Rice is the staple food of majority of Filipinos. So important is rice to our diet that to our mind, “kain” literally translated means “to eat rice.” Unless we eat rice (kanin), we tend to think that we have not yet eaten. All other kinds of food are “kakanin” (snacks).
We have been producing rice for centuries. We have some of the best schools of agriculture including the site of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos, Laguna. And yet why do we need to import at least two million tons of rice every year at the cost of US$350 million?
Why is rice more expensive in our country compared to countries like Thailand and Vietnam whose territory and population size are similar to ours? Why are our farmers the poorest and least rewarded sector in our society? These questions are answered by our interview with Prof. Cheng Jiangli, an expert agronomist and Co-Director of the Philippine-Sino Center for Agricultural Technology (PhilSCAT) located at the Central Luzon State University in Munoz, Nueva Ecija. Together with his Co-Director, Dr. Romeo V. Gavino, Prof. Cheng has been involved with PhilSCAT since its inception in 2000 to the present.
During the interview, he expressed his deep concern over the state of rice productivity in our country. Regardless of technological advancement and employment opportunities for Filipinos who seek jobs abroad, he believes that for the Philippines, agriculture and provision of food crops should be the mainstay of the economy that can help provide the capital for other industries. [Professor Lim acknowledges with gratitude the help of Mr Zhou Chengshu, manager of Long Ping High Tech Corp., who acted as her interpreter during the interview—Ed.]
PhilSCAT is a joint project between the Philippines and China in the field of rice production focused on the adaptation, production and acclimatization of Chinese hybrid rice varieties. It involves design, construction of facilities, provision of equipment, laboratory instruments and materials, research, training of farmers in scientific methods of agriculture, and mechanization of farm labor.
The project also entails dispatch of Chinese scientists to the Philippines and exchanges of personnel. So far, nine Chinese experts have helped implement the projects. They cooperate with the various agencies of the Department of Agriculture (DA) from research, to the development of rice varieties and training of farmers.
Although there are Philippine rice varieties and agricultural methods that have been applied to meet rice requirements for the country, there are some advantages to be derived from Chinese Hybrid Varieties (CHVR). The question arises on whether harvested seeds from CHRV can be used for the next crop.
Prof. Cheng said that there certainly are well established locally produced rice varieties called inbred varieties. However, these varieties have very low yield per hectare and are vulnerable to many kinds of pests. IR 8 is one high-yielding variety developed by IRRI that was the core of the “Green Revolution.” But it required large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides that proved not only more expensive to small farmers but poisoned the soil and water table in the long run.
On the other hand, CHRV are not only high yielding, they are also more resistant to pests, fungi, and adverse climatic conditions. As long as farmers follow scientific agricultural methods they are assured larger harvests and environmental safety. Hybrid rice varieties whether from China or elsewhere need 99.9 purity of seeds. Harvested seeds from the previous crop cannot be used to raise the next crop.
Hybrid rice varieties are not self-pollinated. They are cross-pollinated so that hybrid seeds must be obtained from specialized rice breeding stations that guarantee purity of the breed. Even if the seed may cost as much as P200 per kilo because it ensures larger harvest it is more economical and even profitable to farmers.
In PhilScat demonstration farms and several other private farmers, CHRV yields obtained from 10.9 tons per hectare to as much as 14.12 tons per hectare compared to only 2-4 tons per hectare of inbred rice. The national average yield per hectare is about 3.8 tons per hectare.
Apart from producing higher yield, there are many other qualities and features we look for in the choice of which hybrid variety to plant. It depends on the farmer’s capability and demands of the consumers. Combination of several features are considered: nutrition level, taste, texture, resistance to pests, ability to withstand adverse climatic conditions, higher recovery after milling, storage life, less demanding of labor, and less requirement of fertilizer and pest control.
Print ed: 04/09