July 20, 2004  (STAR) By Ramon Ma. Epino  -  Thanks to the project of PhilRice, National Irrigation Authority (NIA) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Filipino farmers can now plant rice in fields lacking in irrigation and in some cases drought-ridden fields. The three agricultural agencies developed the "aerobic rice technology" to address the water crisis problem in tropical agriculture, especially during the advent of El Niño. Because it is grown in soil with oxygen it is called "aerobic rice" as compared with anaerobic soil where oxygen is absent because of irrigation.

The new technology was introduced, along with new technologies needed to grow it at a special farmers’ field day in Paniqui, Tarlac recently. The event was attended by Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr., IRRI Director General Ronald Cantrell, PhilRice Executive Director Leonardo Sebastian, NIA Administrator Jesus Paras, Tarlac Governor Jose Yap and other local officials.

Lorenzo says "aerobic rice technology enhances Filipino farmers’ capability to produce rice even in areas where there is dwindling water supply or under harsh weather condition like El Niño."

"With the technology, combined with other crop management techniques like supplementary irrigation and proper fertilization, it is now possible to grow local varieties like Apo, UPLR-1 and Magat using less water but obtaining higher yields compared with conventional farming methods."

At IRRI, initial field experiments with aerobic rice varieties had produced yields of four to six tons per hectare with water savings of around 50 percent compared with lowland ricefields. During the 2003 wet season planting in Tarlac and Nueva Ecija, the same aerobic varieties tested in six farmers’ fields also yielded four to six tons per hectare.

Growing rice under conventional irrigation usually takes twice as much water as other crops like corn, vegetables and other high value crops. It is estimated by scientists that production of just one kilogram of rice consumes 4,000 liters of water.

Some 90 percent of the country’s total volume of fresh water diverted from rivers, creeks and lakes are used for farm irrigation with more than 50 percent going to rice farming, Because of the regular onset of El Niño which induces drought in most parts of the country.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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