The government looked to high yielding varieties, particularly hybrid rice, to help increase local production and meet self-sufficiency targets.
The fascination with increased yield is most likely because the Philippines has limited arable land area, explains Wilhelmina Pelegrina, executive director of Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE).
According to international NGO Grain, hybrid rice is a product of crossing two genetically different varieties of rice. They, unlike inbred varieties, express a scientific phenomenon called “heterosis” or hybrid vigor. When two genetically distant parents are cross-bred, science dictates that the offspring will be superior—for rice, this translates to having higher yield.
The DA included hybrid rice technology in its national rice program in 1998. Recognizing hybrid rice could possibly be a road to self-sufficiency, government focused on adopting it as the country’s main rice program. In 2001, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Administrative Order 25. Then in 2002, the government launched the hybrid rice commercialization program (HRCP). Both decrees intensified the utilization and promotion of hybrid rice.
Henry Lim, chief executive officer of SLAgritech (a private company promoting hybrid rice) says that in pre-hybrid years, the country’s palay production average was 2.9 metric tons per hectare. “Now, because of hybrid rice, national average is around 3.6 metric tons per hectare,” Lim points out.
Despite government support of the high-yielding crop, the Philippines continues to import rice. Lim says part of the problem is not having enough hectares for planting hybrid rice. “If we grow to 800,000 hectares, then we [don’t have to] import rice anymore,” says Lim.
The government’s hybrid rice programs may have been given top priority, but it easily draws the most flak. Farmers, scientists, and agricultural researchers have criticized the technology for several reasons.
French scientist Jean-Pierre Berlan of the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique claims that hybrid vigor “is a myth. It does not exist.” He likened the phenomenon to having children born of related parents. Such offspring are prone to birth defects, and highly susceptible to disease. Because there is not much diversity in its genes, scientists and farmers have found that hybrid rice is prone to pests.
And pest infestation means farmers have to spend extra on pesticide. Also, hybrid seeds, unlike those of the inbred variety, cannot be saved and reused so farmers need to buy them every planting season.
Hazel Tanchuling of Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) believes hybrid rice is not cost efficient and presents very low net returns. She said it costs 100% more than inbred but only presents a 15% yield advantage.
Hybrid cultivation is also labor-intensive. According to a study by Elenita C. Daño, an independent researcher, “Hybrid requires 30% more labor or 100 workdays per hectare than the seed production of improved varieties.”
Another drawback of hybrid rice is poor grain quality. One Chinese rice breeder admitted having difficulties developing a variety that is both high-yielding and of good grain quality. These two traits are said to have conflicting relations in genetics.
In Vietnam, a study revealed that hybrid rice is used as livestock feed, particularly for pigs, while some hybrid rice merchants pass off their produce as inbred brand.
Locally, PhilRice claims that public research institutions and private rice companies—like SLAgritech—have already developed high yielding varieties that produce rice with better grain quality.
Print ed: 08/09