‘Rice-Ing’ Up For Food Security



RICE. Just how important is it to Filipinos? Despite the availability of bread and noodles as food options, rice remains to be the favorite staple on every dining table in the Philippines in whatever time of day—breakfast, lunch, dinner, even during snack time. Rich or poor, Filipinos eat rice.

The country is dubbed the world’s sixth-largest consumer of rice on a per capita basis, according to the US Department of Agriculture. And why not? To many Filipinos, rice is a priority food, with or without ulam, an accompanying dish that’s either meat or vegetables.

Seedworks Philippines personnel pose in front of their headquarters in Bay, Laguna.

The Observatory of Economic Complexity or OEC (https://oec.world), an online data visualization and distribution platform that is focused on the geography and dynamics of economic activities, said that the country imported $1.21 billion worth of rice in 2020, which pushed the Philippines to become the fourth largest rice importer in the world. Primary sources of rice imports were countries like Vietnam, Burma, China, Thailand and India, according to the OEC.

To a country that used to be a rice exporter, importing rice at this stage is seen by others as a slap in the face. What happened?

Big budget boost

JUST recently, the National Rice Program of the Department of Agriculture (DA) got a big boost through an increased budget of P30.5 billion for 2023, close to double from its P15.8-billion financial allotment this year.

Carlos Saplala, president of SeedWorks
Philippines: “Compared to traditional or
‘inbred’ rice varieties, hybrids are usually superior in terms of yield, resistance to diseases, excellent grain quality, among others.”

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said the increased budget will go to providing more fertilizer support for farmers, push for the use of more modern machines or automated devices in farming, plus funding for more agriculture R&D efforts and on post-harvest facilities.

The increased budget was seen to help increase the productivity of Filipino farmers in line with the new administration’s eight-point socioeconomic agenda, which included food security.

Getting high on hybrid rice

BEING hybrid, in basic biology, means the offspring of two plants or animals of different species or varieties. According to Carlos Saplala, president of SeedWorks Philippines, hybrid rice is the product of crossbreeding between two different parent varieties with superior characteristics.

The offspring is called “F1,” or first filial generation, that was bred to get the desirable characteristics of the parents. “Compared to traditional or ‘inbred’ rice varieties, hybrids are usually superior in terms of yield, resistance to diseases, excellent grain quality, among others.”

Today, Saplala said hybrid varieties available in the market are developed either by private or public institutions. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), he said, also develops hybrid rice varieties, but the hybrid rice varieties from SeedWorks have been developed by the company’s own breeders.

At present, he said, 117 hybrid rice varieties are registered with the National Seed Industry Council (NSIC), the government agency responsible for the registration of crop varieties.

The idea of embracing the concept of using hybrid rice, according to Saplala, was a no-no in the Philippines about 20 years ago. However, through the years, the reception of hybrid rice as a rice variety has gained good momentum and awareness among rice farmers. “But the biggest stumbling block to its full momentum is the purchasing capacity of ordinary rice farmers to buy hybrid rice seeds. However, with the current thrust of the DA to fully support rice sufficiency, we believe that the areas planted with hybrid rice is expected to increase to help boost rice productivity,” he said.

The promise of hybrid

SAPLALA was quick to offer SeedWorks Philippines’ hybrid rice varieties, such as the TH82 (NSIC Rc350H), which, he said, is a good sample of hybrid rice that can help boost rice productivity for farmers. He said it is easy to grow and does not require special practices, can give higher yield with relatively lower nitrogen fertilizer and can be grown using various farming practices like direct seeding, transplanting, dry seeding and upland rice farming.

On the other hand, their US88 (NSIC Rc236H) is a high-yielding variety with premium grain quality. Saplala said US88 gives very high yield not only for transplanted and direct-seeded culture but also when using mechanical transplanting, which fits with the DA’s thrust towards mechanization.

Finally, he said, they have a variety called “Quadro Alas” (NSIC Rc260H), an early maturing hybrid that can also give high yield to farmers, with good eating quality and milling recovery, and can be grown in different agro-climatic conditions of the country.

Plus, Saplala said they employ what he calls a “dry-direct” seeding method, a type of rice planting where rice reeds are sown on a well-prepared dry rice field, which is different to the usual practice of transplanting. This, he said, is done to fully maximize use of available rice fields, particularly those that lack irrigation and relies only on rainfall. “In contrast to wet direct seeding, dry direct seeding uses seeds that are not pre-germinated when sown to the dry field.”

But the 64-million-dollar question remains: Is hybrid rice considered or near-GMO type? Saplala said no since hybrid rice is bred through conventional breeding methods.

He said SeedWorks will remain an active partner of the government in its effort to improve rice production and attain self-sufficiency, and will continue to invest significantly on R&D related to breeding and product development to provide varieties with superior, high-yielding qualities that are adaptable to local conditions.

Saplala said they would also continue to invest on qualified and trained personnel to conduct field demonstrations and show the potential of hybrid rice, and assist or train farmers who are eager to adopt the technology. “We will also make efforts to ensure that our farmers earn a respectable income from their produce by linking them to our partner-traders who are willing to buy quality paddy rice, especially SeedWorks hybrid rice, at a higher than prevailing price.”

Image credits: Olga Khoroshunova | Dreamstime.com



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