Scientists, stakeholders urged to strengthen rice R&D

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The Department of Agriculture (DA) challenged the country’s top scientists and rice workers to step up their research amid the uncertainties brought about by trade liberalization and climate change.

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During the 27th National Rice Research and Development Conference at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Segfredo Serrano said stakeholders in the rice sector need to improve their research and development (R&D) activities and “think of the future survival of the nation.”

“Our population has reached 100 million and, given opportunities and with proper investment, we can depend on our people as the most valuable resource that will drive a good economy. Priorities then must be given to saving our people from displacement and calamities,” said Serrano.

“Nothing is more important than the survival and future of our people,” he said, emphasizing the role of R&D so that Filipinos can cope with the slow onset of climate change events which include increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, and salinization.

R&D contributes about 25 percent yield growth in rice, according to the book “Securing Rice, Reducing Poverty: Challenges and Poverty Directions” written in 2006 by A.M. Balisacan, Leocadio Sebastian and several others. Balisacan is currently the country’s economic planning secretary.

The authors of the book highlighted the need for an increased budget in rice R&D by closing the yield gaps—which are attributable to weeds, pests, and diseases that can very well be addressed by stepping up initiatives on rice research.

Historically, however, research expenditure as a proportion of GDP in the Philippines has oftentimes been inferior to its neighbors.

Citing data from the 2009 World Competitiveness Yearbook, University of the Philippines Los Banos Prof. Teodoro Mendoza said the Philippines allocated only 0.12 percent of its GDP to R&D while Malaysia and Thailand allocated 0.64 percent and 0.20 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, a report by the International Food Policy Research Institute based in Washington, D.C. and the Bangkok-based Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions notes the rather slow-paced improvement in public spending on R&D in the Philippines relative to other countries.

In their July 2013 report, Vietnam is reported to have increased its public spending on R&D by over 270 percent, from $23 million in 1996 to $86 million in 2008. The Philippines’ spending, on the other hand, showed only a 3 percent increase from $129 million in 1996 to $133 million in 2008.

Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization tend to indicate that increased public spending on R&D does have an impact on rice productivity.

This is true in the case of Vietnam, where rice yield has dramatically increased.  From 3.77 tons/hectare in 1996, Vietnam’s rice yield went up to 4.89 tons/ha in 2008, making it the second highest rice producer in the region next only to China.

In a paper titled “Investments in Research, Development, and Extension: Implications on TFP” by PhilRice economists Sergio Francisco and Flordeliza Bordey, the authors noted the “pervasive and persistent underfunding in public agricultural Research Development and Extension (RD&E).”

Francisco and Bordey wrote that under-investment in agricultural R&D slows down productivity.

In 2007, an external review conducted to assess the impact of PhilRice on the rice farming showed a 75 percent net return on investment. This means that farmers benefited from the cost-reducing and yield-enhancing technologies developed by PhilRice.

Increasing the budget for rice R&D means not just improved rice production but also better livelihood outcomes for Filipino farmers, said PhilRice executive director Eufemio Rasco Jr.

For his part, Agriculture Assistant Secretary for Operations Edilberto de Luna views R&D work as “even heroic because it can help solve poverty, malnutrition, and unemployment.”

In ensuring the country’s future survival, De Luna said the supply of rice and other staples including white corn, sweet potato, cassava, and banana must be assured and that they must be safe and nutritious.

“I commend PhilRice for coming up with [researches]on green and smart farming, grain quality, biodiversity conservation, and information and promotion delivery,” said De Luna, who is also the concurrent National Rice and Corn Program coordinator.

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