This is in reaction to Agriculture Undersecretary Bernie Fondevilla?s letter (Inquirer, 4/23/08) outlining the government?s package of initiatives to address the rice crisis.
The additional funding for rice and crop production is welcome, but we disagree with how government plans to spend it. The package, dubbed FIELDS, intends to increase the hectarage devoted to hybrid rice. This is illogical given the poor performance of the hybrid rice program and the many issues against it.
As currently designed, the package is no different from those that have turned us into the world?s biggest rice importer. By subsidizing hybrid rice, we are subsidizing big seed companies like SL-Agrictech, Bayer and Monsanto, when we should be using that money to support our own rice farmers. FIELDS will actually make us dependent on private companies that are not accountable to the public.
Equally disturbing is the hybrid rice?s heavy reliance on chemical-based inputs to reach optimum yields. With the skyrocketing prices of inorganic fertilizers, hybrid rice production will only force farmers deeper into indebtedness. Chemical-based farming will also cause more environmental damage.
We are facing a rice crisis now because we poured the lion?s share of resources into the expensive and flawed hybrid rice program. And yet, again, we hear all this talk of increasing funding for rice hybridization.
Government insists on supporting hybrid rice because of the supposed yield advantage it has over traditional and other inbred varieties. Yet, farmer-selected and -bred seeds have been shown to be comparative if not superior to hybrid rice, which has an average yield of less than six metric tons per hectare.
Field studies show that yields from good seeds and certified seeds can reach a maximum of nine and 10 metric tons per hectare, respectively. Using the latest rice hectarage of 4,272,000 hectares, we can assume that the country can produce as much as 38,448,000 million metric tons of rice before milling or 29,904,000 metric tons of milled rice using only good seeds. This is even assuming a low milling recovery of only 60 percent.
Actual field experience with farmer-developed varieties also shows that yields of up to seven metric tons per hectare are achievable with organic farming. This compares favorably to the average yield from hybrid seeds. Rice farmers who employed the system of rice intensification managed to produce yields reaching as high as nine metric tons pre hectare. Moreover, the milling recovery rate was also higher at 70 percent. And this level of production was achieved without government support. Strangely, government has not tapped the expertise of the organic rice farmers.
Needless to say, government would do well to abandon its current policy of relying on hybrid rice or entertaining rice imports to ensure the food availability. Instead, it should pursue the implementation of the Rice Master Plan that the small rice farmers have long been advocating.
OMI ROYANDOYAN, executive director, Centro Saka, Inc.; JIMMY TADEO, president, National Rice Farmers Council