The thrust toward organic agriculture got a boost with the production of new types of potatoes that Benguet State University (BSU) researchers labeled as “the country’s first organic potato varieties.”
Now available at BSU’s Northern Philippines Root Crops Research and Training Center (NPRCRTC) are four potato breeds—Solibao, Gloria Kamaptengan, Tawid and Watwat—that could improve potato production in the highlands.
Organic potatoes are sold at P100 a kilogram in the wet market but the price could go up when sold in high-end markets like supermarkets, says Pat Acosta, an organic farming practitioner.
Dr. Belinda Tadawan, project team leader, says the four potato varieties feature a major component of organic agriculture—the use of genotypes that are resistant to pests and diseases and adaptable to the minimum use of farm inputs.
Tadawan’s team—Donita Simongo, Esther Josephine Sagalla, Janet Pablo, Cynthia Kesia and Charlotte Shagol—developed the varieties after field trials that took three years in six potato production areas in Benguet to finish.
These areas were chosen to represent the varying levels of elevation of farm gardens in order to determine their best adaptive qualities to varying degrees of temperature.
Barangays Balili (1,336 meters above sea level) and Puguis (1,342 meters above sea level) here were chosen to represent the low mountain areas; Barangays Loo in Buguias town (1,638 meters above sea level) and Cabututan (1,588 meters above sea level) in Bakun town, for mid-mountain areas; and Barangays Englandad (2,300 meters above sea level) in Atok town and Sinipsip (2,350 meters above sea level), also in Buguias, for the high mountain areas.
The project’s success was made possible with the help of six farmers who owned the lands where the varieties were tested—Dr. Jose Balaoing, Acosta, Rene Noepe, Alex Cubalit, Toria Lesoc and Johnny Osting.
The project initially chose 55 samples of different potato varieties.
After a series of experiments, 15 varieties were left and subjected to what Tadawan’s team called “multilocational trials” from 2005 to 2007.
The trials, according to Tadawan, studied the varieties’ performance based on yield per hectare, tuber size and resistance to late blight, the most common potato disease in Benguet.
Tadawan says most of the 55 varieties came from the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, while the rest were locally bred varieties.
All of them were given codes during the study.
The response of the varieties was studied based on the area of cultivation, temperature, relative humidity and soil condition.
The farmers used compost, animal manure, effective microorganisms and biological control in cultivating the varieties.
Of the 55 varieties, the study found four varieties that stood out, having potential yields of seven to 10 tons of potatoes per hectare.
The varieties had strong resistance to pests and diseases and required minimum use of farm inputs.
“Since their cultivation and yield did not rely on the use of chemicals and commercial fertilizers, they are deemed as organic varieties,” Tadawan says.
During the celebration of BSU’s charter day anniversary, farmers were asked to join a contest to name the varieties.
Thus, the variety identified as CIP 13.1.1 became Gloria Kamaptengan; 38.0251.17, Tawid; Phil. 126.96.36.199, Watwat; and CIP 676059, Solibao.
Johnny Dati, NPRCRTC director, says the cultivation of the organic varieties could cut down costs on farm inputs, giving farmers the opportunity to earn more.
The advantage of the province’s farmers is that Benguet remains to be the country’s center of potato production.
The province has 10,964 hectares of land devoted to potato production with an annual average yield of 97,834 tons.
The common potato types are sold between P30 and P35 a kilogram.
“Imagine the income the farmers would derive when a substantial part of agricultural land would be used for organic varieties,” Tadawan says.
She says Benguet supplies 62 percent of the country’s annual potato production. It is followed by Davao (14 percent), Mt. Province (12 percent) and Bukidnon (10 percent).
Dati says a 2004 study showed the high demand for potatoes.
The study found the following breakdown of potato purchases in 2004—Divisoria wholesalers (84,138 metric tons), food chain traders (10,762 MT), Balintawak wholesalers (2,446 MT), and supermarkets, hotels and restaurants (489 MT).