By Dr. Emil Q. Javier
This is a further elaboration of how we can build better in Marawi through inclusive agribusiness.
The announcement this week by Henry Lim that SL Agritech Corporation, the region’s leading hybrid rice breeder, is partnering with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) regional government, Go Negosyo and the Department of Agriculture (DA) to develop a 50-hectare model rice village around Marawi is precisely the kind of private sector initiative needed to exploit the low-hanging fruits in building better in war-torn Lanao del Sur.
Intensive hybrid rice cultivation is highly productive and will immediately raise income of small farmers while having long-term, sustainable implications to industry competitiveness and national food security. Hence, the strategic direction set by DA Secretary Manny Piñol to progressively devote our rice farms to hybrids.
Technology is available and it is a matter of approximating the conditions where hybrid rice cultivation has proven to be successful e.g. in Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan and Pangasinan.
There are five key success factors, namely, good seeds, water, fertilizers, mechanization and markets. Out of necessity the inputs will initially have to be provided for free to help the farmers who have little cash but have land and family labor. Since the inputs can pay for themselves, the real challenge is putting in place linkages and institutions that will provide these inputs and services to the small farmers on a pay-as-you-go basis in the long-run.
However, family labor is invariably not enough. Availability and cost of additional labor are key constraints. But the cost of tractors for land preparation, rice transplanters, grain combines and grain dryers are beyond the means of individual small farmers. The machines can be acquired and operated by cooperatives and/or by small and medium scale enterprises. There is room for both business arrangements.
The Go Negosyo connection is therefore vital. SL Agritech is well-placed to provide the primary production technology requisites. Go Negosyo for its part will supply the organization and management expertise to support the cooperatives and small- and medium- scale enterprises (SMEs) who will ultimately provide the institutional back bone for the provinces’ rice sector. The expected volume of production is small and can readily be absorbed by the National Food Authority (NFA) and the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) for their emergency rice distribution requirements.
Yellow genetically modified (GM) corn hybrids
Actually the bigger, even more immediate opportunity is the upside from raising the productivity of the 106,000 hectares in Lanao del Sur planted to corn which is twice as large as the area planted to rice (54,000 hectares). Unlike rice which requires irrigation for high productivity, corn is rainfed and there is no pressing, constraining demand for development of irrigation.
Yellow corn is the major feed ingredient of our vibrant poultry and livestock industries. We used to import a lot of corn but now we are self-sufficient with feed corn but we need more.
Hybrid yellow GM corn which has built-in resistance to insects and has tolerance to the herbicide, glyphosate, is now being very successfully and profitably grown on 800,000 hectares. The leading provinces engaged in hybrid yellow GM corn production are Cagayan, Isabela, Pangasinan, Bukidnon, North and South Cotabato.
Similarly the successful introduction of hybrid yellow GM corn cultivation in Lanao del Sur is another low-hanging fruit just waiting for a push from the private sector. Many Maranao farmers are traditional corn growers. The GM corn hybrid technology is now widely adopted in the neighboring provinces of Bukidnon, North and South Cotabato. From an agro-ecological point of view there is absolutely no reason why Maranao farmers cannot benefit from the same.
The SL-Agritech-Go Negosyo-DA-ARMM connection is a template the other agribusinesses can take a leaf from. The feed millers and the poultry and livestock producers should be part of the action.
Just apply more fertilizers
But even more immediate than introducing highly productive rice, corn coconut and cassava varieties (the four major crops) is the opportunity to raise yields and incomes of farmers in Lanao del Sur simply by applying additional fertilizers on their existing crops. By now all rice farmers are using the improved inbred varieties released by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). However, the amounts of fertilizers most farmers apply to their rice crops are way below the recommended levels. The same is true with corn.
In fact, hardly anybody applies fertilizers on coconut and cassava. And yet, in most places coconuts benefits from the simple application of sodium chloride, the common table salt.
Thus, if we want to make an immediate impact on the lives of Maranao farmers, government must find a way to scrupulously provide them fertilizers without the ghost farmers, ghost and/or overpriced fertilizer program which have bedeviled past subsidized fertilizers in the past.
This is the challenge Henry Lim, and Presidential Adviser on Entrepreneurship, Joey Concepcion, and DA Secretary Manny Piñol hopefully can address more intelligently than previous government bureaucrats.
Diversification, relay cropping and intercropping with other valuable crops ought to be in the development agenda for Lanao del Sur but that will require more deliberation, institutional planning, irrigation and human resource development.
Dr. Emil Q. Javier is a Member of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and also Chair of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP). For any feedback, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: DA Secretary Manny Piñol, Department of Agriculture, Henry Lim, hybrid rice cultivation, Low-hanging fruits in the rehabilitation of Marawi, National Food Authority, Philippine Rice Research Institute, SL Agritech Corporation, WHY NOT?