiza (VAM), instead of bacteria. VAM live in the plant’s roots and assist the plant in the absorption of water and nutrients in the soil in order to promote better growth of the root system, protect the plants from root pathogens, and improve soil structure and soil aggregation. Vam Root Inoculant is used for banana, sugarcane; corn, fruit trees, legumes, root crops, and various vegetables.

Mykovam is used for fruit trees, agricultural crops such as upland rice, corn, cassava, sweet potato, tomato, eggplant, onion, garlic and pepper; ornamental plants; and for trees used in reforestation efforts such as narra, acacia, gmelina, and mahogany. Mycogroe, on one hand, is effective for eucalyptus and pine trees. In addition, BIOTECH has also developed Brown Magic, another mycorrhizabased bio-fertilizer targeted specifically for orchids and is especially effective for in-vitro cultured orchid seedlings.

“Buy-and-sell is the marketing technology for Mykovam,” says Zarate. “That is, people would buy Mykovam directly from BIOTECH, bring it to the farm, and resell it.” She adds that so far Mykovam’s best customers, aside from farmers, are foresters interested in reforestation programs, and -orchard owners and growers of fruit trees, particularly mango-growers in Zambales, Guimaras, Palawan, and Bohol. “Mango-tree foliage really takes a beating during harvesting season, with leaves and branches being pulled off. So the growers use Mykovam to revitalize the foliage of their mango trees.”

Nitro-plus; which uses rhizobia bacteria, is a seed inoculant for legume crops such as mungbean, peanut, soybean, pole sitao, garden pea, cowpea, and others. According to Zarate, the primary market for Nitrp-plus has been large corporations, such as Nestle, that produce legume crops rike soy beans. Unfortunately, these’ corporations have recently decreased their production of soy brands, and some find it cheaper to just import their soy beans.

“Very few farmers are planting legumes. We would like to tell farmers that planting rice and corn continually is bad for the soil. They have to plant legumes as intercrops to restore nitrogen in the soil.” She adds that shifting Nitro-plus’ target market from the large corporations to the small farmers is a good marketing strategy for BIOTECH.

Biogroe, one of the most recent biofertilizers produced by BIOTECH, also uses beneficial bacteria to promote growth in vegetables and ornamental plants. The bacteria contained in Biogroe secrete growth hormones in order to promote root length and density and added growth in plants essentially giving the plants a double-dose of growth hormones, says Zarate. “So you can bet that your plants will be taller, healthier and have longer roots. According to our findings, the farmer can save at least two weeks’ worth of growing time because the plants become taller and produce flowers faster.”

So far, BIOTECH has focused mostly on giving away free samples of Biogroe, which was launched only in 2007, in order to introduce the product to as many people as possible and hopefully, get it promoted to potential customers through word-of-mouth, similar to Mykovam.

BIOTECH has also developed two products that, instead of working directly on plants, work on the soil itself, converting farm and agro-industrial wastes into a rich source of bio-organic fertilizer. Bio-quick is a composting inoculants that contains the fungus Trichoderma sp., which hastens the decomposition of waste materials. Bio-fix, on the other hand, is an enrichment inocula that enhances the nutritive value and effectivity of the bio-organic fertilizer. The resulting bio-organic fertilizer can increase yield by 20 percent to 30 percent and improve soil quality and the plants’ overall health. It is also sound waste management strategy.

According to Zarate, since the governmerit is mandated to go organic, it has adopted the use of products such as Bioquick and Bio-fix. Private individuals such as retirees with lands, gentleman farnlers, hobbyists and OFW returnees who have decided to invest in farming or fruit trees have also discovered these two products.

Zarate and her fellow researchers at BIOTECH are currently working on new products while improving and further developing the present ones. “We are focusing op the second wave of improvement work on the existing technologics, or creating new products altogether-the second-generation biofertilizers, so to speak.

National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BIOTECH)
(049) 536-1620; 536-2723 T/F: (049) 536-2721

By Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta