PHOTOGRAPHY BY MANUEL GENEROSO GROOMING BY JEFFERSON S. CADION

Served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, rice is a staple food for many Filipinos. It is also a primary source of livelihood for many farmers all over the country. Rice is ingrained in our culture.

To help farmers improve rice production, the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) was created in 1985 through Executive Order (EO) 1061. Under the wing of the Department of Agriculture, one of its mandates is developing high-yielding varieties and yield-enhancing technologies.

In today’s agricultural landscape, a lot of work still needs to be done in rice farming, Director Dr. Sailila Estilong Abdula admits. Compared to rice exporting countries like Thailand and Vietnam, the level of competitiveness of our rice is still behind. “The cost to produce a kilogram of palay in the Philippines is around 12 to 14 pesos, while in other countries, it’s around six to eight pesos,” says Dr. Abdula, who himself is a farmer from North Cotabato. He said that PhilRice continues to research and develop ways to reduce production cost to at least eight pesos. “Our production is around four tons per hectare, while other countries are at five tons per hectare already. So, in terms of production per hectare, they have higher yield, plus the cost of production is lower. We are trying to address that in our strategic plan.”

Infrastructure-wise, like irrigation, many rice fields still require to be properly irrigated. Working beyond its mandate, PhilRice was able to develop a water pump that is fueled by rice husk instead of gasoline. If used in farmlands, this could reduce farming cost.

As for policies, Dr. Abdula sees a need to create a land use act, so that rice fields will be used solely for farming. He said that this would help us attain a more stable rice industry in the Philippines.

NEW RICE VARIETIES
As mandated by law, PhilRice unceasingly develops new rice varieties to aid farmers in increasing their yield.

“We are going to develop new varieties every now and then, because, first, the pest structure [in rice fields] changes. Our climate changes,” notes Dr. Abdula, who has led the development of two rice varieties, the NSIC Rc 226 and NSIC Rc 120. This achievement gained him several recognitions such as the National Gawad Saka Award (2016), ASEAN Ambassadors Award (2017), and Presidential Lingkod Bayan Award (2018). “Those we have developed before become obsolete.

We really need to develop new varieties that will thrive in the new pest structure, climate, among others. It’s very important that we have diverse rice varieties.” For now, PhilRice recommends five varieties for use nationwide: NSIC Rc 222 (Tubigan 18), NSIC Rc 160 (Tubigan 14), NSIC Rc 216 (Tubigan 17), and two regional varieties. The research institute continues to develop new varieties, both inbred (pure line; harvested seeds can be used in succeeding planting seasons) and hybrid (cross between two different rice parents, high-yielding, harvested seeds cannot be used for the next planting season). There are about 100 hybrid varieties for irrigated, rain-fed, and lowland fields. For inbred, the latest is NSIC 536 (Salinas 30). Since the Philippines is prone to typhoons and flooding, PhilRice has also developed the Sabmarino, a variety that can survive being submerged in flood water even for two weeks.

Besides developing rice varieties, there are several other PhilRice-developed technologies worth noting:

Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD). Farmers can adopt this water-saving technology to reduce consumption of irrigation water in rice fields without sacrificing the amount of yield. Irrigation water is applied a few days after the ponded water has dried up, thus, the rice field gets flooded and non-flooded alternately. Depending on several factors, the number of days of non-flooded soil between irrigation can vary from one to 10 days or more.

Philippine Rice Information System (PRISM). A monitoring system of everything related to rice: area planted every season, estimated yield, planting date, extent of damage in rice area caused by natural calamities like typhoon, flood, and drought. PRISM uses mobile technology, Geographical Information System (GIS), remote sensing, and crop modeling to collect data and create rice production information.

Minus One Element Technique (MOET). This is a reliable and simple technology for fertilizer management. It tests the rice field to detect the nutrient deficiencies in the soil. These factors should be considered regarding the frequency of MOET test to be conducted: (1) type of soil, (2) amount and type of fertilizer applied to the soil after the first MOET test, and (3) level of yield produced after the MOET test.

Leaf Color Chart (LCC). This was developed for determining nitrogen fertilizer needs of the rice crops. The ruler-like chart is placed beside the leaf to be tested. It has four strips, with color ranging from yellow green to dark green. The greenness of the rice leaf indicates its nitrogen content.

eDamuhan App. This is a mobile application to identify weeds in rice fields. Just take a photo of the weed and the app will then display related information about it and its impact on rice crop yield. The app also contains a weed species list, an herbicide list, and weed management recommendations. eDamuhan is available for download in Android phones.

Palayamanan Plus. This is a rice- based diversified farm system with focus on increasing production and strengthening the capability of the farm and farmer for business. Palayamanan Plus practices crop-animal integration—planting other crops and rearing poultry, livestock, and aquatic animals. The synergistic mix of different farming ventures results to higher profit, improved soil fertility, increased biodiversity, and better ecological balance.

These technologies have mostly been provided to the farmers through partnerships with other organizations and local leaders. “We have two main sectors at PhilRice,” relates Dr. Abdula. “First is the research, which develops new technologies. Second is the development sector, which is in charge of extending these technologies to the community and facilitates training of trainers (TOTs)on how to use these technologies. The trainers are our partners in the local level.”

A lot of farmers are adopting the technologies of PhilRice. If you ask them, they are very willing to adopt. The challenge, though, is how to sustain it.

In Nueva Ecija, for instance, farmers already employ these technologies. Coupled with their capability to invest, the province is the highest rice producer in the Philippines. In technology demonstrations, Dr. Abdula has observed how receptive farmers are to these technologies and their willingness to use them.

“A lot of farmers are adopting the technologies of PhilRice. If you ask them, they are very willing to adopt. The challenge, though, is how to sustain it,” he notes. He adds that there are factors to consider, such as the availability of seeds and the financial capacity of the farmers to avail of these technologies. Both PhilRice and the Department of Agriculture are addressing these through the Rice Seed Systems program, partnering with local government units (LGUs), and a credit system where farmers can loan a certain amount for their rice fields.

The experiment field at the PhilRice Research Facility and some of the sample rice varieties developed at PhilRice

ONWARD TO A RICE-SECURE PH
Achieving a rice-secure Philippines is a shared vision of PhilRice and the Department of Agriculture. In its strategic plan, PhilRice aims for a more competitive rice industry for the Philippines by year 2022. The target is to increase yield from four tons per hectare to five to six tons per hectare every planting season. If this could be attained, definitely, the country will have enough supply of rice.

“We cannot achieve that alone; it needs to be a collective effort,” Dr. Abdula says. “Our vision of a rice-secure Philippines is partnership-heavy. Otherwise, it would be difficult to attain.”

PhilRice designed six research and development programs to work toward this goal. One is the
Climate Resiliency for Enhanced Agricultural Trade and Efficiency for Rice (CREATE-Rice), which addresses climate change-related rice issues. The goal of CREATE-Rice is to improve the resilience and market competitiveness of the country’s rice and rice-farming communities.

Researchers continuously develop rice varieties and improve quality of rice in the Philippines.

Hybrid rice varieties produce 20% higher yield compared to inbred ones. The Hybrid Rice Research (HRR) program conducts in-depth studies to develop more hybrid varieties that are wide-adaptive, high-yielding, and suited for commercialization.

Another program, Rice Farm Modernization and Mechanization (RFMM), aims not only to reduce labor-related production expense but also to increase the productivity and profitability of rice farmers. This will be achieved by utilizing advancements in technology, biotechnology, and information systems.

Laws also play an important role to attain a competitive rice industry. Thus, PhilRice has a Science-based Policies in Advancing Rice Communities (SPARC) program. Through SPARC, science-based and supportive policies are crafted to guide legislators on rice-related issues, specifically in reducing farm labor cost, narrowing gaps between rice-producing provinces, and easier credit access for farmers.

Access to good quality seeds is being addressed through the Rice Seed Systems (RSS) program. RSS will make available and accessible to farmers PhilRice and public- bred rice varieties by improving seed production and opening distribution centers.

Lastly is a program that integrates agriculture and entrepreneurship—Rice Business Innovations System (RiceBIS). This program is geared at community transformation by developing rice and rice-based enterprises in order to address farmers’ needs—from production to marketing. Rice hubs will serve as farmers’ support system in accomplishing this goal.

PhilRice Director Dr. Sailila Abdula poses next to the department’s awards

All these programs are being implemented via the different branches of PhilRice throughout the country. “We need to equip our farmers, make them competent,” says Dr. Abdula. “That is our main mission—to make our farmers competitive through the adoption of technologies developed not just by PhilRice but by other institutions as well.”

Dr. Abdula wishes to further strengthen the PhilRice through a new law, since the current law is more than three decades old and some provisions of EO1061 are no longer applicable today. Other plans include implementing the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Program (RCEP), organizing farmers and intensifying promotion of the technologies developed by PhilRice. “We’ll put these technologies at the farmers’ level. That’s what we’re looking ahead for in the future. For technologies to reach the field, to re-strengthen PhilRice, and of course, partnership with LGUs.”—AVI CANALE

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