Ilocano researcher works on scented rice varieties
By Sosimo Ma. Pablico
Manila Times, June 22, 2004

SAN FERNANDO CITY, La Union—A young scientist of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) in the Science City of Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, whose mother hails from Bacarra, Ilocos Norte, is thrilled to the bone these days as he ventures into a different kind of plant breeding.

Dr. John de Leon admits he finds thrill from a quarter-hectare field he has planted with traditional varieties and very early maturing germplasm materials that could be harvested in 90 days or less.

The materials reveal de Leon’s new research interests—rediscovering the traditional scented varieties with excellent table qualities. Their identification remains the foremost task of his “extra” work under a project that aims to develop specialty-type rice varieties.

His new undertaking began with a photo session in November last year that further documented the seeds of 355 traditional varieties he noted down in his readings, which he obtained from the IRRI Genetic Resources Center.

It turned out that was a research opportunity waiting to be recognized and seized.
Aside from knowing first hand how old Philippine rice varieties such as Bunto Kabayo, Dumali and Kinanda looked like, de Leon also wanted to confirm a couple of things about the traditional varieties and reflect these in his writings.

Three months of field observation made it clear that contrary to popular notion, not all traditional varieties are late maturing, or photo-period sensitive. In addition, not all the old varieties remain short and become susceptible to lodging.

Several lines being tested by de Leon represent most of the targeted aromatic varieties like Azucena, Binicol, Milagrosa, Milfor 6, Mimis and Sinampablo, as well as varieties with reported good to excellent table qualities.

Contrary to what he originally thought, he said that rediscovering the scented and excellent quality table rice that used to be grown in the country could not be accomplished in a very straightforward manner.

To begin with, he said, seeds of the different accessions should be multiplied to facilitate a thorough evaluation and analysis of every accession of each target variety.

“I do not shy away from the ambitious thought that after some verification and plant improvement work, we might unearth here something that is similar to the famous dollar-earning aromatic and high-quality rice varieties of Thailand,” de Leon said.
“Something like a heritage worth searching back and doing some R&D [research and development] or confirmatory work in the meantime,” he stressed.