The long cherished dream to produce enough rice for the Philippines' growing population could be realised at the latest by Year 2020, but that is only if government will invest to modernise the industry.

But gov’t must invest - The Philippines could be rice sufficient by Y2020 By DA Sec Manny Piñol

The long cherished dream to produce enough rice for the Philippines' growing population could be realised at the latest by Year 2020, but that is only if government will invest to modernise the industry.

During the recent Rice Derby held in M'lang, North Cotabato, members of the country's Rice Board and experts from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and PhilRice agreed that rice sufficiency is attainable in three years with the needed support and intervention from the Philippine Government.

In fact, when funded and managed well, the country's Rice Sector could even produce more than the local demand and could possibly export rice to big consumers like China, the Middleast and the African Continent.

The Technical Working Group on Philippine Rice Sufficiency Program which I ordered to be organised on Wednesday during the meeting of the National Rice Board, scientists from IRRI and PhilRice and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) is now preparing a presentation for President Rody Duterte and the Cabinet during the next Cabinet meeting to outline the strategy on how to produce enough rice for the 105-million Filipinos.

The Technical Working Group, whose designated head is Dr. Jauhar Ali, a senior scientist at IRRI, initially listed five basic interventions and support needed to achieve Rice Sufficiency:

1. Introduction and Adoption of Hybrid Rice Seeds which could double the current national average production of 4-metric tons per hectare per harvest.

Of the estimated 3.9-million hectares of rice farms all over the country, only 500,000 hectares are planted to Hybrid Rice Seeds which produce an average of 6-metric tons per harvest per hectare.

The TWG is targeting an additional area of 1-million hectares to be planted to Hybrid Rice Seeds in the next three years which theoretically are expected to yield an additional 4-million metric tons of Paddy Rice per year.

With a milling recovery of 65%, the added production could yield 2.6-million metric tons of rice which is more than enough to cover the national shortage of 1.8-million metric tons every year.

2. Implementation of a massive small-scale irrigation systems establishment like the recently launched Solar-Powered Irrigation System (SPIS) which could be built in just one month and could irrigate between 50 to 100 hectares per set up.

Along with the Shallow Tube Well and the Small Water Impounding Programs, the SPIS could easily irrigate at least 200,000 hectares every year for the next five years with a budgetary requirement of an estimated P20-B every year.

At a growth rate of 1.9% per year, the Philippine population needs an additional irrigated area of 80,000 hectares every year to produce enough rice.

Last year, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) was only able to irrigate 10,000 hectares and the prospect of providing water to more areas appears bleak because of the long periods required to build big irrigation dams.

3. Support for Fertilization, either organic or inorganic, is vital to increasing the yield of Filipino rice farmers.

With the high and prohibitive price of fertilisers in the market, most Filipino farmers use very little soil nutrients and additives resulting in lower yield.

4. A National Farm Mechanization Program must be implemented nation-wide to make farming efficient and to prevent post-harvest losses.

Data provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization showed that up to 16% of the yield of rice farms is lost because of the absence of post-harvest facilities like harvesters, dryers and storage facilities.

All of these interventions were identified by the country's outstanding rice farmers as the very critical factors in increasing their yield.

During a forum in the University of the Philippines Los Baños on July 6, 2016, the country's six outstanding rice farmers said they were producing between 8 to 14 metric tons per hectare because they have access to Hybrid Seeds, Sufficient Irrigation Water, the Required Soil Nutrients and Pre-and-Post Harvest Machineries.

5. Easy and Accessible Credit Facility for the farmers to be able to respond to the needs for rice production.

Under the proposed Farmers and Fishermen's Quick Credit Facility which has been proposed to Congress, Farmers and Fishermen should be provided with access to credit and financing without necessarily going through the rigorous process of filling up voluminous bank documents and submitting collaterals.

What is the cost of all of these interventions?

For Hybrid Seeds and Fertilization, an allocation of P50-B every year for the next three years as the roll over capital extended through non-collateralized credit will allow the farmers to have access to the finances they need to buy good seeds, fertilisers and farm inputs.

The farmers are not asking for dole-outs but a credit facility that they could access without having to go through the difficulty of accomplishing tedious bank requirements. 

For Farm Mechanization, an annual budget of P50-B over the next three years, again through a non-collateralized loaning program which could be paid back by the farmers in at least 20 years.

For the Small Irrigation Projects, an annual budget of P20-B over the next five years to achieve the target of irrigating an additional 1-million hectares during the term of President Rody Duterte.

Is the budget being asked huge?

Maybe yes. But we have to ask ourselves, do we really like to provide enough food for the Filipino people?

To those who argue that it is cheaper to import rice, here is my take: The volume of rice traded every year is only 40-million metric tons and most of this comes from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and India.

With the threat of Climate Change, the question which we should ask ourselves is: What would happen if El Niño or other Climatic Hazards would hit these rice producing countries?

What would happen if the rice harvest of China, with its almost two billion population would fail?

The answer is: Rice Crisis.

We may have the money to buy but if there is no rice available in the international market, there would be food riot in the Philippines.

There is only one solution: the Philippines must produce enough rice for its growing population.

We cannot take the risk in the face of Climate Change. This is a must.

#Changeishere! #PresRodyCares! #DuterteDelivers! #RiceSufficiencyAMust!

(Photos of the recent visit to the Rice Derby area where 14 Hybrid Rice varieties are on trial in M'lang, North Cotabato taken by Al Jacalan, DA-AFID. The first photo shows  the great difference in the number of grains between the Hybrid Rice (left) and the Inbred Rice.)

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