PhilSCAT is the first and largest technical assistance project of China to this country. It is part of the US$100 million-credit loan (684.63 million yuan) signed in 2000 between the Philippines Department of Agriculture (DA), and the Ministry of Agriculture of China. China provided US$5-million (34.23 million yuan) outright donation, while the DA provided land and allocated 10.5 million pesos (US$207,734) to pay for part of the cost of construction of buildings and facilities and personnel salary. Total cost is around 500 million pesos (US$10.39 million).
About 50 Chinese hybrid rice varieties (CHRV) were initially introduced. The best performing ones, 33 in all, were selected after series of testing in 22 rice-growing municipalities. Seven new varieties were developed by PhilSCAT. Three were submitted for approval to the National Cooperative Testing (NCT) center for large-scale seed production and possible distribution by PhilRice (a DA agency), and private seed companies.
With an average population growth of 2.36 % per annum, rice harvests are insufficient to feed the entire population for one year. The Philippines has one of the lowest yield of rice per hectare and a higher cost of rice compared to Vietnam and Thailand.
These problems cannot be addressed through scientific and technical methods alone. Scientific and technical agricultural procedures are very important, but addressing social and economic issues are more difficult. In the Philippines, unlike in China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar, the government actively supports agriculture at all stages of production. The government spearheads research and development, especially developing high-yielding, stress-resistant seeds, the provision of support services, financial subsidy to farmers, provision of infrastructure, tax relief and consolidating large tracts of rice lands for more efficient use, and the management of irrigation facilities and agricultural machinery.
The average Filipino rice farmer has very small and often scattered land holdings. Since he has very little capital, he cannot invest in the high-yield seed variety and relies on the inbred variety he has planted each year. The farm size, averaging some two or less hectares, also hinders capital investment since banks require sizable collateral for every loan.
Lack of easy credit on easy terms exacerbates the farmer’s problem. He cannot, therefore, invest in high yielding seeds or the necessary farm inputs in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, milling, drying, storage facilities, transport, and marketing. Moreover, since the small farmer cannot afford farm machinery and so relies on his physical strength, he spends a great deal more effort in producing small amounts of harvest.
For all the hard work he invests in his small harvest of rice crop (average of 2–4 tons per hectare), in order to survive he must sell his rice at a higher price. But many farmers barely survive on rice crop alone, so they tend to look for other forms of employment to supplement their meager income.
The average Filipino rice farmer does not avail himself of farm machinery, even though machines are more efficient and can ease the drudgery of work. A component of the PhilSCAT project is the mechanization of farm labor to solve labor shortage in rice farms since many young people, once educated, do not want to engage in farming.
Mechanization of farming technology is an important component of PhilSCAT. The China Agricultural Import and Export Machinery Corp. (CAMC) implements this part of the project. CAMC is a government-owned corporation that manufactures and sells all kinds of agricultural machinery.
Engineers and technicians of CAMC provide training in the use, maintenance, and servicing of farm machinery. This includes mechanical transplanters, combine harvesters, as well as winnowing, milling, drying, and packaging machinery. Several farm machinery have been customized to meet Philippine conditions. China-made farm machinery are more suitable to the Philippines since they are smaller, simpler, and easier for small farms to use and maintain.
Filipino farmers want to mechanize farming to ease labor and lower production cost. They are very happy with the China-made farm machinery and want to acquire them. But most of them cannot afford to buy these machines. What is needed is to organize them into cooperatives whose members can acquire or rent machinery and be responsible for payment and maintenance. The government must be involved in this.
If the burden of farm labor is reduced, and production increases, it will make rice farming profitable; and more young people would be encouraged to become rice farmers.
Rice farmers, those who produce our food, should be better rewarded for their arduous labor.
Print ed: 05/09