Monday, June 16, 2014

PhilRice seen to play key role in Phl farmers’ competitiveness amid ASEAN integration

SCIENCE CITY OF MUNOZ, Nueva Ecija – The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), the government’s sole research institution in charge of attaining rice self-sufficiency, will play a major role in preparing the farming sector for the upcoming regional integration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) amid the farmers’ fears of being unable to compete with their counterparts from other member economies.
       Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala told newsmen without the proper interventions, the rice industry will be put a gross disadvantage once free trade takes full effect next year.

“If we have not put in place enough interventions, the scenario for our country’s farmers would be frightening. And this is where PhilRice comes in. That’s why it will play a critical role,” Alcala said.

Alcala was here to preside over the awarding of prizes to winners of “The Palayabangan : 10-5 Challenge,” a nationwide rice production competition involving farmers, non government organizations, academicians, government officials and fertilizer companies.   

Alcala said that PhilRice, under the leadership of its executive director, Dr. Eufemio Rasco Jr., has undertaken steps to help farmers achieve holistic development in pursuit of its three core goals of attaining rice self-sufficiency, reduce poverty and malnutrition and achieve competitiveness through agricultural science and technology.

Rasco said the “Palayabangan: 10-5 Challenge,” practically laid the groundwork for them to become competitive. The project was launched in June last year in support of the food staples sufficiency program (FSSP) and the National Year of Rice (NYR) 2013 advocacy programs.

Rasco explained that the scheme enabled them to produce 10 tons per hectare and limit expenses to P5 a kilo. Presently, the average production cost is at P11 a kilo of palay.

Rasco said the initiative provided opportunities for all stakeholders in the rice sector to show what they can do to improve their harvest and reduce production cost.

As stipulated in the ASEAN economic community blueprint, free trade paves the way for the establishment of a single market and production base among countries in the region namely Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

This means that there will be a free flow of goods, including rice, services, investment, capital and skilled labor to these countries. The goal is to create a highly competitive single market that would boast of an equitable economic development.

Rasco said under the ASEAN free trade regime, imported rice will become cheaper which poses a real challenge to Filipino farmers. He said, however, that by increasing production and reducing production cost through “Palayabangan,” farmers have become competitive.

“It is particularly important to control the cost of input because the cost of production in other Southeast Asian countries is at P8 or lower, compared to the Philippines which is at P11 per kilo of palay,” he said.

Four veteran farmers from northern Luzon – Lucena Dupale, Ferdinand Melchor, Ariel Macugay and Rolando Terte - who were among those who won in the Palayabangan competition have mixed reactions on the coming integration.

Dupale, who harvested 8.05 tons at P4.98 a kilo in Alicia, Isabela  expressed confidence  the integration would have little effect on her since they can produce big volumes of harvest. She has been farming since 1990.

Melchor, of San Mateo, Isabela, said improved production would render as ineffective the entry of cheaper, imported rice. “To me, they key is to increase production,” said Melchor who has been tilling his two-hectare farm since 1994.       

Macugay, who has been farming since 2000 in his 1.3-hectare farm in Cabatuan, Isabela, said the integration is worrisome but said rice quality in the country is higher compared with rice produce in other nations which relies heavily on chemicals and pesticides.

Terte said local farmers can survive the integration challenge by improving the quality of palay and venture into integrated farming such as piggery, fishpond or aquaculture production and poultry.

Rasco said PhilRice has been continuously developing next-generation in-bred and hybrid rice varieties, climate change-ready rice and varieties containing pro-Vitamin A, those high in zinc and iron and nutraceutical to also reduce malnutrition by 50 percent.

Since 1990, the institute has helped developed 88 high-yielding, pest- and disease-resistant and palatable rice for irrigated lowland, rainfed lowland, cool-elevated, upland and saline-prone areas.

          Together with its seven branch stations, two national research centers, two regional research centers and 37 cooperating stations, it has tapped the expertise of 23 international partners and at least 50 national partners to strengthen its R & D (research and development) directions. (Manny Galvez) 

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