At the start of the new year, Secretary William Dar of the Department of Agriculture (DA) announced plans that are expected to boost the country’s rice production .
At the center of the program is the distribution of certified palay seeds as early as October last year for planting in 947 rice-producing towns in 57 provinces. The certified seeds can produce 4.54 million tons of palay per hectare. This is so much more than the traditional yield of 2.13 metric tons per hectare produced by Filipino farmers using their usual rice varieties.
The high-yielding seeds are being distributed free to farmers nationwide tilling a total of one million hectares of land, at 40 kilos of seeds per hectare. This is forecast to increase the national yield in 2020 by 3 percent over 2019.
This program of developing and distributing high-yielding and disease-resistant varieties of rice is being carried out by the Philippine Rice Institute. The amount of P3 billion is set aside each year for the free distribution of certified seeds to farmers until 2024.
The DA has another program – farm mechanization – being carried out with the Philippine Center for Post-Harvest Development and Mechanization. Under this program, P5 billion worth of tractors and other farm equipment will be distributed to qualified farmers’ cooperatives and associations as well as local government units. Mechanization is expected to reduce production costs by P4 per kilo from the current average cost of P12 per kilo.
Rice production by Philippine farmers has never been able to meet the needs of the nation’s consumers, necessitating the annual importation of hundreds of millions of tons from Vietnam and Thailand. The closest we got to self-sufficiency was at the height of the Masagana 99 program of the Marcos administration.
The needs of the booming Philippine population have far outgrown the production capacity of Filipino rice farmers. In 2018, when inflation hit a high of 6.7 percent in September, the government had to resort to various measures to stop the zooming market prices and one of these was the Rice Tariffication Law. All quantitative restrictions on rice imports were lifted; they were simply subjected to a tariff. The result was massive importation that brought rice prices down. This was good for consumers but not for farmers.
This year, Secretary Dar hopes, will be a good year for Philippine agriculture in general, rice production in particular. The twin programs of free distribution of high-yielding rice seeds and farm mechanization should increase local production and lower costs. We may not yet reach the goal of self-sufficiency but we should be taking a big step towards it.
Tags: Roni Santiago