Written by the Web Team
When Benigno Aquino III was proclaimed the 15th President of the Republic of the Philippines, one of the major objectives he set or proclaimed is for the country to become rice self-sufficient by the end of 2013.
Some sectors thought that was an “impossible dream” but the Aquino administration strongly believed that rice self-sufficiency can be achieved at the end of this year. President Aquino issued Proclamation no. 494 on October 18, 2012 to formally declare 2013 as the National Year of Rice (NYR).
Responsible rice eating
NYR 2013 is an advocacy campaign that aims to promote efficient rice farming through adoption of proven rice production technologies by farmers, and inspiring them to perform better. Equally important is the advocacy to promote responsible rice consumption for better health and less rice wastage.
What the campaign advocates are for Filipinos to minimize rice wastage, and to try brown rice and other food staples. The Department of Agriculture (DA) leads the nationwide campaign with Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) as the secretariat.
According to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, Filipinos waste an average of two tablespoons of rice daily. In 2010, that waste was equivalent to a staggering P6.2 billion or more than 300,000 mt of rice which could feed 2.6 million people for a year. Decreasing, or better yet, eliminating this wastage will be a great contribution in achieving rice self-sufficiency.
Apart from valuing each grain, the campaign is also encouraging Filipinos to eat unpolished or brown rice, which takes lesser energy to mill because white rice takes two passes at the mill to produce.
Unpolished rice is also rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber, and is an excellent source of manganese, selenium, magnesium, and various B vitamins. White rice, on the other hand, is around 90% starch.
The reason why brown rice was not sold widely in the past is its limited acceptance by Filipino households as white rice still has a longer shelf life. Also, some brown rice varieties need more water to cook. But brown rice is slowly gaining acceptance among Filipino households, thanks to government entities preaching its health benefits.
Together with brown rice, the campaign is promoting the consumption of other staples as sources of carbohydrates. This is primarily through rice mixes such as rice-corn, rice-adlai, and rice camote. While this can lessen the pressure on rice demand, this will also promote better health among rice consumers. Corn, adlai and other staples have vitamins that are only trace amounts, if not absent, in rice. NYR advocates balance and diversity in diet for better health.
“Before the National Year of Rice was declared, increasing paddy rice was seen as the sole key to the attainment of rice self-sufficiency by the Philippines. But equally important is the adoption of responsible rice eating habits by Filipinos to reduce rice wastage and improve one’s overall health,” Dr. Eufemio T. Rasco Jr, PhilRice executive director, said.
President Aquino entrusted the task of increasing rice production to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, one of the most hardworking Cabinet secretaries who harnessed the expertise of the DA’s personnel and line agencies like PhilRice to ramp up paddy rice production in the country.
So far, increasing domestic paddy rice production can be considered a resounding success as the country attained a record harvest of unmilled or paddy rice of 18.03 million metric tons last year, while rice imports plummeted from a high as 500,000 metric tons during the previous administration, to less than 200,000 MT this year.
Notably, the rice imports during the past administration were necessary to fill up shortfall in domestic production, while the latest imports of the staple will be used as buffer stock during the lean months.
Also, last year’s sterling figures in rice production were achieved even with several strong typhoons battering the country.
Rasco said that one of the ways to combat the effects of climate change on agriculture is to teach farmers to use cultivation technologies and higher yielding seeds.
“Last year’s record production of paddy rice could not have been possible if farmers did not adopt the technologies PhilRice has developed, among others,” Rasco said.
For this year, the DA is targeting a production volume of 20 million MT, which is another record.
Support from President
President Aquino himself has vowed support for the country to achieve rice self-sufficiency this year, and backed the provision of a P74.10-billion budget to the Department of Agriculture for 2013, the bulk of which will be used to bolster rice production.
The President even said that the Philippines can become a rice exporter this year, emphasizing that his “tuwid na daan” [righteous path] battlecry will help pave the way for that.
“Before, millions of tons of rice left to rot in warehouses owing to mismanagement. Now, through honest and efficient administration and favourable weather…we will also be exporting rice in 2013,” he said in his speech during the 27th founding anniversary celebration of PhilRice.
“We have declared 2013 as National Year of Rice to speed up rice self-sufficiency. However, this declaration would just be a piece of paper without the support of Filipinos. This initiative would only succeed if each of us would contribute to the goal,” President Aquino said.
With the National Year of Rice addressing the advocacies for the increased production of rice and promotion or healthy eating habits, there is strong reason to believe that the Philippines will become self-sufficient in the staple before or by the end of 2013. Finally, what was once an impossible dream – of the Philippines becoming self-sufficient in rice – is within reach.