We are now in a time of the year associated with rice harvests in the country, especially in Central Luzon, Western Visayas, Cagayan Valley, and Central Mindanao. Many years in the past, we were hit by powerful typhoons and floods that destroyed harvests while destroying homes and communities. This year, however, we seem to have been spared from such calamities as super-typhoon Yolanda in November, 2013, and the floods of tropical storm Ondoy in September, 2009.
These natural calamities impact a great deal on our annual rice harvests. This year, the Department of Agriculture expects a record rice harvest of about 19.4 million metric tons for 2017. But this is still below our total need of 20 million tons a year. We thus still need to import 600,000 tons of rice.
There was a time when we had to import 1.8 million tons of rice a year, due to our fast-increasing population, loss of ricelands to real estate development, and natural calamities such as storms and floods. We gradually reduced this shortage through high-yielding rice varieties, farm mechanization, and this year, a program of free irrigation.
Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said that reports from department regional offices indicate that the fourth quarter harvest will be better than previous yields. The most welcome report came from Nueva Ecija whose farmers – using hybrid seeds developed by private firms in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Laguna, and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PRRI) in Nueva Ecija – have posted harvests of 10 tons per hectare. This compares with the national average of 4.38 tons per hectare.
These high-yielding hybrid rice varieties are now being planted in about 360,000 hectares – out of a possible 4.9 million hectares in the country. The DA has set a target of one million hectares planted wih hybrid rice by the year 2020. This modest goal means an additional production of 4 million tons per harvest a year – so much more than our present shortage of 600,000 tons.
Agriculture truly carries our greatest hope for economic growth in the coming years. It would provide much-needed employment for Filipinos, most of whom now live in the rural areas. Its growth is bound to impact on other sectors of the national economy.
Self-sufficiency in rice will be a particular source of satisfaction to Filipinos, whose IRRI and PRRI trained the rice growers of Vietnam and Thailand. We have the land, we have the technology, we have the high-yielding rice varieties. We should be able to produce the rice needs of our own people.
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