PH rice farmers use less chemicals than Asian neighbors- study

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The results of a benchmarking study on rice production show that rice farmers in Nueva Ecija use fewer agrochemicals compared with their counterparts in China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.

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The study titled “Benchmarking Philippine Rice Economy Relative to Major Rice-Producing Countries in Asia,” which was presented only last July 2, was undertaken by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) last year and covered two cropping seasons.

Among the objectives of the benchmarking study was to determine the competitiveness of the Philippine rice sector compared to those of selected Asian countries including Indonesia, China, India, and the world’s top rice exporters, Thailand and Vietnam.

The results of the study showed that rice grown in Nueva Ecija, considered a top rice producer where palay is grown in an intensive manner, only had six applications of agrochemicals per hectare per cropping at a cost of P1,827. This was second only to Tamil Nadu state in India, where farms averaged three applications per hectare per cropping, at an equivalent cost of P906.

Rice grown in East Java in Indonesia was the most chemically-treated, having up to 17 applications of agrochemicals per hectare per cropping at a cost of P6,138. Rice grown in Can Tho in Vietnam had up to 16 applications of agrochemicals per hectare per cropping at a cost of P6,030.

Rice grown in Suphan Buri in Thailand had up to 11 applications of agrochemicals per cropping per hectare at a cost of P4,835, or more than twice the cost of chemicals applied in rice farms in Nueva Ecija.

In Zhejiang in China, rice grown had up to nine applications at a cost of P4,102, which is more than twice the cost pegged from Nueva Ecija.

Types of chemicals used
The study said that among the agrochemicals used by the farmers in the rice growing areas were herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, molluscicides and rodenticides.

Rice farms in West Java in Indonesia, the study showed, were the highest users of insecticides, while those in Can Tho in Vietnam registered the highest usage of fungicides.

In Nueva Ecija, the most widely used agrochemical was insecticides, but the usage was almost half the amount of the same type of chemical used by rice farmers in Can Tho in Vietnam and Suphan Buri in Thailand.

When it came to application of chemical fertilizers, Nueva Ecija was the second lowest user in terms of kilograms used, or 185 kgs per hectare per cropping. Farm lands in Suphan Buri in Thailand had the lowest application of fertilizers, or 139 kgs per cropping per hectare, while rice grown in Zhejiang in China had the highest level of fertilizer use, or 345 kgs per hectare per cropping.

Reacting to the findings of the PhilRice-IRRI study, biotechnologist Dr. Saturnina Halos said, “The greater use of agrochemicals, especially fertilizers, explains why these countries have higher [palay]yields than the Philippines.”

Yet while the average yield of rice farms in the Philippines overall is just slightly above 4 metric tons per hectare (mt/ha), the yield of farms in Nueva Ecija, which averages 6.34 mt/ha, suggests that the positive impact of the higher use of fertilizers and other agrochemicals on yield is minimal. Nueva Ecija’s average yield is not far behind the highest-yielding areas in the study, which were Vietnam, China, and Thailand, with yields of 6.81 mt/ha, 6.74 mt/ha, and 6.7 mt/ha. The least-productive country in the study was India, whose major rice belt registered a yield of just 4.71 mt/ha.

Although the study acknowledged that the country’s rice production must be increased, it did not recommend the increased use of chemicals or fertilizers.

Among the measures recommended by the study to increase palay yield per hectare were greater mechanization of operations like harvesting and threshing; the use of higher-yielding seeds like hybrids; and improvements to irrigation services.

The effects of pesticides on human health and even farm workers are well known. A document posted on the University of Washington website titled “Fast Facts about Health Risks of Pesticides in Food” warned that children are more at risk from pesticide ingestion from food.

“Children are more at risk than adults because children eat more relative to their body weight than adults eat. Exposures during vulnerable periods of development can be particularly dangerous,” it said.

“The most common way most infants, children and adults are exposed to pesticides is by eating them on and in our food. Workers in agriculture and occupational settings touch and breathe in pesticides, putting them at risk for acute and chronic poisoning,” the document added.

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