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Exploring the potentials of rice-like Adlai

By goGreen | October 19, 2011
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As of the date and time of this writing the world population had reached 6,893,429,555 (according to IRRI website). Of this mass of humanity, about half depends on rice as their main food.

Rice is the staple for most Asians including the Philippines. Some of the Filipinos even eat rice 4 times a day, including meryenda, of course. It is even claimed that almost 80 percent of the Filipino population spends one-fourth of their income on rice alone.

According to an article by the Ateneo Economics Association, the Philippines has been importing 15 percent of its rice supply annually which is equivalent to about 2.2 million tons of the commodity every year.

But with the top rice exporters like Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia decreasing the amount of rice that they will export and China no longer self sufficient and becoming a net rice importer, where does that leave the Philippines which is the number one importer of rice in the world? With these scenarios, how are we now supposed to feed our growing population?

We can turn to corn, yes. But most of the corn is being turned into other things like animal feed, oils (cooking oils, margarine) and now, bioethanol for fuel.

But these are not the only concerns we have to deal with.

There are many other threats to corn and rice production. To name a few, there are the conversions of agricultural lands to other uses, pests and diseases, and the ever increasing price of crude oil that also leads to higher fertilizer prices which, in turn, is synonymous to higher cost of production.

There is also climate change.In a symposium on Climate Change held last January 21, 2010 which was sponsored by the ATI, Dir. Asterio Saliot said that 82% of the production areas of the Philippines are vulnerable to climate change effects, may it be to floods, drought or landslides. This will greatly affect not only our rice production but, ultimately, also the food needs of our growing population which consumes 33,000 tons of rice daily.

These are just a few of the reasons why we need to look for alternatives to the rice and corn crops. Sooner rather than later, we have to find ways to meet the national cereal requirement on top of rice and corn production.

And these are the main reasons why the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) is exploring the potentials of adlai.

What is Adlai?

Adlai (Coix lacryma-jobi L.) is a freely-branching upright herb that can grow as tall as three feet and propagates through seeds. Also referred to as “Job’s tears” due to the tear-like shape of its grains (which are white or brown in color), it comes from the family Poaceae or the grasses, the same family that wheat, corn, and rice belong to. Adlai is said to have originated in Southeast Asia.

According to the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), the leaves are 10-40 cm long, 2.5-4 cm wide, with the base broad and cordate. The spikes are 6-10 cm long, erect and peduncled, while the male spikelets are about 8 mm long.

Grains are usually harvested 4-5 months after sowing. Grains are separated from the stalks through threshing and, like rice, seeds are first sun dried before milling.

To date, there are two varieties known. One is Coix lacryma-jobi var. lacryma-jobi which has shelled pseudocarps which are very hard, pearly white, with oval structures and are used by craftsmen as beads for making rosaries, necklaces, and other objects. The other one is Coix lacryma-jobi var. ma-yuen which is harvested as a cereal crop and is also used as a medicine in some parts of Asia.

Uses of Adlai

As food and drink, adlai is widely cultivated as a cereal in Asia. In India, it is pounded, threshed and winnowed as a cereal. The pounded adlai is sometimes mixed with water just like the use of barley in making barley water. Some turn it into a sweet dish by frying and coating it with sugar. It is also boiled and eaten in the same manner as rice.

Grains are also used in soups and broths. In fact, in southern Vietnam, sam bo luong, a sweet and cold soup has adlai as its main ingredient.

Fermented grains, on the other hand, are also made into beers and wines. Aged vinegar is also made out of it in Japan. Yulmu cha, or Job’s tears tea, is a thick drink in Korea made from powdered adlai. Another liquor that is made from adlai and rice is called okroju in Korea.

Meanwhile, studies indicate that adlai has anti-allergic, anti-mutagenic, hypolipemic, and anti-diabetic effects and exhibits anti-cancer activity. In a study by Hung et al in 2003 adlai seeds were found to exert an antiproliferative effect on human lung cancer cells in vitro and in vivo and prevent the development of tobacco carcinogen-induced tumors. The anti-cancer activity of adlai was further proven by the study of Lee et al (2008), who isolated five active compounds from adlai bran that inhibit cancer cells. In traditional Chinese medicine, adlai hull extract is used to treat dysmenorrhea and was proven in a recent study that, indeed, it is a feasible alternative therapeutic agent.

Why Adlai?

The thing about adlai is that it is not new to us. It may be familiar to people but, unless its picture is shown, hardly anybody would be able to identify it. Also, it comes in different names.

Some of the local names are the following: abukai, agagai, agda, aglai, alimudias, apagi, atakai, balantakan, barubaioko, bintikai, bitogan, dalai, damau, glias, kalabugau, kambot, katayan, katigbi, kibaoung, koldasan, kudlasan, lamudias, lias, paias, palias, pintaka, tidbit, tigbi, tiguas, tikaian, etc.

What’s good about adlai is that some locals/tribes have been planting and eating it just like rice such as the Tumaned Pusaka Subanen dig Midsalip (TUPUSUMI) farmers from Zamboanga del Sur. There have also been some reports of it being planted in some parts of the country only that it has not been well documented and given priority until now.

According to TUPUSUMI farmers, who were generous in providing information about adlai, it requires minimal fertilizer in their land. In fact they don’t need to apply any chemical fertilizer at all and, instead, they make use of organic matter like dried leaves, etc. It also requires minimal irrigation. Again from the testimonies of the TUPUSUMI farmers, there is no known pest or disease of adlai in their area. These could be attributed to the fact that the soil is already fertile and that they only plant adlai in small plots of their land together with other crops thus avoiding monocropping and reducing their exposure to the elements.

These things about adlai shall be verified or proven correct by BAR’s RDE partners in the BAR Adlai R&D Program.

BAR Adlai R&D Program

The Department of Agriculture (DA), through BAR, in collaboration with the non-government organizations (NGOs), Earthkeepers and Masipag; four Regional Integrated Agricultural Research Centers (STIARC, CVIARC, BIARC and NOMIARC); one research station (Quezon Agricultural Experiment Station); and five State Universities and Colleges (Isabela State University, Southern Luzon State University, Central Bicol State University of Agriculture, Camarines Norte State College and Central Mindanao University) are all set to explore the potentials of adlai.

The program is geared towards the development, promotion and utilization of adlai as an alternative or complement to rice and corn as a food source for Filipinos.

Researchers from the different partner institutions will determine the adaptability of the available varieties/strains of adlai in different sites and verify the package of technologies as to its cultural management. Postharvest/processing and seed production systems will also be developed along with food products and other by-products from the plant. The implementers shall promote adlai’s uses as food for the table, feed for livestock and poultry, and other purposes. The group is also planning to recommend promising adlai strains/varieties for NSIC registration.

Recent activities include the conduct of the Adlai Production Training cum Planning Workshop in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon in September 2010 where the focal persons of the different partner institutions trained. In this activity, they tried their hand in making adlai into sinaing, maja blanca and sinukmani. Another planning meeting on adlai R&D was held in December 2010 which was graced by DA Secretary, Engr. Proceso Alcala.

Amavel A. Velasco

Source: http://www.bar.gov.ph

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