PH Imports Rice From Cambodia, Magsaysay Award Winner. With Organic SRI, We Can Do Better!

Above, you are looking at my photograph of the Zeigler Experiment Station of the International Rice Research Institute, IRRI, located next to the campus of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, UPLB, in College, Laguna, taken 04 January 2017. The trial plots are all planted to rice in the conventional manner, as you probably notice – and none of the seedlings is growing in the manner of the System of Rice Intensification, SRI, as far as I can see. Much less organic SRI. I wonder why. Is IRRI afraid of knowing how much it doesn't know?

If you ask Frank A Hilario, agriculturist,
science writer, he will tell you:
"SRI is the best thing that ever happened
to the growing of rice!"

On record, I first came across SRI about 11 years ago at the campus of UP Los Baños where the Philippine Journal of Crop Science, PJCS, was based and of which I was Editor in Chief. One of the papers of the PJCS issue published August 2007 was Anielyn C Yadao & Oscar B Zamora's "System Of Rice Intensification Vs Conventional Rice Approach," pages 99-107 (as reported by Frank A Hilario, 18 February 2007, A Magazine Called Love, blogspot.com). The field study of Yadao & Zamora with SRI vs conventional rice culture was conducted at the PhilRice Batac Experiment Station in Batac, Ilocos Norte. Unfortunately, in that PhilRice trial, conventional rice out-yielded SRI rice! SRI was bad. So, why am I proselytizing for SRI? I'll tell you in a little while. One dead robin doesn't mean one dead summer.

I have been reading about SRI every now and then. Right now, I'm at the PhilRice website, (philrice.gov.ph), and I can find only one lonely item on SRI, this one the news report written by the Web Team, "Farmers Compete To Boost Rice Production" that is 5 years old, as it was uploaded 26 July 2013. And no, there is no follow-up news item on it, I wonder why.

The news item says:

Palayabangan, a nationwide rice production competition initiated by the Department of Agriculture (DA), with the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) as lead, kicked off in June had enticed 36 individual farmers and farmer groups, seed and fertilizer companies, non-government organizations and civil society groups nationwide aiming to increase rice produce with lesser expenses.

Palayabangan – I translate from the invented Tagalog word coined from palay + yabang, rice + show off, or Bragging Rice, my free translation. Palayabangan aimed to produce 10 tons/ha of rice at P5/kg input cost, where the average was less than 4 tons/ha grown at P11/kg. Bragging Rice called it the "10-5 Challenge."

On 03 October 2013, PhilRice's Web Team posted "Palayabangan Prepares Farmers For Free Trade" (philrice.gov.ph); despite the brash claim, the news item says only that the competition was ongoing, and there were no results yet.

And then I find no more PhilRice webpage mentioning either Palayabangan or SRI. So I don't know what happened in the 2013 Bragging Rice competition.

The PhilRice Web Team next story on Bragging Rice says it was Syngenta Philippines that won the 2014 dry season challenge in Isabela, producing 10.54 t/ha at the average cost of P4.94/kilo. And then there is no more mention of Palayabangan or the farmer winners in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Does that show that Bragging Rice as a boast was called off? Bragging is such sweet sorrow.

Googling further, now I'm reading Roberto Verzola's paper presented at the 13th National Organic Agriculture Congress, NOAC, held 23-25 November 2016 in Ilocos Norte (pdf downloadable from organic.da.gov.ph). The 7-page NOAC paper is titled "Rice Self-Sufficiency On A Silver Platter." Mr Verzola is the National Coordinator of SRI Pilipinas, which competed in the first Bragging Rice, and he himself does not mention the results of the competition. Mum's the word.

And now I'm reading the 14 August 2018 LinkedIn paper of SRI Pilipinas' Chief Advocacy Officer Jesus Las Marias II titled, "Organic SRI Rice Can Feed The Nation, Yet Mitigates Global Warming" (linkedin.com). It is all of 2,464 words except the 11-word title. No, it does not mention Bragging Rice either. But the things it does mention are eye-popping! For instance, Filipino farmers actually harvest more than 20% of the national rice requirement, which is enough to feed everyone – but farmers lose as much as 35% due to inefficiencies in the old system, as a farmer's son I say from harvest and postharvest losses, and so we have to import the 15% shortfall. Waste not, want not.

After discussing the use of hybrid rice in the dream to meet national rice needs, among many other things, Mr Las Marias says in his LinkedIn paper:

Actually, it is not a hybrid seed that can feed the nation. It is correct cultivation method partnered with (any of the) indigenous, traditional or even inbred varieties that have been passed on by generations of farmers, that requires less water, that allows every seed to proliferate with numerous tillers, that does not require chemical application and that is contented with organic inputs that can. This technology is referred to as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). With judicious combination of irrigation and nutrients, only 6.5 kilos of indigenous rice seeds is needed to make it possible to harvest 150 bags per hectare because a single rice seed produces tillers that compensate for the diminished number of transplanted seedlings.

Mr Las Marias is like saying that it's not the science of which rice seed to plant that can feed the Philippines but it's the technology of cultivation of any of the indigenous rice varieties, because they require less water, produce more tillers, require no chemical inputs, and they are "contented with organic inputs that can (feed the nation)." This is SRI. Mr Las Marias is saying that with only 6.5 kilos of seeds to produce transplants, a farmer can harvest 150 bags/ha, or 7.5 tons/ha, because the single transplants produce more numerous tillers that produce more of the grains. It is less than the challenge of 10 tons/ha, but 7.5 tons/ha is more than the national average rice yield of 3.87 tons/ha (philstar.com), or almost 100% more. The more, the merrier.

Mr Las Marias says SRI has these "four main principles that interact with each other" to deliver the unbelievable-but-true yield:

(1)   Early, quick and healthy plant establishment (8-12 days old)
(2)   Reduced plant density (6.5 kilos seeds per hectare)
(3)   Soil enriched with organic matter
(4)   Reduced and controlled water application.

He says that that at that age, having only two small leaves "allows (the) rice seedling to acclimatize to its final growing space without subjecting it to stress." You plant only one seedling per hill instead of the usual 2-3 seedlings. Thus, the lower density of planting "eliminates (plant) competition for nutrients, allowing maximum growth, tillering and strength to withstand pests, diseases and abnormal weather." I know that at a planting distance of 25 cm by 25 cm, square, there is equally plenty of room for growth for every little rice seedling. With organic SRI, I say there are no chemical fertilizers to damage the environment such as nitrates to poison the soil and any stream nearby. And minimizing irrigation is actually maximizing the irrigation water because the water saved can be used for other farming purposes.

And here is the surprise, to me. Mr Las Marias says:

Proof that SRI is a sound cultivation technology is that Cambodia, a former rice importer like the Philippines, turned into a net exporter in just eight (8) years after the government adopted it as the country’s official rice production protocol in 2004. The person responsible for that brilliant success, Dr Yang Saing Koma, was awarded the Magsaysay Award for Agriculture in 2012. Interestingly, Cambodia’s early buyer of their rice surplus was the Philippines.

And so, with Bragging Rice, Cambodia has the bragging rights to the rise of rice that the Philippines can only covet. As of today, Palayabangan remains to be Theory, not Practice. "With a braggart," Evan Esar says, "it's no sooner done than said." Now then, I would not mind if a Professor from UP Los Baños and/or a scientist from PhilRice visits Cambodia anytime now and learn from Magsaysay-award winning Mr Koma about the growing of rich rice. With Bragging Rice, you have to swallow your pride first! @

12 November 2018. Total text count excluding this line: 1409

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