DA-PhilRice posts R&D breakthroughs

By Rudy A. Fernandez

MANILA, Philippines – Thirty-three modern, high-yielding, and post and disease-resistant rice varieties.

About 200,000 extension workers, farmers, and others trained in scientific methods of rice production.

Many viable and “farmer-friendly” technologies generated and transferred to the agriculture sector, particularly land tillers.

And many others.

These are among the major highlights of 26 years of existence of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), the rice research arm of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

And as it observes its 26th year this week, the institute can look back to the past with pride and achievement and face the future with confidence and optimism that it can considerably help make the Philippines self-sufficient in rice.

PhilRice was established on Nov. 5, 1985 “to develop a national rice research program to sustain and further improve the gains already made in rice production, improve the income and economic condition of small rice farmers, and expand rural employment opportunities to promote the people’s general welfare.”

It anniversary theme this year is “Sapat Dapat Bigas sa Mamamayan Buhay sa Bayan”, with Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala as guest speaker.

Main highlights of the celebration are the honoring of outstanding PhilRice achievers and employees on Nov. 8, and the 2011 SRO lecture to be held on Nov. 9, with Dr. Jose Bacuamo, president of the Visayas State University (VSU) in Baybay City, Leyte, as speaker.

Other activities, among them a sportsfest, had earlier been held within PhilRice’s hundred-hectare complex in the Science City of Muñoz, Nueva Ecija.

PhilRice began in 1985 when then University of the Philippines (UP) president, now Sen. Edgardo J. Angara, conceived a national research institution that would address the country’s rice problems.

The thinking of some then was that there was no need for such an entity since the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was already here.

But Angara, regarded as a the “Father of PhilRice”, asserted that an institute was necessary so that the Philippines could absorb the technologies developed by IRRI and transfer them to Filipino farmers, aside from doing research and development (R&D) work itself. IRRI deals with national programs and does not directly serve farmers, which is the responsibility of national agencies.

During PhilRice’s conceptualization stage, Angara teamed up with then Agriculture Minister Salvador H. Escudero III (now congressman of Sorsogon) and Deputy Minister Domingo Panganiba. Thus, PhilRice came into being through Executive Order 1061 issued by then President Marcos on Nov. 5, 1985.

Since the institute began operation in 1986, under Executive Director Santiago R. Obien, it has developed and strengthened the national rice R&D network, which is now composed of 56 members that include state universities and colleges, R&D institutions, and DA agencies.

PhilRice, currently headed by Dr. Eufemio Rasco Jr., has to date developed 33 hybrid and inbred (ordinary) rice varieties either on its own or in collaboration with other institutions. Other rice breeders are IRRI, UP Los Baños, DA-Bureau of Plant Industry, SL Agritech, Bayer Crop Science, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bioscod, Hyrice, Pioneer, and Philseat.

The varieties suit irrigated lowlands, rainfed areas, saline zones, cool elevated places, and uplands.

Over the past 26 years, PhilRice has trained about 200,000 people, mostly extension workers and farmers, in scientific rice production.

New technologies have also been generated and transferred to land tillers, among the widely adopted being Palayamanan, MOST, and PalayCheck.

Palayamanan (Intensive Rico-based Farming Systems Technology-Demonstration Farms) is a joint project of PhilRice and Da-Bureau of Agricultural Research. The production technology interventions introduced through this program have increased yields in rice, as well as vegetables which were grown after rice, resulting in increased income of the farmer-partners.

MOET (Minus-One-Element Technique: Nutrient Deficiency Test for Lowland Rice Soils) is a “farmer-friendly” crop diagnostic tool that identifies deficient or limiting nutrients in the soil through a simple pot experiment. Thousands of MOET kits have been produced and made available to farmers.

PalayCheck, developed with United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO) support, is composed of a package of technologies and “best practices” that guide farmers in every stage of the crop. It recommends use of certified seeds, proper land preparation, synchronous planting, right application of nutrients, and proper practice of water, post, and harvest management.

For faster technology dissemination, PhilRice developed the Short Messaging Service (SMS). Through it, all information seekers (farmers, extension workers, and others) here to do is cell PhilRice’s PinoyRice Farmers’ Text Center (PFTC) through a cellphone (0920-911-1398 and ask questions.

PhilRice has responded to thousands of text messages on such topics as rice varieties’ maturity, reactions to posts, and yield. It also receives queries on vegetables, livestock, and high-value crops.

Farmers and extension workers get the information they need in five minutes.

PhilRice also has churned out award-winning books, training manuals, journals, newsletters, brochures, and other reading materials.

Similarly, its scientists and researchers and technologies have won prestigious awards.

For instance, the Open Academy for Philippine Agriculture (DPAPA), implemented by DA-PhilRice with the participation of other government agencies, recently won the Saudi Arabia-based Arab Gulf Program for Development (AGFUND) (third category). The category concerns the “Rule of Government Ministries and Public Institutions in the Adoption of New Innovations to Enhance the Application of ICT (Information and Communication Technology for Development of Remote and Rural Communities”.

AGFUND is a regional developmental funding organization that actively works internationally in the field of development. To date, it has supported 1,268 projects in 133 developing countries.

That PhilRice has evolved into a multi-awarded, “world-class” institution can be attributed to, among other major factors, the support of other governments and organization, notably the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

JICA funded the institute’s modern head office and research facilities in the Science City of Muñoz.

In strongly supporting the government’s goal to make the country self-sufficient in rice, PhilRice has launched an awareness campaign to enjoin Filipinos not to be wasteful in eating cooked rice. It is said that an average Filipino wastes three tablespoonful of rice a day, a substantial volume that can considerably minimize the country’s rice importation.

Indeed, the institute’s exemplary performance can best be mummed up by Vice President Jejomar Binay who, in a letter to the agency not long ago, stated: “Through the years, PhilRice has been instrumental in the drive to attain food sufficiency in the country. Together with local and foreign partners, PhilRice has helped build and sustain the country’s rice stock through innovative and sustainable means.”

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