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Saving our farms, securing our staple food

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The current weather abnormality, which is being made more destructive by man’s excesses in exploiting our natural resources, raises concern over the sufficiency of our staple food—rice.

Flooding submerged several towns in the country, and Mindanao is not spared. The loss of vast forest covers is being blamed for the unprecedented level of flooding in some parts of Mindanao.

This calamity is a stark reminder on the need for political will to find remedy to save our farmlands from greater harm in the future. So far what we are witnessing are palliative measures such as the “flood-diversion channel” in Sultan Mastura in Maguindanao.

For one, bald mountains and hills are always there for all to see; nothing substantial is being made to reforest them. The people don’t even care.

Our government has set a goal to achieve rice self-sufficiency. In recent decades there were, apparently, urgent need for the state’s rice importation and distribution on account of existing rice production-consumption deficit of around seventeen percent annually.  The easiest remedy used was importation.

Shortage of rice – the most strategic commodity, socially and politically - has been a perennial concern of our government except during the brief period of rice exportation to Indonesia in the ‘70s.

Although Maguindanao is a mainstay top ten rice- producing provinces of the country, the rest of the ARMM areas are net rice-importer.

Growing food stuff in the region is being affected substantially both by man-made and natural calamities – the armed conflict and the perennial flooding and also draught. Global warming starts to make its presence felt with the erratic weather in some months of the year.

Regional Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries-ARMM, Atty. Lomala Balindong, in a meeting with the Agriculture department’s workforce, noted that several decades ago the province of Lanao del Sur had the capacity to send surplus rice to neighboring provinces in northern Mindanao. Now it meets its shortfall from elsewhere.

Water, just enough of it, is the crux of the matter. Decades ago, Lanao Sur is home to massive irrigation projects such as the Rugnan Irrigation system, the operation of which has not been sustained mainly on account of subsequent national agricultural policy shifts after the ‘70s.

Lanao’s irrigation infrastructure comes out, apparently, as sub-priority of a nearby region that handles it.  And, again, flooding hits the vast rice fields in the province further setting us back from our target production this year.

In the 1970’s, the Marcos government launched an intensive drive to end our country’s rice importation thru a national rice production program called “Masagana 99.”

This program saw the massive nation-wide construction of irrigation systems following the then “Green Revolution” production paradigm which was a global effort to avert impending famine.

The global effort focused on revolutionizing production of Maize and Rice, the staple food of most of the vulnerable peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

For rice, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based at Los Banos, Laguna was established by the Ford Foundation in the ‘60s and tasked to develop the “Miracle Rice”, early maturing, short-stature, high-yielding but chemical and irrigation-dependent rice varieties. Its natural agricultural policy consequence was the introduction of massive irrigation systems and a national rice production program prescribing heavy and sustained use of inorganic fertilizer and other chemical inputs.

Today, however, the Department of Agriculture has taken a “paradigm shift” to organic farming.

Most of our country’s farmers are among the world’s small-scale producers who work marginal lands in the tropics and are the most vulnerable to climate change phenomena such as drought and flood. They are among those who can least withstand drop in income from their fields and are least capable to adapt to changing conditions.

Consequently, global food production policy has been calling for a multi-pronged approach which includes use of more marginal areas, sustainable intensification of farm production and ecological farming systems, among others.

In rice production, the approach now includes the use of indigenous rice varieties as well as drought and flood resistant varieties to help achieve the illusive rice sufficiency.  Decades of rice production policy dependent on “Miracle Rice” and its later generations had reduced the local rice farmers’ production resiliency.

Indeed, the regional autonomous government, with its unique circumstances—natural and man-induced—needs to look incisively into the matter and act appropriately. (DAF-ARMM/RVC-PIA9 BaSulTa)

By Iskak L. Paguital

 




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