Written by Eufemio T Rasco Jr
In the few instances that the Philippines has achieved rice sufficiency in recent years, sufficiency was achieved for only one or two years, after which a long period of deficit follows. The issue, therefore, is not whether sufficiency can be achieved but if it can be sustained. To address the issue of sustainability, one needs to look at the pattern of supply and demand.
On the supply side, improving irrigation had received the highest investment from the government, accounting for more than 50% of the annual budget of the DA in recent years. This is expected to increase the harvested area and improve productivity. Indeed, a casual look at the recent increases in rice production indicates that the main contributor to the production increase is increase in harvested area. However, increases in yield per unit area had been relatively modest.
Further rice supply increases must come from land productivity. To achieve this, the farmer needs to adopt high yielding inbreds and hybrids and provide the needed fertilizers, water and other inputs to realize the yield potential of these varieties. He must be able to obtain these inputs at a fairly low cost. The following cost-reducing technological interventions can make an impact:
1. Low seeding rate
2. Direct seeding (inbreds)
3. Use of vermicast as fertilizer combined with split applications of chemical fertilizer
4. Reduced tillage
5. Alternate wetting and drying (irrigation management)
6. Combine harvesting
The latter (and mechanization in general) is the most difficult to implement in large scale, because of the capital requirement. However, its impact is not only in cost reduction, but also in higher grain recovery, and faster operation, resulting in faster turn around time for the land, making it possible to increase cropping intensity.
Mechanization in land preparation and crop establishment, in addition to combine harvesting, can substantially reduce cost of labor, and make significant reduction in overall production cost and increase in profitability.
Profitability is a key issue. Considering small landholdings, a rice farmer cannot subsist on profits from rice production alone. He must diversify his source of income. From the rice environment, there are many possibilities for diversification: other crops, livestock/poultry, mushroom, among others – all of which depend directly or indirectly on rice farming. With an economically viable farming operation, farmers can be motivated to continue farming, invest more in rice production, and thus sustain the needed increases in rice yield.
All of the above requirements for improving rice production technology and diversification require a support system that will make the technological inputs available to the poor farmer. This can be institutionalized through a network of nucleus estates that will demonstrate the viability of these technologies and advance inputs such as mechanization, hybrid seed and fertilizers to the poor farmers in their immediate surroundings. The nucleus estates can also provide processing and marketing services. The nucleus estates function as “banks” that will lend inputs in kind and collect payments also in kind, during harvest.
On the demand side, statistics clearly show a reduction in rice consumption with increasing income. Indeed, per capita rice consumption is highest in the impoverished rural areas. If the farming communities prosper because of the technological interventions cited above, then rice consumption will likely decline, and it will become easier to achieve rice sufficiency.
The strategy for rice sufficiency then revolves around the nucleus estates, a concept that had been so successfully implemented by modern plantations, which produce globally competitive agricultural products such as bananas, pineapple, coffee and rubber. Initially, this can be established at a relatively low additional investment in existing branch and satellite stations of PHilRice, which have the basic facilities and personnel. Additional nucleus estates can be established in state universities and technical vocational schools that have substantial rice lands. Subsequently, at a higher investment cost, farmers’ organizations can establish their own nucleus estates. The private sector can also be counted to invest as the potential for profits from operating a nucleus estate is demonstrably high.