Hybrid rice to boost Mindanao agri sector

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Private stakeholders expressed support for the incoming Duterte administration’s aggressive plan to intensify hybrid rice expansion in Mindanao as part of the effort to eliminate violence and conflict in the region by alleviating poverty and raising farmers’ income.

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The Department of Agriculture, with the help of the private sector, will pour about P130.95 million for hybrid rice production starting in the dry season crop year in November this year. It is also planning to increase hybrid rice areas in the region to at least one million hectares within the next four years from the current 400,000 hectares.

“Incoming DA Secretary (Emmanuel) Piñol met with the Rice Board in Davao last week about expanding it to one million hectares,” said DA Senior Technical Adviser Dr. Santiago R. Obien.

Obien added that the DA would continue its Production Support for Technology Adoption or PSTA for hybrid rice particularly involving seed production.

“Our target is self-sufficiency that we’d like to achieve through hybrid rice. We want to have happy farmers who can have twice the production from what they harvest now,” Obien said earlier in a harvest festival in Nueva Ecija.

As the administration of incoming president Rodrigo Duterte is focusing on conflict elimination in Mindanao, the DA is apparently supporting increased food production programs in Mindanao.

Leading private seed producer SL Agritech Corp. (SLAC) said it is supporting the Duterte government’s hybrid rice program through own funding of technology demonstration (techno-demo) in Mindanao.

“Bullets may have been raining down on Mindanao, but the technology that can bring increased yield to rice farmers is already here. We will promote hybrid rice in Mindanao where yield now is just below four tons (per hectare),” said SLAC Chairman Henry Lim Bon Liong.

The drought phenomenon El Niño has brought famine to farmers particularly in Kidapawan City, Cotabato. They sought aid but rather experienced violence that led to the death in April this year of two farmers.

But despite El Niño or even La Niña (heavier rainfall), which is predicted in the near term, farmers can harvest with hybrid rice a higher yield of 9-10 metric tons (MT) per hectare. In Nueva Ecija where most farmers (on around 90,000 hectares) plant hybrid rice, average yield is nearly 6 MT per hectare.

For 2016, based on initial consultation results, the DA’s PSTA for Region 9 totals to P45.4 million, for 162,000 kilos of hybrid rice seeds; Region 10, P11.24 million, 39,600 kilos; Region 11, P19.105 million, 90,000 kilos; Region 13, 48,600 kilos, P13.606 million; and ARMM, P41.6 million, 124,785 kilos of seeds.

SLAC is supporting the DA’s program to expand hybrid rice area to 600,000-700,000 hectares by 2017 from the present area of around 400,000 hectares. Its vision is to plant hybrid rice to as much as 800,000 to 1 million hectares by 2020, according to an earlier DA program.

There is huge opportunity to help rice farmers improve their livelihood in Mindanao through hybrid rice, Lim said, as their income increases and production costs decreases.
Since production is low, price of unhusked rice (palay) in Mindanao is soaring high.

“Price of wet palay in Mindanao is P20 per kilo,” said Lim. Price in Luzon is P13-P14 per kilo for fresh palay.

But SLAC wants to support the DA’s goal of achieving 10-5, or a yield of 10 MT per hectare in order to bring down production cost to P5 per kilo.

SLAC is conducting techno-demo all over Mindanao since unless farmers see for themselves the rice stalks from hybrid rice, they may never be convinced to invest resources in it. The company is also scouting for model farmers who could demonstrate top yields.

“We are awarding top hybrid rice farmers in Zamboanga Peninsula (Region 9). That’s how we’re encouraging LGUs (local government units) to see the good yield of hybrid rice,” said Dr. Frisco Malabanan, SLAC technical consultant.

Piñol said earlier that in the Duterte administration’s first 100 days, the DA aims to start planning for rice sufficiency.

“The country could achieve rice sufficiency in two to three years but we have to implement massive interventions i.e. repair and rehab of existing irrigation facilities; use of water pumps in areas with shallow water level; support of high-yielding seeds, fertilizers and farm inputs for the next two cropping seasons; identification of key rice production areas where water is readily available,” he said.

Piñol also promises to deliver free irrigation to farmers even as irrigation is critical to rice planting.

“I think free irrigation will start by January 2017,” said Obien.

DA is training municipal and agricultural extension workers that will help farmers in growing it, said Obien. Around 500 extension workers are to be trained for hybrid rice growing.

SLAC is holding techno-demo in Region 10 (Camiguin, Misamis Oriental, Lanao del Norte, Bukidnon, Misamis Occidental, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan). It is coordinating with municipal and provincial agriculturists on training farmers how to plant hybrid rice.

The company has collaborated with other seed producers on setting up a Rice Board in Region 11 (Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Davao Occidental).

However, in Region 12 (South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos), it still seeks to orient farmers on the yield advantage and increased income from hybrid rice.

Region 12 accounts for 32 percent of rice production in Mindanao. Still, SLAC had already conducted techno-demo in Mindanao.

“Our techno-demo fields in Region 12 gave a harvest of 9-10 tons per hectare,” said Malabanan.

Even in conflict-ridden Maguindanao, a province within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), SLAC has conducted a harvest festival particularly in Mamasapano. ARMM is also composed of Basilan, Lanao, Sulu, TawiTawi, Lawitan, and Marawi.

The government has separate financial assistance program for hybrid rice planted in adverse ecosystem. It also has a separate budget for the Sikat Saka program, which is a credit window for farmers. As rice needs irrigation, it has separate budgets for small water impounding projects and diversion dams in Mindanao.

As much as Visayas has also been deprived of assistance in agriculture, SLAC plans a massive technical briefing among agriculturists in LGUs and farmers in Visayas.

The target is to plant 29,000 hectares in Region 6, mainly Iloilo. And it also has expansion programs all over Antique, Aklan, Capiz, and part of Negros.

The target area in Iloilo is hoped to become possible in light of the construction of the construction of the Jalaur irrigation project. It has a capacity of 30,000 hectares.

Malabanan said SLAC’s target for 2017 is to plant hybrid rice on 400,000-500,000 hectares.

Lim urged farmers to take risks in the wet season even with La Niña by using hybrid rice.

“I’m an entrepreneur, and I want farmers to become entrepreneurs too. There is a risk in any business, but you will still harvest higher with 100 tons in the wet season,” said Lim.

However, in order to adequately help farmers in Mindanao and Visayas, irrigation facilities should be provided them.

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