Is hybrid rice the answer?

By Marianne Go
Headlines, April 14, 2008


http://www.philstar .com/index. php?Headlines&p=49&type=2&sec=24&aid=20080413105


As the country faces a growing global food crisis, groups are debating whether hybrid rice is the answer to the rice supply problem.


Non-government organizations are urging the Department of Agriculture (DA) to promote the use of traditional rice varieties to rebuild the country's rice stocks for long-term production rather than resort to high-yielding hybrid seeds.


The Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) and Centro Saka called on Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap to rely more on traditional rice varieties instead of promoting high yielding hybrid varieties, which the group said places small farmers at the mercy of private firms.


The two groups made the appeal as the country's top hybrid rice producer announced it has planted at least 800,000 hectares of hybrid variety in the effort to make the country self-sufficient in rice.


Henry Lim Ben Liong, chairman and chief executive officer of SL Agritech Corp. stressed the great potential of hybrid rice (HR) in making the country self-sufficient because of its high yield.


At present, average production from traditional rice varieties only yields 3.8 tons per hectare or 76 cavans.


The average yield of hybrid rice variety is almost double at 6.5 tons per hectare, according to Director Frisco Malabanan of the government's GMA rice program.


Malabanan added the country's 4.2 million-hectare rice farmland has 300,000 hectares planted with hybrid varieties.


He said the country is expected to produce 17.3 million metric tons of palay, or 11.2 million MT of milled rice for this year but this could not fill domestic consumption at 12.1 million MT.


Lim, however, said the HR variety with its high yield harvest can considerably boost the country's rice production program.


Lim said they have been planting the SL-8H hybrid rice variety which has been averaging a yield of eight to 10 tons per hectare.


Lim cited the testimonies of several farmers who tried planting the hybrid variety which they all claimed has given them financial rewards.


On the other hand, the Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) and Centro Saka groups argued the planting of hybrid rice variety also needs some chemicals from the private firms providing the seeds.


Jessica Cantos-Reyes of R1 said hybrid seeds can only be used one time, unlike traditional rice varieties which allow the farmers to reuse some of the harvested grains.


Because of its one time application, Reyes pointed out the farmers would have to regularly purchase more expensive hybrid seeds.


The hybrid seeds, Reyes further explained, do not require as much effort in planting, allowing the farmer to just throw and spread the seeds and apply ever increasingly expensive fertilizer to enhance their growth.


Although traditional rice seeds require a more tedious and methodical way of planting, Reyes said it is not as dependent on fertilizers and other chemical inputs, thus allowing for a more sustainable, though lower yield crop.


Reyes warned the promotion of hybrid seeds allows SL Agritech to corner the market.


While rebuilding the country's rice stock may take a little longer, Reyes assured the growth would be sustainable over the long-term since small farmers would not be burdened by maintaining expensive hybrid seeds and chemical inputs.




Centro Saka, for its part, said the government should begin investing and channeling resources to the provision of good seeds, irrigation facilities and other incentives that would encourage and enable the rice farmers to produce more food.


The P43.5 billion for rice production that has been declared for release by the President is no small change to a sector that has been perennially starved of funds, Centro Saka pointed out. The group warned the money has to be channeled correctly.


Centro Saka said the bulk of resources for grains production currently goes to hybrid rice production, which is the government's centerpiece intervention in rice production.


This is contrary to the position taken by the country's rice producers who have long rejected the Hybrid Rice Commercialization Program (HRCP) which began in 2001, Centro Saka argued.

The group claimed hybrid rice's contribution to total rice production remains minimal at only 12 percent.


In contrast, good seeds contribute 50 percent of production, while certified seeds make up 38 percent.


Thus, it should be logical and fair for government to provide more funds to the sector that contributes the most, Centro Saka said.


The group warned that spending billions on the expensive hybrid rice program is a waste of government resources with no significant impact.


While hybrid rice may have the potential to plug the supply deficit temporarily, the costs are too steep in the long run, the group said.

The country's seven-year experience with the hybrid variety showed the program caused a serious drain on government resources with only dismal returns.


Moreover, the damage to the environment by intensive use of chemical-based inputs for hybrid rice production is simply unacceptable, Centro Saka said.


"The administration' s fixation with hybrid rice, is based on the misguided belief that only hybrid rice can produce significant increases in production. This is completely false," Centro Saka said.


In fact, even without expanding the area devoted to rice production, the Philippines can produce enough rice to feed its growing population, they said.


Reyes said one factor to improving production is to ensure irrigation of agricultural lands and put an end to land conversion for commercial use.




A recent study made by SEARCA and PhilRICE said  yields from good seeds and certified seeds can reach a maximum of 9 metric tons/hectare and 10 MT/ha., respectively.


Using the latest rice hectarage of 4,272,000 hectares, Centro Saka calculated the country can produce as much as 38,448,000 metric tons of palay or 29,904,000 MT of milled rice by using good seeds.


This is even assuming that milling recovery is only 60 percent which is the current national average, the group said.


With the use of certified seeds, rice production could go up to as high as 42,720,000 MT or about 25,632,000 MT of milled rice, Centro Saka said.


This is more than enough to wipe out the annual production short-falls and ensure rice self-sufficiency for our population, they said.


Actual field experience with farmer developed varieties also show that yields of up to 7 MT/ha. are achievable using organic farming practices, Centro Saka said.


This compares favorably to the less than 6 MT/ha. average yield for hybrid rice.


Rice farmers who employed the system of rice intensification managed to produced yields reaching as high as 9 MT/ha. Moreover, the small rice farmers have been reporting milling recovery rates that range between 70 to 75 percent, much higher than that registered by hybrid rice.


What is even more notable is that the small rice farmers were able to achieve this level of production without government support.


But the government, the group said, has not tapped the expertise of these organic rice farmers.


With the right mix of government support and rechanneling of resources to common-sense interventions like irrigation, post harvest facilities and research and development, more small rice farmers stand to produce more food on a less costly and more sustainable basis, Centro Saka said.




Irrigation remains a crucial component of rice production and has been shown to contribute as much as 25 percent to production increases, Centro Saka pointed out.


The group claimed the government had neglected irrigation development for decades.

They cited the recent study made by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which revealed the Philippines exhibited no growth in irrigated lands as compared to its neighbors in Southeast Asia.


Myanmar and Laos, the two poorest members of ASEAN managed seven percent and two percent growth, respectively.


Under the Arroyo administration, there was even a decline in irrigation development with new areas covered by irrigation dropping from 28,148 ha. in 2002 to only 12,127 ha. in 2004. Areas rehabilitated by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) were almost halved from 269,665 in 2002 to 129,451 in 2004.


Irrigation data for 2006 shows that around 2.2 million hectares of the country's rice lands are irrigated while 1.4 million hectares are rain-fed.


As much as 90 percent of currently rain-fed areas are irrigable, Centro Saka claimed.


If government manages to construct irrigation facilities in these irrigable lands, the country stands to add as much as 1.26 million hectares to the country's irrigated lands, and potentially double current production yields, the group said.


Clearly, by simply providing farmers with good seeds, promoting organic rice farming and constructing additional irrigation facilities, government could set the country on the road to self-sufficiency in food production, the two groups stressed.


The groups said the government should focus on the implementation of the Rice Master Plan that small rice farmers have long been advocating. – Rudy A. Fernandez




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