The Philippines is now feeling the pinch of a research and development bias on rice that thrives under a wet-culture set-up, which is unsustainable in the face of a looming water crisis.
On Wednesday, the government reported that the country has enough rice stock only for the next two months, and inventory at government depositories was below the minimum buffer stock requirement at the start of February this year.
On Tuesday, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said it was getting ready to import one million metric tons (MT) of rice this year to meet local demand amid falling stock levels.
In an interview with The Manila Times on Wednesday, DA technical adviser Saturnina Halos said that too much emphasis has been given to research on high-yielding rice varieties that could only grow in paddy or submerged conditions.
“There is not much research on rice varieties that can grow with less water,” she said.
Halos added that extensive breeding trials should be undertaken to develop rice varieties that can grow in conditions with lesser water, and in the highlands.
She said the Philippines has native rice varieties which can be used in breeding varieties that can thrive in conditions with lesser water. A source from the DA said that the Philippines has more than 1,000 native rice varieties, with a big number of them not requiring much water to grow.
While modern rice varieties have higher yields of 3 to 8 metric tons per hectare compared to the 1 to 1.5 MT per hectares of native varieties, breeding techniques can help increase the yields of the latter.
The average yield of rice lands in the Philippines is 3 to 4 MT per hectare.
According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, 1,000 to 3,000 liters of water is required to produce one kilo or rice. Halos said that there are native rice varieties that can grow with much less water.
Halos warned that growing rice under a wet-culture set-up that requires extensive irrigation is not sustainable over the long-term, because of a looming fresh water crisis in the Philippines.
“We can even heading for a drought this year,” she said.
Halos added that while there is so much rain during the wet season, there is still a need to “harvest” the excess water during the season for use during the dry season.
Rice farmers who rely on rains for their irrigation can plant rice only once a year, while farmers who are served by irrigation systems can plant up to three times a year.
More than 50 percent of the country’s rice lands are not yet served by irrigation systems, which the government usually builds.
Shortage in supply
In a report, the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics said that the country’s total rice stock inventory was pegged at 2 million MT in February 2014, or slightly lower by 1 percent from the 2.02 million MT recorded a year ago. It was also lower by 5.7 percent than last months inventory of 2.12 million MT.
Compared with last month’s rice stock levels, stocks in the households and in commercial warehouses decreased by 15.6 percent and 18.7 percent, respectively.
On the other hand, stocks in the National Food Authority (NFA) depositories, which are composed of 77.4 percent imported rice, increased by 67.1 percent, thanks to the partial delivery of rice purchased from Vietnam.
To recall, NFA awarded the supply of 500,000 MT of rice to Vietnam under a government-to-government tender. The delivery of rice started in December, while the remaining volume of about 200,000 MT is expected to arrive before end of the first quarter this year.
The remaining volume of imported rice would help beef up the government’s buffer stocks, which fell below the 90-day requirement. The NFA is mandated to maintain at least 15 days buffer stock at any given day, and 30 days buffer during lean months.
The total rice inventory for February would be sufficient for 59 days. Stocks in households would be good for 31 days while those in commercial warehouses and in NFA depositories would last for only 14 days each.
To ensure that prices of rice will stabilize before the start of the lean season in July, the Aquino administration’s economic managers have approved the importation of a further 800,000 MT of rice.
The economic managers said that rice importation would be crucial this year as prices continue to go up in the wake of Super Typhoon Yolanda.