DR. AGUSTIN B. MOLINA JR: Interesting Agri People, Very Passionate About Banana Industry

Dr. Gus Molina: Feeling very proud of what he has done to help save the banana industry from the virulent Fusarium Wilt TR4. He orchestrated the involvement of public and private institutions and individuals in the search of a variety that will tolerate in a large measure the destructive TR4 Fusarium Wilt.

If someone will ask me today about remarkable agri-people I have met in the course of my long agri journalistic career, the first fellow that will come to mind would be a fellow many people call Gus.

These days, Gus is most upbeat about a Cavendish banana variety that is now being adopted by the big players as well as the smallhold farmers as an answer to the threat of the virulent Fusarium Wilt disease dubbed Tropical Race 4 (TR4). The variety is called GCTCV 218, a tissue-culture variant from the Taiwan Banana Research Institute.

Of course, like Gus, the big players in the Cavendish banana industry as well as the smallhold farmers in Mindanao, are equally upbeat about Variety 218 because it has been observed to tolerate well the Fusarium wilt TR4. In one farm we visited recently where 134,000 of the variety were planted, the incidence of the disease was only 0.4 percent.

Dr. Agustin Molina and Dr. Estrellieta Aldaba of Dole Philippines which is tissue-culturing Variety 218 in big volumes. They are in the Dole nursery full of two-months old tissue-cultured 218 variety.

Thus, today Dole is one of the most aggressive in multiplying 218 through tissue culture for its own plantings. At the time of our Visit, Dr. Estrellieta Aldaba told us they had already propagated five million planting materials and production is nonstop. Other big companies are also doing their own propagations so that Gus conservatively estimates at least 8 million seedlings have been produced by Lapanday Fruit, Dole, Del Monte and others. The smallhold farmers like Jonas Mauro are also now convinced that the answer to their fears of Fusarium wilt is Variety 218. In fact, Mauro is putting up his own tissue culture lab soon to cater to the smallhold and independent banana planters who don’t have tissue culture laboratories.

Gus, of course, is Dr. Agistin B. Molina Jr. who orchestrated the successful introduction of Variety 218 in the Philippines. Understandably, the banana industry is closest to his heart because he knows the economic benefits banana can contribute to the economy. He worked for ten years with the largest banana conglomerate in Central America, the Chiquita brand. When he came back to the Philippines in 1995, he was tapped by Bioversity International, an NGO focused on bananas, to be the agency’s regional coordinator for Asia and the Pacific.

Dr. Gus Molina and Zac B. Sarian in the Mauro Farm planted to Variety 218.

In 2006, Gus started coordinating a public-private partnership with the industry and government research institutions to adopt and use the tissue culture variants from Taiwan. That was when there was increasing incidence of TR4, especially among smallhold farmers.

Dr. Molina’s first agenda was to confirm if the disease that was attacking the Cavendish plantations was the TR4. And that’s what he confirmed with the help of a laboratory in South Africa. After that, Dr. Molina had to arouse the interest and awareness of the stakeholders.

Dr. Molina convinced PCAARRD to fund the testing of 7 tissue culture variants in small farmers’ fields. After evaluating the results, the next step was to down scale the program with the funding from DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research. Twenty farmers evaluated two selected varieties in three hectares each. In the meantime, Lapanday Fruits Corp., one of the big planters, was very cooperative in field testing the same varieties and tissue-culturing the selected clone. Many other cooperators were recruited by Gus in the field testing and evaluation of the varieties, eventually leading to the selection of 218. These include the BPI-Davao, UPLB, University of Southeastern Philippines, the Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association, Phil Fresh and some others.

Gus has now retired as a regional coordinator of Bioversity in the Asia Pacific but on his own, he continues to get in touch with the banana stakeholders, still giving valuable advice to planters as well as researchers and other players. That’s how passionate he is helping the local banana industry.

 

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