Philippines nearing status as exporter of rice
AN executive of a commercial seed company claimed on Monday that it would not take long before the Philippines can reclaim its status as a rice-exporting country.
“It is just a matter of time that we will be finally exporting rice to our neighboring countries,” said Henry Lim Bon Liong, Chair and CEO of SL Agritech Corp. during the awarding ceremonies for farmers who registered high yields of hybrid rice in the recent wet cropping season.
The country became a rice exporter in the late seventies when outbound shipment of the commodity reached as far as Brazil. Unable to sustain the gains in the succeeding years, however, the Philippines has been reduced to a mere buyer from neighboring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, once importers of locally produced rice.
Agriculture Secretary Luis P. Lorenzo Jr. agreed with Liong, saying that the country is on its way to becoming a rice exporter of high-value rice varieties like Doña Maria (SL-8H), which was developed by SL Agritech.
Frisco Malabanan, program director of the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani rice program, explained that after achieving a new record-high harvest of 13.49-million metric tons (MT) of palay (unmilled rice) in 2003, the country’s target is to harvest between 14.9 million MT to 15.4 million MT in 2004. The national palay requirement is estimated at 15.48 million MT this year.
“We don’t see any reason why we cannot attain our target, which is to achieve 97 percent to 100-percent sufficiency rice in 2004,” Malabanan said.
Malabanan said this would be possible by planting hybrid and certified rice seeds in 200,000 hectares in the wet cropping season (May to November) and in 400,000 hectares in the next dry cropping season (December to April).
However, he admitted that the rice program suffers from budgetary constraints following the failure of Congress to pass a higher appropriation for the Department of Agriculture for 2004. The rice program was given a measly budget of P1.79 billion in 2003.
Malabanan said the program’s final goal is to plan hybrid rice seeds in 800,000 hectares of irrigated lands in the dry cropping season and in 1-million hectares in the wet cropping season.
“If we can do that, we can be more than self-sufficient in rice and start exporting rice,” he said.
Despite the increase in output last year using certified hybrid seeds, Malabanan admitted that farmlands continue to dwindle.
Total irrigated farmlands declined by 40,000 hectares nationwide in 2003. Rice output using certified hybrid seeds, however, increased to 13.5 million MT from 13.27 million MT in 2002 and 12 million MT in 2001.
Although production went up, the opportunity loss resulting from the dwindling size of farmlands also increased. For instance, the 40,000 hectares would have yielded about 500,000 MT of certified hybrid rice, Malabanan said.
The amount is almost equal to 50 percent of what the National Food Authority imports, he said. The government, however, is helpless in preventing farmers from selling their land for instant gratification.
The decline in irrigated farmlands is a result of the transformation of land into for residential, commercial and industrial use. This means that tracts of previous farmland are being coverted to build houses, condominium units, memorial parks, subdivisions, malls, office spaces, factories and other commercial establishments.
The incentive from selling land for development is more rewarding to the farmers, said Malabanan. He added that farmers receive millions of pesos by selling their land than the few thousand pesos from tilling it every season.
To curb the alarming trend, the government has embarked on education and training programs to heighten the awareness of farmers of the benefits of dedicating lands to agriculture, particularly to the use of certified hybrid seeds.
Malabanan said a 20-kilo bag of certified hybrid seeds planted on one hectare land will yield about 6 MT of rice, compared with 4.5 MT of rice using only certified inbred seeds.
Each local government unit in 36 provinces is fielding teams to conduct technical briefings and technology demonstrations at the farmer level. Each province has about 20 to 30 municipalities, he added. Part of the effort is also to distribute subsidized seeds to farmers to ease the costs. The farmer only has to answer for the land area and the labor.
However, Malabanan noted the few regions in the country which have the capability to produce their own seeds.
During the awarding ceremonies, SL Agritech acknowledged Ernesto Pablo Sr. of Rizal, Occidental Mindoro for harvesting a total of 292 50-kilo cavans (14.6 metric tons) of fresh palay from his one-hectare farm last October. Upon drying, the harvest translated to 258 cavans (12.4 MT) of dried weight palay ready for milling, much higher than the national average yield of only 3.7 MT.
Antonio Villanueva of Tagudin, Ilocos Sur was also recognized for increasing his harvest to 10.7 MT.
The seed company also conferred on the Tabuk town in Kalinga province as the best municipality in terms of planting SL-8H. Isabela won the provincial category of the award while Central Luzon bested all regions.
Other hybrid rice varieties being endorsed by the government are Mestizo (PSB Rc72H), Mestizo 2 (NSIC Rc114H) and Mestizo 3 (NSIC Rc116H) of PhilRice; Bigante of Bayer CropScience Inc.; Magilas 500 of Monsanto Philippines, Inc.; and Rizalina 28 of HyRice.
Not all groups were supporting the government’s hybrid rice program. Rafael Mariano, chairman of Anakpawis party list, for example, claimed that the grains of hybrid rice are broken into pieces during milling.
“At present, the government also subsidizes half the cost of hybrid seeds. The question is will the farmers continue to plant hybrid seeds if the government stops subsidizing a part of its cost?” asked Mariano.