How we can help the Filipino farmer
For Filipinos, rice completes a meal. We love rice so much that we each consume an average of 110 kg of it per year. As the seventh highest rice-consuming country in the world, we spend 16-37 percent of our daily household food budgets on rice. Rice prices influence inflation rates and policy decisions, becoming a key barometer not just of our economy, but also of our political well-being.
With farm gate prices now at a low P15.96/kg, and an average production cost of P12 per kilo, farmers who produce 4,000 kg/harvest barely make P4,000/month. This is below the food poverty threshold of P7,337/month set by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). It is no surprise, then, that families who depend on agriculture suffer higher rates of undernutrition and food insecurity.
How can we help the Filipino farmer?
Taking a cue from the 2019 World Food Day’s theme “Our Actions are Our Future: Healthy Diets for a #zerohunger World,” we can help our farmers by choosing the locally grown rice that best meets our nutritional needs.
Identify your nutritional needs. Rice science has enabled a wide range of varieties and production modes to provide consumers with more nutrition options. Technologies that increase the nutrients in rice include fortification, where key nutrients are added as part of rice processing; and biofortification, where higher nutrient levels are inherent in the grain without additional processing.
Lack of iron is the most common cause of anemia, which affects 1 out of 4 pregnant women and more than 40 percent of infants. The Philippine Food Fortification Act (2000) requires that all rice be iron-fortified. The Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute has provided the machines and expertise to make iron-fortified rice more available, but this rice needs to reach those who need it most.
Zinc is a key micronutrient for child growth and immune system function, but its best sources are animal meats and shellfish, which are neither readily accessible nor affordable. Conventionally bred biofortified high zinc rice with at least 30-percent higher zinc can reduce zinc deficiency.
To moderate rice intake, brown rice is your best bet. Most of rice’s micronutrients, fiber and antioxidants are in the rice’s bran, which is preserved in brown rice. Brown rice milling requires less electricity and minimizes production losses, making it a good choice for planetary health as well.
For those who have metabolic problems, such as diabetes, low glycemic index (GI) rice is recommended. The glycemic index is a measure of how fast sugar from food is broken down and absorbed by the body. White rice in general has a high GI of more than 70, but the GIs of brown and pigmented rice are in the low and medium GI range.
These are just some of the options to show that rice can be part of a healthy diet and eating rice helps both consumers and farmers alike.
Know your rice’s origin. Aside from its variety, the taste, texture, color and nutrient content of rice could vary depending on the environment where it is grown.
Among the most-prized of rice varieties are the pigmented ones such as the black Ominio and red Ulikan from the Cordilleras, and the red Dinorado of North Cotabato. Their intense colors indicate the presence of antioxidants, and their upland environments contribute to their nutritional value.
Colored and special rice varieties, including the aromatic Milagrosa and the glutinous Malagkit, can compete with premium imported rice. These high-value, high-priced rice varieties provide a great opportunity for farmers to increase their income.
Every rice grain counts. Food waste represents almost 2 percent of total household food available in the Philippines. The average plate waste per day is about four tablespoons of food, three of which are of rice. Our Filipino farmers hurdle enormous odds to grow the rice we need. Let us make every single grain count for ourselves, and for them.
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Dr. Cecilia Santos-Acuin is a senior scientist of the International Rice Research Institute, which is a member of CGIAR, a global research consortium for a food-secure future.
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