Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Preparation can avert rice crisis

The country’s shrinking “rice supply” has become a matter of “national concern.”

We are not surprised with the results of the NICA report. The trend in higher food process did not begin February—not even this year. The United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) started reporting about the trend in 2010 and so the increase is not going to be sudden.

This ongoing trend shows the need for the country to prepare in order to avert an impending rice crisis.

If we ignore the signs, a ‘crisis’ will creep up slowly, catching us unaware. On the other hand, we can use this time to prepare and ensure food security and stable prices. There will be no destabilization or crisis if we prepare now and focus on solutions.

That is why we have tried to work way ahead by convening AF 2025 as a means to focus on food security. AF 2025 is an agriculture summit that convened, in February this year, some of the key agriculture stakeholders from government, the farming sector, the private sector, and other related groups. Its objective was to draw up a road map that would address key agriculture issues.

Below are some solutions gleaned from the experiences I had on the field:

First: Aggressively promote the use of new rice varieties—including inbred and hybrid rice that are known to increase per-hectare yield. We learned through our field visits that the average yield per hectare is 3.8 metric tons. Inbred and hybrid varieties increase the yield per hectare to as much as 15 metric tons—three times more than the current yield.

In my recent trip to Barangay Tondod, San Jose, Nueva Ecija, an inventor named Alfonso Puyat developed a variety of inbred rice that is now tested by a rice farmer, Fernando Gabuya. The new variety was said that have yielded three times old rice variety used by Gabuya.

We’ve seen for ourselves how inventors and farmers are working together to develop innovations that increase productivity and the chances for profitability. Imagine if we were to test this out in other areas and eventually roll it out. The potentials for success are huge.

Second, Government needs to focus on increasing the hectarage of irrigated land. We now have 1.4 million hectares of irrigated land. The remaining 3.2 million hectares of Riceland remain raid-fed. The per-hectare yield can be doubled if irrigation will allow these lands two croppings instead of one.

Cooperatives and associations need to be organized in order to better maximize government assistance by way of ACEF grants and soft loans from GIFs (Government Financial Institutions). There's also a need to beef up the country’s investments in and capacity for research and development to come up with better solutions addressing food security.

Investments in R&D will have exponential benefits that could help many of our farmers from all over the country. These developments could not only boost the productivity and income of our agricultural sector. They could, in time, make us self-sufficient so that we won’t have to reply on imports any more.

The national government, together with the local governments, farmers’ groups, the academe, traders, millers, small and medium enterprises should come together at the grassroots level and help boost rice supply. Let’s mobilize people power to boost rice supply and ensure food sufficiency.

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