Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The quest for rice goes on as hybrid variety misfires.
Talavera, Nueva Ecija. In cockfights as in hybrid rice seeds, there is a winner and a loser.
Sa Pula! Sa Puti!(Red! White!) Gamblers shout in a frenzy as they root for and place bets in a particular fighting cock.
A hybrid rice company, however, wins either way.
Rice seeds coated red and white were distributed to farmers in the province, some 20,000 sacks, according to a source from the Philippine Rice Institute (Philrice).
The white-coated seeds germinated and took the normal growth pattern for this variety.
But the red-coated seeds started to “shoot” or form panicles between 17 days and 24 days when these were still a foot high. This stage of the plant’s development should come when the plant is at least two or more feet to promote a higher yield
The term the farmers use for this is nabubuntis, or the plant getting pregnant. Akin to this phenomenon is that human pregnancies usually occur in early teens or adulthood, not in childhood.
The Philrice source said this situation could disrupt President Arroyo’s rice program.
The lady mayor of the municipality of Llanera is reported to have filed a complaint with the Department of Agriculture. Many of her constituents are distraught.
In the midst of all this, the Filipino sense of humor cannot be staunched: Talk in Llanera is that they have been meted with “high blood,” not hybrid.
For those with financial means, replanting is an option. They hope that the plants would still be able to mature before the rain season begins in late May.
But where to buy the hybrid seeds or the superior inbred mestizo?
Hybrid seeds are not readily available. Much of the hybrid seeds produced in the Philippines are exported to better-paying buyers like Indonesia.
In the last two years, those who have availed themselves of hybrid seeds were apprehensive about how the plants grow uneven in height. But the fuss died down because hybrid seeds give higher yields than the usual varieties come harvest time.
Hybrid seeds are scarce also because the paying capacities of Filipino farmers are as varied as the location of their farms; and those who get credit aren’t that prompt in meeting obligations.
A progressive governor pays promptly so much of the hybrid seeds from the pier are directly delivered to the province of this provincial executive.
San Jose City’s barangay Tondod councilor Romulo Valenton Jr. brought reporters to a gathering of farmers, mostly women, lamenting over their current crop, anxious of how they would cope in the days ahead
His aunt Viviana Valenton, 56, who manages a one-hectare farm says “I was looking forward to 148 cavans this season. Now I might not even get 30.
She paid P3,500 for a tractor plow. She also paid for water to be pumped into her farm because land, and that of her immediate neighbors are higher than the irrigation canal.
“I had to buy the fertilizers, the herbicide, the pesticides. There is the budget for the hired hands, for weeding, planting… And I had to shell out P2,500 for the 20-kilo bag of hybrid seeds.”
In this situation of red and white coated-rice seed, the farmers who paid P2,500 a 20-kilo sack of hybrid seed as well as the national government that subsidized the balance of the buying price are the losers.
The farmers of course lose more because, like Valenton, they had to rent tractors if not farm animals, and water pumps, and buy fertilizers and pesticides, and pay for hired hands.
Many of these farmers do not have crop insurance. If they do, the coverage is mostly for natural calamities. What is happening in this province is man-made.
Mely Valenton, 39, shares the farming chores with her husband who once in a while goes out of the village when called for his carpentry services. She was tilling half a hectare and expecting a proportionate harvest to that of Viviana’s.
Nenita Puedan, 42, whose husband is similarly situated as Mely’s but with a different skill, also works on half a hectare. She stares at the sky to mirror the pain in the other women’s faces. “Where do we turn to for help?” she laments.
The predicament of these farmers brings to surface the policy issues about rice and national security.
Should the Philippines remain dependent on hybrid-rice seeds sourced mainly from foreign countries no matter how benevolent, or encourage and support the development of a superior inbred variety?
The Philippines produced the mestizo inbred that has quality taste a yield higher than usual. This variety, however, seems to have vanished into thin air.
Also, a retired colonel proposed that 10,000 hectares of the Iwahig Penal Colony be turned into a production site for inbred seeds. The idea deserves looking into with the additional suggestion other areas in the Philippines be similarly developed. It is safer not to place all one’s rice in one basket.
To be self-sufficient in rice is not simply a matter of attaining higher production yields. There is also a need to put in place programs that would see to it that post harvest facilities are installed.
The National Rice Forum should also complement efforts of the Department of Agriculture, and for rice and agricultural activists to sprout in this country.
Click the link below to review our solution to the rice crisis.