(MALAYA) Three new rice varieties designed to help farmers grow more rice in difficult conditions have been officially recommended for approval for commercial cultivation in the country and are expected to help the Philippines become less dependent on rice imports.

Bred by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), one variety is flood-tolerant, one is drought-tolerant, and one is salt-tolerant.

"In the Philippines about 400,000 hectares of rice-growing land is affected by salinity, and in any year up to 370,000 hectares can be flood-affected," said Dr. David Mackill, program leader and plant breeder at IRRI. "Both these conditions can completely destroy a rice crop or decrease yield.

"Yield is also reduced by drought that occurs in upland and rain-fed areas where rice is not irrigated. Having rice varieties that can cope with difficult growing conditions such as flood, drought, and salinity will be particularly helpful for poor farmers who rely on marginal land to grow their rice.

"Rice-growing land that has limited productivity will become more productive when these new rice varieties are used – this will help Filipino farmers produce more rice," he added.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, every year Filipinos eat an average of more than 100 kilograms of rice per person. With population increasing, demand for rice continues to grow in the Philippines, which is already the world’s biggest rice importer.

"The development of these rice varieties demonstrates how IRRI and its partners can increase the yield of rice through research," said Dr. Mackill.

"Ongoing investment in rice research, breeding, and extension will help to increase rice yields and improve the sustainability of rice production to help avoid future rice price increases."

The new rice varieties have been tested in field conditions and evaluated by the Rice Varietal Improvement Group through the National Cooperative Testing program of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice).

"The Rice Technical Working Group of the National Seed Industry Council will now recommend the varieties for official approval, which is expected to occur sometime in late 2009," said Thelma Padolina, NCT national coordinator at PhilRice.

As a nonprofit organization, IRRI provides the seed for these new varieties at no cost to PhilRice.

PhilRice has already started distributing small amounts of seed to farmers for further adaptation tests. Seed increase of breeder and foundation seeds is now being done by IRRI and PhilRice. When officially approved, basic seed will be available to seed growers and selected farmers that can cater to other farmers. It is also expected that seed exchange among farmers in the target areas will be active with the new technologies.

IRRI and PhilRice continue to work together and more new rice varieties especially designed for the Philippines are expected to be released soon.

SM Foundation to conduct farmers training program in 8 provinces

Eight provinces—Cavite, Batangas, Cebu, Camarines Sur, Davao, Negros Occidental, Pampanga and Laguna—will be sites of the Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan Farmers’ Training Program of SM Foundation, Inc. this year.

Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan Farmers’ Training Program is SM Foundation’s livelihood program that aims to help marginal farmers improve and increase their productivity. So far it graduated 814 farmer participants from 201 barangays in 64 municipalities.

Last week, 219 farmers in Cavite held their first-ever Harvest Festival where fruits and vegetables were harvested in paddy farms in Tanza. Harvested were honey melons, giant ampalayas, papaya, eggplants, sili, string beans, kalabasa, camote and okra.

The maiden Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan Farmers’ Training Program was conducted in Barangay Handumanan, Bacolod City from May 17-August 18, 2007. The first batch of graduates numbered 102, 80 percent of whom successfully replicated the technology they learned from the training program in their backyard. Encouraged by the success of the initial training program, SM Foundation brought the training program the following year to Sta. Rita, Pampanga; Pagbilao, Quezon; Marilog, Davao City; Sta. Rosa, Laguna; and Rosales, Pangasinan. Another farmers’ training program was also conducted in Barangay Hamdumanan, Bacolod City in 2008.

Kabalikat Sa Kabuhayan is a joint undertaking of private and government agencies. This collaborative effort, initiated by SM Foundation, Inc. with Harbest Agri Business Corporation, the Department of Agriculture regional field unit and the local government units as project components.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved