rice is never fun...
AMERICANS throw rice at brides, process rice into certain
kinds of beer, and consume mushy quantities of it in soups, the book Merchants
of Grain tells us. But most Americans are not rice eaters.
"The contrast between modern American and Asian rice
farming is the contrast between two cultures, two stages of economic
developments, two eras."
In America, rice production is hi-tech and capital-intensive.
Tractors with air-conditioned operator's hatch level the field and dig the
irrigation ditches. Airplanes seed and spray with fertilizer and chemical
pesticides. Elaborate irrigation and drainage systems control the level of
water. Self-propelled combines harvest the crop when it is ready. The only jobs
that machines do not perform are repairing and maintaining the levees that hold
the water on the crop land. Rice farming operations as large as 600 acres are
common. American rice fields yield three times as much per acre as ordinary
Asian fields. Every year, 14,000 rice farmers grow much more than Americans can
Here in the Philippines, the planting of rice is
back-breaking labor. Women, children, and carabao provide most of the muscle.
Peasants knee deep in muddy water plant each seedling individually. Plots are a
hectare or two, way below optimum economic size. A ton of rice is twice as
expensive as a ton of wheat, which is why Filipinos eat wheat starch (arina) in
the form of noodles and pandesal almost every meal. Tragically, the Philippines
does not plant one blade of wheat. But this is another story, to be taken up in
my next column.
The bountiful yield of US farms is what's behind the
"cram it down their throats" policy by the US government starting in
the '60s. The goal was to find markets all over the world, specifically in Asia,
to sell America's surplus commodities such as rice, wheat starch (harina),
soybean, and corn.
To balance the playing field, stakeholders of the
Philippines' rice-based agro-industry have studied the problems. Many
initiatives have been taken for an efficient instrument and delivery mechanism
of policies that will benefit rice farmers.
One initiative I recently learned about was the formation of
RiceDev, Rice Industry Development Foundation of the Phil. Inc. One of its foci
within the industry is on micro-, small- and medium-enterprises purposely to
access opportunities under RA9187 (Barangay Micro-Business Enterprises Act of
2002) and RA 6977 (Magna Carta for Small and Medium Enterprises) for sustainable
rice-based enterprise systems.
The people behind RiceDev are advocates and practitioners,
among them Alejandro T. Escano, active in agro-industrial enterprises, president
of the Phil Quality and Productivity Movement and Meralco Foundation; Santiago
R. Obien PhD, "father" of the PhilRice; Elpidio Rosario PhD, president
of Madecor Group and director of Farming Systems and Soil Resource Institute;
Cesar Mamaril, PhD, Asia Rice Foundation brown rice project; Genaro D. Revilleza,
business and financial specialist, affiliate faculty of UPLB graduate school;
Leonardo A. Gonzales, PhD, president of Strive Foundation and economist with
IFPR, IRRI, UPLB; Fernando A. Bernardo, former president of Visayan State
College of Agriculture and Asian Assoc of Agri Colleges and Universities;
Antonio Battad PhD, past president of CLSU; Outstanding Rice Farmer, Mr. Rustico
Pinili of Nueva Ecija and the late Joseph C. Madamba PhD, who was the
incorporating secretary for RiceDev. Many others put in effort to establish
programs to which readers may find interest for involvement:
Contract-Extension Programs [among riceDev/PhilRice/ATI/LGUs/
Rice & Rice-based Products Program [among RiceDev/PhilRice/Armed Forces of
the Phil convenience food outlets.