Programs and Activities

Brown rice can cut RP's cereal imports

By Rudy A. Fernandez
The Philippine Star, August 17, 2003

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna — Don't look now, but brown or unpolished rice can considerably reduce the country's annual rice importation.

Proponents of the campaign to bring back nutrients-packed brown rice to the country's dining tables claim that the milling recovery of unpolished rice (75 percent) is more than that of polished or white rice (65 percent).

Here's the arithmetic of the issue:

  • The country expects to harvest 14.2 million cavans of palay this year.
  • If all the harvest is milled into polished or white rice at a milling recovery of 65 percent, the final product is 9.25 million tons.
  • If all the harvest is milled into brown rice at a milling recovery of 75 percent, the final product is 10.65 million tons.
  • To meet the needs of the population of 82 million, the country will import 800,000 metric tons this year.
  • Assuming that only half of the total palay harvest is milled into brown rice, the increment is 700,000 MT, which is only 100,000 MT less than the project ad 800,000 MT of rice to be imported this year.

Although the country has been producing more rice every year (annual average increase of 1.8 percent), the harvest cannot cope with the requirements of the population, which continues to increase at a yearly high rate of 2.3 percent.

It has been computed that three Filipinos are born every minute, 193 in an hour, 4,624 daily and about 1.7 million annually.

The country's population is projected to get past the 100-million mark by year 2020, which is only 17 years away.

Filipinos now are eating more rice.

Statistics show that where before, per capita rice consumption per year was 92 kilograms, it is now 103 kg/yr.

The country's rice consumption is 22,000 tons per day. Of this, 16 percent (70,400 cavans per day) is consumed by Metro Manila, which does not at all produce a grain of rice.

Aside from this, some 10 percent goes to waste, seed requirements, and industrial and other uses.

Why the campaign to revive brown rice?

First, what is brown rice?

Brown rice is unpolished whole grain rice that is produced by removing only the hull or husk using a mortar and pestle or rubber roll mills. The bran not removed in the milling gives the brown color to the grain. It becomes polished (white) rice when the bran layer is stripped off in the milling or "whitening" process.

Popularly known as "pinawa" in Tagalog, brown rice is loaded with more micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) than white rice.

"Unknown to many," the Asia Rice Foundation (ARF) pointed out, "the bran layer contains very important nutrients such as vitamin B complex. Brown rice is also rich in fiber and essential oils. Fiber has been known to prevent major diseases such as gastrointestinal and heart diseases.

ARF added: "The essential oils in the bran have also been shown to prevent heart diseases because these decrease cholesterol, a major risk factor in heart disease. Brown rice has high phytin which is a strong antioxidant; but phytin also reduces iron absorption in the body. This can be corrected by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables."

ARF, chaired by Dr. Emil Q. Javier, former University of the Philippines president, was established in 1998 as a regional nonprofit organization that aims to mobilize and provide support to research, educational, cultural and advocacy movements that promote public appreciation of the role of rice in the diverse cultures of Asia. It also seeks to ensure that farmers can produce enough rice to feed Asia's growing population while preserving the environment.

Brown rice had been popular among Filipinos until the early 1950s. But with the introduction of milling machines that produce the polished rice, consumers' tastes and preferences started to shift in favor of polished rice.

ARF conceded that brown rice has a darker grain surface, takes a little longer to cook, and has a different taste and texture from white rice.

However, in Thailand, where the recent brown rice campaign has been very successful owing to the endorsement by King Bhumibol himself, these problems did not seem to pose much difficulty.

"In some developed countries in Europe, brown rice is a specialty and health food," stated a report prepared by the Committee on Los Baños Pinawa.

As the committee stressed: "The perception that brown rice as a poor man's food can be reversed through a campaign promoting its class appeal by introducing high-quality brown rice in hotels, restaurants, health food stores, and airlines."