Hybrid rice: An answer to rural poverty?
TABUK, Kalinga—Tales of success abound in this mainly rural town of 90,000 people who have embraced the government’s hybrid rice technology after the first few who have tried crossbreeding parent lines of rice earned hefty sums that may sound too good to be true at first.
]Here, there is the familiar tale of one physician who left his clinic to the care of his wife to dabble in hybrid rice seed (F1) production in the dry cropping season of 2003. Four months later, he earned enough to build a two-story hospital building.
Another seed grower is called a “millionaire” for raking in huge profits from his nine-hectare farm. There is another tale of another seed grower who was able to buy a van in just one harvest of hybrid rice seeds.
In one village called “Barangay Hybrid”, the chairman and his constituents wear happy faces for their improved income since they shifted to hybrid rice in 2001.
Jose R. Casibang, the provincial rice program coordinator, said these stories of success are not just tales. Hybrid rice seed production, he claimed could really push farmers’ income to more than P100,000 a hectare in just one cropping season.
Tabuk, a rural town of 90,000 people, is fast becoming the hybrid rice seed capital in the country, with 837 hectares allocated for the hybrid rice seed (F1) production. Here the average farm size is more than two hectares.
Ironically, Kalinga is not among the 11 provinces originally identified by the government as priority areas in hybrid rice propagation. These provinces are Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Camarines Sur, Bohol, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, Davao del Norte, Maguindanao, Lanao del Norte, and Iloilo.
All over the country, some 2,857 hectares allocated for F1 production last year. Frisco M. Malabanan, the DA rice program director, said he expects it to increase to 5,000 hectares this year.
Jaime Almora, a Tabuk physician who inherited a 24-hectare farm from his parents, chose to cultivate the land and prepare it for F1 production. In just one cropping season, Almora earned millions of pesos, enough to build a larger hospital— the Almora General Hospital, according to Casibang.
Eusebio Orpreso, an engineer, tended a three-hectare lot for F1 production in the dry cropping season last year. He produced 2,000 kilos of hybrid seeds, netted P720,000 and later bought a Hi-Ace van.
Rodolfo Apil, one of the first to try the hybrid rice varieties, cultivates a nine-hectare farm for F1 production and another five hectares for certified seeds and inbred seeds production. One agriculture official calls him “Mr. Millionaire” for his huge profits.
In Sitio San Pablo, Barangay Lacnog, Chair Robert G. Olyaon said 50 seed growers have been producing an average of 1,200 to 1,500 kilos of hybrid rice seeds in each hectare. The seed growers, he claimed, netted an average of P100,000 in just one cropping last year.
Despite all the hype, sources in the Department of Agriculture said not all farmers who ventured into hybrid rice technology became successful. “A lot of others failed, but they were not announced,” they said.
Analysts said the farmers in Tabuk represent the best of the farmers in the country. Those who were interviewed by journalists also own more than three hectares each. Another criticism by peasant groups is that the hybrid rice grains become powdery when milled, resulting in smaller panicles.
Sources also warned that hybrid rice seed production is not ideal during rainy season. “While some farmers could earn P100,000 per hectare, others could be totally bankrupt,” they said.
One criticism is that the hybrid rice seed program has been politicized and used in the upcoming election. “The hybrid rice program did not start with the Arroyo administration. It was a long process that began in the Marcos administration,” sources said.
For one, the first Mestizo variety (PSB Rc72H) was developed as early as 1994 and released in 1997 under the Ramos administration.
The Department of Agriculture claimed that with the expansion of irrigated areas planted with hybrid rice and certified seeds to 600,000 hectares in 2004, the country is on its way to achieving 97 to 100 percent sufficiency in rice.
“The possibility that we could even export rice in the near future is now very real,” one official said.
Critics, however, questioned the numbers of the government. They claimed that the National Food Authority (NFA) is importing at least 600,000 metric tons (MT) of rice this year, representing 6 percent of the country’s annual rice requirement estimated at 10 million MT.