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Hybrid rice: the future of rice farming in the Philippines

Thea Kristina M. Pabuayon

Mang Teofilo, a rice farmer from San Miguel, Isabela has just computed his earnings for one cropping season. The amount was more than what one can win in some popular game shows on TV, a staggering P1.2 million!

hybrid rice mestizo
Hybrid rice Mestizo

Indeed, Mang Teofilo had become a millionaire in just four to six months with the help of new hybrid rice Mestizo. Ordinarily, his 30-hectare land would earn him P0.6 million per cropping season, but with Mestizo, he earned double by harvesting at least 150 cavans per hectare that he sold at P400.00/cavan.

Documented success stories of hybrid rice adoption abound in other parts of the country: Isabela, Kalinga, Davao del Sur and Davao Oriental.

According to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) Deputy Director Edilberto Redoña, hybrid rice can in fact give farmers an additional 1, 272 kg of palay per hectare, or at least 25% increase in yield.

Given the amazing income generating potential of hybrid rice varieties, can it be the saving grace of rice farming in the country? Can Filipino farmers have, at last, the competitive advantage they need to compete with other markets, or finally raise their standards and quality of living? What makes hybrid rice superior to inbred rice varieties?

The Philippines' 78 million people use more than 90% of the rice produced in the country as food. In the past two decades, however, the supply of rice has not been enough to sustain the rate of increase of the country's population. From 1980-1997 for example, the population grew 2.20% yearly, while the production growth of rice remained at an annual rate of 2.18%.

According to PhilRice, by the end of the first quarter of the year, rice production must at least be doubled for the rice needs of the population to be met.

However, farmers are facing a great challenge in increasing rice production since there is less land, less labor, less pesticides, and there is immense competition brought about by globalization.

With hybrid rice, the Philippines can increase its rice production by 1 ton per hectare.

A better deal, a more profitable alternative

According to agricultural experts, the farmers' best bet in meeting the challenge of increasing rice production is to "increase yield per unit area, per unit time," which means more harvests in shorter periods.

In 1998, the Department of Agriculture introduced the hybrid rice program in commercial production. PhilRice launched the hybrid rice technology as a full research and development program to support the government's current national program on rice. The hybrid rice program aims to promote productivity and competitiveness, specifically by increasing farmers' yield by 15% or higher, by developing and using hybrid rice technology.

According to studies conducted by the DA, the hybrid rice technology has been recorded to increase rice yields by at least 15%-25% compared to superior inbred varieties in the country. This ability is attributed to 'heterosis' or hybrid vigor that enables increased growth, disease resistance and fertility in hybrid species. On the average, hybrid rice yields six tons per hectare, but this can go as high as 10 to 12 tons per hectare with good environmental conditions and proper cultural management practices. PhilRice adds that, compared to inbred rice, the hybrid rice varieties have more vigorous root systems and canopies, are more responsive to oxygen, and have at least 200 spikelets per panicle.

Naturally, higher yields translate to higher income.

In a cost analysis of hybrid rice commercial production conducted by PhilRice, it was revealed that hybrid rice farmers can earn P6,000 more over inbred varieties. However, it is estimated that a farmer may need to shell out at least P22,000 per hectare for hybrid rice production, compared to inbred rice production which costs P21,700 per hectare.

Despite the higher cost, however, hybrid rice still guarantees bigger earnings for the farmers. PhilRice computed that for every 5.5 tons or 110 cavans (at 50 kilos per cavan) of hybrid rice harvested per hectare, a farmer can earn as much as P24,700. This amount is higher than the average yield of five tons per hectare of inbred rice, which can only give an earning of P18,600. At this rate, the amount may even go higher since studies have shown that the average yield of hybrid rice may go as high as 240 cavans per hectare.

For hybrid rice seed production, the average cost is P33,500 per hectare. This is considerably high when compared to inbred seed production that only costs P22,300 per hectare. However, a hybrid rice seed grower is still guaranteed to earn more than inbred seed growers. On the average, a farmer can earn P15,000 more at 6.0 tons per hectare compared to only 4.7 tons per hectare for inbred seed varieties. Likewise, hybrid rice seed production also boosts employment since it uses a different system of seed production.

At present, three hybrid rice varieties have already been developed. These are Magat (PSB Rc26), Mestizo (PSB Rc72H), and Panay (PSB Rc76h). Mestizo, which is the only commercially available hybrid variety, was released in 1997. It has an average yield of 6.3 tons per hectare or 1,272 kg (25%) higher than the best inbreds. Aside from its added profitability, Mestizohas, "good eating quality, and is aromatic". However, it is late maturing and is quite prone to bacterial leaf blight.

Magatwas first released in 1993 and is recommended for planting in Cagayan Valley. It averages 5.8 tons per hectare, which translates to 779 kg (15%) more than the best inbreds. Panay was released in 1999 for planting in Mindanao and in some parts of Luzon.

Because of these benefits, the hybrid rice technology has gained ground not only in the Philippines but also in other Asian rice-producing countries like India and Vietnam. In China, the first country to develop the hybrid rice technology, rice production increased to 188 million tons in the 90s from only 140 million tons in 1978 with hybrid rice. Likewise, hybrid rice farming allowed them to save 2 million hectares of their land, including forests and swamps, from being converted to agricultural lands.

In the Philippines, the government is seriously advancing hybrid rice technology because of its potential to eliminate the country's dependence on rice imports to sustain its rice needs. With hybrid rice, the Philippines can potentially increase its rice production by one ton per hectare. If this is achieved in even half of the country's 2.7 million hectares of irrigated rice lands, the Philippines could produce an additional 1.35 million metric tons of rice worth $264 million.

DA's Hybrid Rice Program under the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani Rice Program is at the helm of hybrid rice promotion through research and development, training, and technology promotion. By 2004, the government aims to plant 10% of the country's total rice lands with hybrid rice.