LA TRINIDAD, MT. PROVINCE, NOVEMBER 28, 2007 (MALAYA) By MARIA ELENA CATAJAN  — Six heirloom rice varieties in the Mountain Province have passed the international quality tests of a group of experts, making them eligible for overseas market.

Engineer Abraham Akilit, regional manager of the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) in the Cordillera, said the breakthrough would empower thousands of local farmers to go back to traditional rice farming.

The newly-discovered rice varieties are almost similar to the internationally known "tinawon" rice of Ifugao and "unoy" rice of Kalinga.

It was learned that the six indigenous rice varieties were just part of the 18 varieties submitted by the Revitalized Indigenous Cordillera Entrepreneurs (RICE) and the Eight Wonder Foundation for quality testing.

International rice experts from the two groups visited Mountain Province last month to conduct grassroots consultation which is a requisite to the varieties’ being accredited for marketing in the international scene.

The six rice varieties were handed down from generation to generation but they have largely remained as backyard crops.

Akilit pointed out that the success of the six indigenous rice varieties would be a big boost to the province’s watershed rehabilitation and management advocacy since thousands of farmers will be forced to maintain the greenery of the forests so they will have enough sources of supply for organic fertilizers to be used in the rice fields.

Rice fields previously converted to commercial farms will go back to serving as rice paddies to produce enough supply of rice for the international market and local consumption as the case may be.

However, farmers must first group themselves into credible cooperatives to be able to maintain the quality of rice to be produced to ensure a sustained market.

Several tons of "tinawon" and "unoy" rice are being exported to other countries through the RICE and the Eight Wonder Foundation where thousands of rice terraces farmers are benefiting due to a huge profit.

Akilit believes that farmers in the 10 towns of the province would realize the importance of maintaining enough forest cover so that there will be continuous water supply for their farms which could produce the indigenous rice varieties for a sustained livelihood without sacrificing the environment.

The Eight Wonder Foundation was established by Mary Heinsly, a former US Peace Corps volunteer who had been in Ifugao, to provide a source of income for rice terraces farmers and preserve the indigenous rice varieties which had been passed on from generation to generation.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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