Sunday, June 3, 2012

PhilRice exec urges farmers to think green, smart rice farming

by Ramon Efren R. Lazaro

Farmers are being urged by Dr. Eufemio Rasco Jr., executive director of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) to consider green and smart initiatives to attain food security and sufficiency.

He emphasized energy in rice farming, mechanization, biotechnology, use of information and communication technologies, and upcoming Philippine Rice Academy as some green and smart initiatives that could help the country achieve rice self-sufficiency.

During the recent 2012 National Rice Summit held in Clark, Pampanga, Rasco said green initiatives aim to reduce external input, particularly energy, while smart initiatives are knowledge-intensive and hard labor-reducing technologies.

Currently, PhilRice has the Energy in Rice Farming Program as key green initiative in helping the agriculture sector reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

Rasco noted the need to lessen dependence on fossil fuel on various stages of rice production, from land preparation to marketing the produce and explained that they are embarking on the “Energy in Rice Farming Program” that features ways to reduce energy in rice farming.

To labor shortage, Rasco said that they have already developed farm machines designed to address location-specific concerns such as rice combine, transplanter and drumseeder among others to help reduce significant yield losses attributed to manual farming.

PhilRice researchers have also optimize biotechnology tools on developing heat- and submergence-tolerant varieties to help farmers adapt to climate change. The Institute’s genebank houses more than 12,000 accessions that serve as materials for breeding work.

With the ‘e-everything’ phenomenon in the Philippines , PhilRice also harnesses benefits from information technologies.

“Space technology and meteorology can be used to determine status of rice farms, forecast disasters, and organize disaster response”, said Rasco and stressed the use of IT applications for precision farming and supply chain management.

Rasco added that PhilRice is working on a Philippine Rice Academy, an advanced research and training academy focused on promoting 21st century farm techniques. These modern techniques are anchored on precision agriculture principles and practices and entail the use of machines, information technologies, and biotechnology.

In a previous press conference in PhilRice, Rasco noted that farming is not attractive anymore to the children of farmers because of the dwindling income farming families have been getting from their farm lands.
 “In fact, the average age of farmers are now pegged at 57 years old,” Rasco said and added that they are now collaborating with the Departments of Agrarian Reform, Agriculture and Environment and Natural Resources to come out with a program that will encourage the youth to get back into farming with a bigger income and at the same time help achieve the rice self-sufficiency program of the Aquino administration.

The collaboration effort, Rasco explained has led to the Agrarian Reform Community Connectivity and Economic Support Services (ARCCESS) program that will benefit agrarian reform beneficiaries in the country with its pilot project to begin in Central Luzon .

It was found out that despite the efforts of government agencies and other stakeholders to help improve the yields and incomes of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs), gaps still remain.

ARBs farm activities are noted to be mostly fragmented and there are limited consolidations of produce that exacerbate rural poverty and endanger the gains of land reform including the beneficiaries’ desire to maintain ownership and production of awarded lands.

Through ARCCESS, the program aims to improve farm and off-farm net incomes of ARBs through enhanced agri-productivity.

ARCCESS intends to achieve economies of scale in agricultural production not by reconsolidating lands but by organizing the important facets of land preparation, planting, harvesting, logistics and marketing in order to reduce the cost of inputs, improve production efficiencies and increase productivity and incomes of ARBs.

In organizing the supply chain, ARCCESS, focuses mainly on the production, post-production and post-harvest requirements of the ARB organizations that will be a model public-private partnership (PPP), wherein the government steps and taps professional service providers to build the capacity of ARB organizations and connect them with the commodity buyers or the private sector.

Professional service providers will incubate the agri-enterprises of ARB organizations until the organization can already manage their activities by themselves.

A Memorandum of Understanding for the program was recently signed by Rasco for PhilRice, Agrarian Reform Sec. Virgilio de los Reyes and the Department of Agriculture represented by Asec. Dante de Lima.

De los Reyes said the collaboration of DA-DAR and DENR hopes to improve the ARB organizations so that agricultural assistances to the farmers can easily be facilitated.

This way, farmer beneficiaries will be prevented from selling their landholdings and encourages them to be more productive in their agricultural practices.
On the other hand, de Lima said the collaboration effort between the agriculture, agrarian reform and environment departments is a milestone for the farmers to finally make their farm lands more productive.

He noted that the country is seven to 10 years behind development services in the agriculture sector and the project is seen to eventually improve the lives of the farmers and help attain the rice self-sufficiency program of the government by next year.

De Lima also explained that the country’s rice importation in the last three years has drastically decreased and could be rice self sufficient by next year.

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