That 9 of 10 Filipinos live on rice could have begun long before Philippine history started documenting itself. Results of a Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) survey in 2015-2016 assert that some 93% of the country’s households eat rice daily.

With this high public demand and importance, PhilRice rallies behind the rice farmers who tarry year-round for us to enjoy rice in every meal. This has been the tradition even before 1985 when we were created – to help farmers rise up to production challenges through research, development, and extension initiatives.

New era, new tests

Experts agree that the agricultural landscape continues to change. For one thing, PSA estimates 142 million Filipinos in 2045 from today’s 108M. For the rice sector, this is a stunning scenario as it struggles with land conversion, scarcity and infertility of resources, and unfavorable climate, which make production challenging.

In the coming years, dry areas will be drier and wet areas will be wetter due to severe droughts and floods, no thanks to climate change. For rice farmers, this means yield losses. For instance, a typhoon in September 2018 damaged an estimated 765,000mt of rice. If saved, we could have surpassed our 19.28M mt palay production in 2017, the highest on record.

Additionally, our international trade commitments left our government with no option but to enact the 2019 Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), replacing import limits with tariffs. Economists say the invisible mouth of the law of supply and demand dictates that rice will be more affordable as cheap imported rice fills the market. While this benefits consumers and local farmers whose households also buy rice, the latter have yet to beat the suffocating global competition.

The book, “Comparative Efficiency of Rice Farming in Asia and the Philippines,” admonishes local rice farmers to maximize their outputs with similar or better quality at a lower cost, if only to brandish a semblance of competitiveness. That is on top of their challenges other than trade.

Backing farmers

PhilRice has been developing yieldenhancing, cost-reducing, and environment-friendly technologies since its creation in late 1985. An impact study covering 1997-2007 commissioned by the DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) found that for each peso invested on the Institute, a net return or benefit of P4.45 for the Philippine economy was gained.

The report also noted that commercialized varieties and crop management technologies, which were developed, extended, and promoted, have enabled the Institute to contribute to growth in productivity. Net incomes for rice farmers in less-favorable environments also inched up.

Up to 2018, PhilRice developed more than 80 varieties suitable to various farmer preferences and local conditions. Its genebank also houses more than 17,000 germplasm collections that are being utilized in breeding better varieties.

In his message for the Institute’s 34th anniversary, Agriculture Secretary Dr. William D. Dar has lauded PhilRice’s efforts.

“For more than three decades, we are pleased to note that PhilRice has indeed made great strides in increasing rice production and farmers’ incomes. These include the continued development and promotion of cost-reducing and yieldenhancing technologies, such as hybrid rice and Palayamanan, an integrated rice-based farming system,” he said.

The Institute also pursues development initiatives to directly reach out to farmers, among which is the PhilRice Text Center (PTC). Ricardo Martinez, 59, of Bacolor, Pampanga affirmed that he seeks help from PTC every cropping season.

“I am thankful that there are institutions like PhilRice who do research to improve rice farming. That is why through PTC I always update myself on the latest developments, especially on seeds adapted to our farming environment,” the regular subscriber said.

For Martinez, the knowledge contribution and services of the Institute helped him sustain rice farming.

The Institute has also been regularly training rice specialists since the 1990s. It started from the implementation of the Integrated Pest ManagementKASAKALIKASAN Program, Agricultural Productivity Officers under the Hybrid Rice Program, and UpTech for the Upland Rice Development Program. Rice Sufficiency Officers were also trained, that contributed to the country’s 98% rice self-sufficiency level in 2012.

In addition, a new breed of extensionists called AgRiDoc were trained under “Improving Technology Promotion and Delivery through Capability Enhancement of Next-Gen Rice Extension Professionals and Other Intermediaries” or IPaD funded by the National Rice Program through the DABAR.

These rice specialists have likely reached more than a million farmers through the years.

PhilRice had also trained rebel returnees, military personnel, retirees, women, and youth on rice and rice-based production.

As the rice industry sails through a new era, the Institute exerts its best efforts to serve the farmers. With RTL, PhilRice is commissioned to develop, propagate, and promote high-quality inbred rice seeds and strengthen organizations toward seed production. It also has funding for extension services.

Ways forward

On top of implementing the RCEF-Seed and Extension Programs, the Institute also runs initiatives that focus on climate resiliency, market competitiveness of rice and rice-based farming communities, advanced science and technology, increased availability and accessibility of public-bred varieties, strong science-based and supportive policy environment to guide national and local decisions on rice-related issues, and knowledge management.

As ordained in its mission statement, “PhilRice will pursue a balanced R4D approach along strategic areas to effectively address problems and opportunities in the rice industry.”

Farmers are assured that, as they face gargantuan challenges in the industry, PhilRice will continue to walk with them every step of the way.•

With excerpts from Our Best for our Farmers: the PhilRice Story, The PhilRice Strategic Plan 2017-2022, and the PhilRice website.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture created through Executive Order 1061 on 5 November 1985 (as amended) to help develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute