News & Events

Planting rice is never fun...

Dahli Aspillera 
Malaya, The National Newspaper, February 28, 2005 

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 consume.

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 RiceDev.

Emerging programs to which readers may find interest for involvement:

Joint-venture Seed Systems Cooperative [among RiceDev/PhilRice/Seed Growers Association/Rice-based Producers' Coop/LGUs]

Province-specific Contract-Extension Programs [among riceDev/PhilRice/ATI/LGUs/

Processed Rice & Rice-based Products Program [among RiceDev/PhilRice/Armed Forces of the Phil convenience food outlets.