Farmers questions P18M allotment for rice sufficiency

FARMERS from Negros Oriental vehemently questioned the motive of the P18 million allotment for the so-called rice sufficiency level in the province.

Eugene Quirante, lead convener of the Negros Farmers Council, said that while it should be welcomed as a relief to the farmers, it was found out that the purpose for which it is intended makes it questionable.

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Quirante, who also serves as the province’s liaison officer for Negros Oriental, explained that most of the allotted funds will just go to the production of hybrid rice, which he said is not even high yielding and unproductive as far as the farmers and the consuming public is concerned.

The regional office of the Department of Agriculture (DA) based in Cebu City earlier announced that it allotted P18 million this year for major interventions to increase the rice sufficiency level in Negros Oriental, from 61 percent this year to 79 percent in 2010.

Angel Enriquez, regional technical director for operations of the DA Central Visayas, said these interventions include subsidy on the planting of hybrid rice, certified seeds, and location specific interventions or plant only in areas where it is best suited, and restoration of irrigation sites, with provision of flatbed dryers, and post harvest facilities to minimize losses from the planting to the harvesting stages.

The amount is part of the P43.7 billion in National Government support areas, which include fertilizer, irrigation, infrastructure, education and training of farmers and fisherfolks, loan dryers and other post harvest facilities and seeds for high yielding hybrid rice.

Quirante said that while the multi-billion additional funding for rice and several other crops is a welcome development, the Negros Farmers Council disagree with how the government plans to spend it.

The allotment for Negros Oriental follows the National Government’s scheme where the intention is to increase the hectarage devoted to hybrid rice production from the current 300,000 hectares to 900,000 hectares throughout the country with an allocation of P2.7 billion until 2010, he said.

“We find this difficult to understand given the poor performance of the hybrid rice program and the many issues that have been raised against it over the years” he added.

Quirante also stressed that the P43.7 billion package of intervention measures will merely perpetuate the misguided strategies that have turned the Philippines into the world’s biggest rice importer.

He said that in subsidizing hybrid rice, the country is subsidizing big seed companies like SL-Agritech, including multinationals like Bayer and Monsanto, when it should be using that money to support its own rice farmers.

The mayor’s league meeting was also attended by Governor Emilio Macias II, who expressed disappointment over the apportionment of funds intended for the construction of farm to market roads.

“One thing good about Negros Oriental is you have a higher yield than Bohol with less hectares planted to rice,” Enriquez told the mayors and the governor.

He said local government units (LGUs) that have at least 100 hectares of compact area of irrigated rice lands will be provided with one flatbed dryer by the DA.

Regional rice coordinator and chief of the crops division Jorge Paculba meantime said the department hopes to achieve a 65 percent rice sufficiency level this year, 72 percent in 2009 and 79 percent by the year 2010, and they are seeking the help and cooperation of local chief executives.

But Quirante sees otherwise, explaining that the characteristics and performance of hybrid rice varieties drastically deteriorates in the second generation or succeeding planting.

Hence, the farmers would have to continually depend on the commercial seed companies for fresh supplies, he said.

In the Philippines, seed companies have applied for Plant Variety Protection (PVP) for five hybrid rice varieties.

The PVP effectively prohibits the farmers from creating new strains from hybrid rice varieties. This prohibition further deepens the rice farmers’ dependence on these seed companies.

By expanding and promoting the planting of hybrid rice, government is also practically wiping out traditional rice varieties, Quirante added.

Negros Oriental has 15,059 hectares planted to rice, based on consolidated records of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), the DA, the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS), and the respective LGUs.

The first district has a total of 6,680 hectares planted to rice, second district – 3,159 hectares, and the third district with more than 2,400 hectares.

To achieve the desired rice sufficiency level, the regional agriculture office is urging Negros Oriental rice farmers to plant 1,709 hectares to hybrid rice, 11,176 hectares with certified seeds, and 1,163 hectares with ordinary seeds or a total of 14,548 hectares.

The scheme is for rice farmers to pay only P440 of the P1,200 per bag of certified seeds, the remaining P760 will be shouldered by the DA, Paculba said.

For hybrid seeds of P2,900 per bag, the farmer will pay only P1,400 and the rest will be shouldered by the government through the DA.

The first district is allotted with P8.724 million, second district – P3.232 million, and P6.268 million rice subsidy for the third district.

But the Negros Farmers Council sees disaster instead of improvement of the tillers’ lot.

Quirante said that clearly, the design of the Fields interventions will actually make the rice program dependent on private companies with no accountability to the public.

“Equally disturbing is hybrid rice’s heavy reliance on chemical-based inputs to reach optimum yields. With the skyrocketing prices of inorganic fertilizers, which now stand at P1,700, hybrid rice production will only force rice farmers deeper into indebtedness, even as the big fertilizer companies reap windfalls of profit. All of this is on top of the damage to the environment that chemical-based farming, as shown in numerous studies, will certainly cause” Quirante further explained.

He said the government’s only rationale for insisting on hybrid rice is the supposed yield advantage it has over traditional and other inbred varieties.

“Yet, in the field, farmer-selected and bred seeds have been shown to be comparative if not superior to hybrid rice which has an average yield of 7 metric tons per hectare” he said.

He forwarded the best way of solving the present rice problem and that is simply providing farmers with good quality seeds, promoting organic rice farming and constructing additional irrigation facilities.

“Government would do well to abandon its current policy track of relying on hybrid rice or even entertaining rice imports as solutions to ensuring the availability of food. Instead, government should pursue the implementation of the Rice Master Plan that the small rice farmers have long been advocating” he added. (EBS)

(Sunstar Dumaguete)

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