‘Planters must have access to drought-tolerant rice varieties’

[FILE] A man carries a sack of rice in Manila on February 13, 2022. The Philippines is expected to continue importing rice this year, with shipments seen reaching as much as 2.9 million metric tons.

The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) said drought-tolerant rice varieties should be made available to Filipino farmers in drought-prone areas to help them cope with the ill effects of extreme weather.

In a recently published policy note, PhilRice made five recommendations on how the government could help rice farmers in drought-prone areas.

Topping the list was making drought-tolerant varieties available and accessible so that farmers may mitigate the losses they incur due to the extreme weather event.

PhilRice noted that the yield of drought-tolerant varieties is “comparable” with the national average for rainfed areas at 3.28 metric tons (MT) per hectare and irrigated at 4.53 MT per hectare.

“These varieties have to be promoted,” said PhilRice, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

“The National Seed Quality Control Services could help publicize the seed centers that sell the drought-tolerant varieties. Currently, the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF)-Seed Program distributes some of these varieties, which could help augment the supply. Alternatively, the DA’s National Rice Program must ensure the availability of drought-tolerant varieties.”

PhilRice said there is a need to “intensify” promotion of agriculture-based adaptation strategies through recalibration of the country’s agricultural extension system.

Some of the strategies that farmers should adopt include alternative wetting and drying irrigation technology as well as use of various apps to help farmers in improving their farm management practices, according to PhilRice.

“The roles played by the agricultural extension system need recalibrating from the traditional technology transfer work to giving advice on climate resiliency among farmers,” it said.

“Agricultural extension workers would do well to be trained on approaches that will help farmers realize the consequences of their decisions (e.g., their strong attachment to their social identity.”

The government should also push for weather-index based insurance as it helps farmers “in dealing with the impacts of drought, in particular huge losses,” PhilRice said.

“It is important, however, to push for a form of insurance that gives payouts that are commensurate with the actual losses of farmers,” it said.

“A DA-PhilRice study recommends looking into the prevailing weather index-based insurance for low rainfall indices. Usually, the indices are based on large data sets that cross-analyze crop production reports and historical weather data.”

PhilRice said local government units (LGUs) must invest in institutional adaptation programs, such as more reliable irrigation infrastructure to help farmers adapt to drought.

“It is imperative that local officials invest in making these adaptive mechanisms available for their farmers. The DA has a suite of adaptive mechanisms to drought such as drip irrigation, water harvesting technologies and palayamanan farming system.”

The agency also said adaptation strategies must be inclusive of the farmers’ gender and preferences.

“Adaptation strategies to be supported and promoted must respect the divergent preferences of men and women farmers. Women go for crop diversification and putting in place water storage facilities. Men prefer shifting planting dates.”

PhilRice noted that in 2019, El Niño caused P4.4 billion in agricultural damage. It affected more than 140,000 hectares of lands and more than 140,000 farmers.

Image credits: Nonie Reyes


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