Climate-smart rice technologies seen to boost Philippine rice production

IRRI, Los Baños, Laguna — Cultivating climate-smart rice varieties in unfavorable environments could boost local rice production on rainfed rice farming areas that often experience low productivity, poverty, and hunger, according to Department of Agriculture (DA) Assistant Secretary for Operations Edilberto de Luna.

Assistant Secretary De Luna spoke on Thursday before rice department heads and scientists from 10 Asian countries at the 15th Annual Steering Committee Meeting of the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE) on May 24-26 at the Bellevue Hotel in Filinvest City, Alabang, Muntinlupa City.

Funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), CURE, a “network of networks,” focuses on rice farming systems where low and unstable yields are common and extensive poverty and food security prevail.

De Luna said climate-smart rice can withstand the ill effects of drought, flooding, and salinity that pose great threats to rainfed rice areas.

The DA official also assured that the government will ensure the availability of seeds of climate-smart rice varieties and will promote their use in less favorable areas through informal seed systems such as community seed banks.

DA Secretary Proceso Alcala graced the international gathering and lauded that “indeed, CURE provides an integrated platform to help the poor farmers in unfavorable rice areas in Asia by creating, validating, disseminating, and adopting new rice technologies for adverse environments.”

Secretary Alcala cited “undeniably, the platform has become a beacon of hope for resolving key problems in rice farming systems through strengthened partnership among the national agricultural research and extension staff, IRRI researchers, farmers, and extension workers.

“The time, effort, and resources invested under CURE are now beginning to pay off with bountiful gains and achievements,” he added.

The Agriculture Department Secretary said that “significant victories we have gained in technology research and development innovation should further inspire renewed commitments by national governments to strengthen global and regional partnerships in creating better options for resource-poor and climate change-vulnerable rice farmers in the region.”

Yoichiro Kato, agronomist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) revealed that “around 27 percent of the Philippine land area is rainfed and this rainfed agriculture sustains many farmers in the country and contributes about 26% of the Philippines’ total rice production.”

According to Dr. Calixto Protacio, executive director of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) the contribution of these varieties to the country’s food security is even more crucial because the Philippines is one of the countries that is most vulnerable to climate change.

“To date, the Philippines, a member country of CURE, has released 19 drought-tolerant rice varieties for the rainfed lowlands, four for the uplands, and 15 for saline-prone environments” Dr. Protacio disclosed.

Dr. Aurora Corales, supervising science research specialist at PhilRice added that aside from being more resilient, climate-smart rice varieties have other outstanding qualities.

“The recently released drought-tolerant rice variety, NSIC Rc282, yielded up to 7.9 tons per hectare during the 2016 dry season in an on-farm trial in Cuyapon, Nueva Ecija,” explained Corales noting “farmers also liked NSIC Rc282 because it has more tillers, long panicles and less grain shattering.”

Lakbay Binhi (travelling seeds) is another way of making these climate-smart varieties more accessible to farmers, according to Protacio.

Lakbay Binhi project brings high-quality seeds to Filipino farmers through mobile seed centers. It was pilot-tested at three sites affected by Typhoon Lando (Koppu).

“The adoption of technologies in the country is more of a bottom-up approach,” said Dr. Digna Manzanilla, IRRI social scientist and CURE coordinator.

Manzanilla added that “CURE involves potential or actual seed growers within the community to ensure good seed supply. Agricultural technicians conduct village-level demonstration trials and technologies are learned from one farmer to another.”

CURE is also helping 100 million farm households dependent on rice in unfavorable environments in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh and Nepal. PNA/