Malnutrition continues to be a public health issue in the Philippines affecting infants and school children. The increasing prevalence continues unless the issue of malnutrition has been fully addressed.
Corn has always been tagged as “poor man’s rice” due to its popularity as an alternative staple food for Filipinos. Although seen as a food for the less privileged, corn has high nutritional value. It is rich in protein, fat, fiber, and other essential vitamins and minerals including folate, iron, niacin, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, copper, and zinc. Corn also contains two essential amino acids, lysine and tryptophan, which provide numerous health benefits.
Dr. Artemio M. Salazar and his team from the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB-IPB) bred and developed the QPM Var 6, also known as High Lysine and Tryptophan Corn in 2000. According to Dr. Salazar, they have acquired Quality Protein Maize (QPM) because they have found out that it improved the nutritional status and health of poor Africans.
Based on R&D initiatives, it was found out that QPM Var 6 contains 66.2 percent more lysine than the regular white corn. It also contains more tryptophan and protein content and has more dietary fiber, minerals, and anti-oxidants than rice alone.
Realizing the huge potential of QPM in addressing malnutrition among actively growing children, Dr. Salazar and his team conducted further studies to enhance the development of better quality, genetically stable, and highly nutritious corn varieties through utilization of advanced equipment and facilities. Thus, they initiated a project titled “Enhancing Nutritional and Grain Qualities of White Corn for Food: Updates on Promotional Activities for White QPM (Quality Protein Maize)” funded by BAR.
The project started in July 2011 with the aim to develop white corn open-pollinated varieties (OPV) which are high yielding and to develop improved nutritional and eating qualities. Specifically, the project aims to: 1) improve the eating quality of the present high protein quality corn by monitoring the level of different starch components using near infra red spectroscopy, 2) enhance the effectiveness of selection for higher lysine and tryptophan content in the high protein quality corn breeding population using molecular markers and near infra red spectroscopy, 3) monitor the level of different endosperm components related to nutritional feature of flint corn as food grain, and 4) develop inbred lines with improved nutritional quality using molecular markers technology.
Promoting quality protein corn
In an effort to promote the nutritional benefits of rice-corn blend as well as to identify the beneficiaries’ level of acceptance, the UPLB-IPB, in collaboration with the UPLB-College of Human Ecology (CHE), conducted a series of feeding programs in public schools. Among them were: Commonwealth Elementary School in Quezon City and Bernardo N. (BN) Calara Elementary School in Los Baños, Laguna.
Significant findings of the feeding program included higher weight gains in children fed with rice composites compared with rice alone. Further, higher weight increases were more significant among younger children specifically from Kindergarten to Grade 4.
The group fed with pure rice-corn blend gained an average of 1.82 kilograms compared to the 1.49 kilograms of the group fed with pure rice only. Also, rice-corn blend/rice composite with 50:50 ratio is indeed acceptable by the children.
To date, this activity has been continually supported not only by barangay officials but also by Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). BN Calara Elementary School for has been continuously conducting the feeding program and is managed by the PTA President.
According to the Mrs. Lita C. Cortez, PTA president, the students who joined the feeding program have increased their weight. “Meron ngang iba, nag-overweight pa,” Mrs. Cortez testified. Another relevant feedback was the consistent initiative and cooperation among PTA members wherein mothers with healthy child are also actively helping during the feeding program. Also, the PTA president said that they are going to distribute the remaining packs of IPB Var 6 corn varieties to students on their Recognition Day.
Due to this popular and successful promotional activity, Dr. Art and the rest of his team are planning to extend the coverage of the feeding program. “We are planning to implement the feeding program in Los Baños, Laguna or even nationwide”. ---(Liza Angelica D. Barral, DA-BAR)
Source: Bureau of Agricultural Research http://www.bar.gov.ph/