Hybrid rice program may be scaled down

- Rocel Felix -
The government may be forced to trim its target of planting 200,000 hectares to high-yielding hybrid rice seeds this year and possibly next year as the program is being wobbled by budgetary constraints.

Leocadio Sebastian, executive director of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice), said the original target of 200,000 hectares for the wet cropping season from May to October this year may have to be reduced to 150,000 hectares based on the government’s current distribution rate of hybrid rice seeds.

Sebastian said Philrice has so far farmed out only 150,000 bags of hybrid seeds to different rice-producing areas in the country. Each 20-kilo bag is just enough to seed one hectare of rice field.

Philrice officials said farmers while aware of the benefits of planting hybrid rice, find the seeds too expensive even at a hefty subsidy of 50 percent.

Sebastian said farmers can buy hybrid seeds through Philrice at the subsidized rate of P1,200 per bag. The unsubsidized price is P2,400 per bag.

On the other hand, a 40-kilo bag of regular rice seeds costs only about P450 per bag.

Sebastian said about 60,000 bags of seeds are still available at Philrice, but there have been no recent orders or takers. He noted that planting of the wet season crop should be completed not later than August for farmers to be able to harvest by the end of the year.

While government may be hard-pressed to meet this year’s targets, 2005 could prove to be more difficult, according to Philrice officials.

For 2003, the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani or GMA rice program was allotted P1.7 billion for seed distribution, fertilizer subsidies and credit distribution. The budget not only included subsidies for those planting hybrid rice seeds but also for farmers still using traditional lower-yielding rice varieties.

But since this year’s budget hasn’t been passed by Congress, the 2003 budget was re-enacted, thus the P1.7 billion for 2003 was maintained.

On the other hand, government is targetting to plant 400,000 hectares to hybrid rice seeds for the dry cropping season which starts in November and will be carried over until April of 2005. For the 2005 wet cropping season, another 200,000 hectares is targeted for planting or a total of 600,000 hectares.

Francisco Malabanan, director of the GMA rice program said it will be difficult to achieve these targets without the corresponding budgetary support.

According to Sebastian, Philrice may also not be able to supply next year’s requirement for hybrid seeds, placed at 600,000 bags or good for 600,000 hectares.

He said Philrice may be able to provide only around 150,000 to 250,000 bags of hybrid seeds for the dry season crop, which is harvested around April, Sebastian said.

Palay production for this year is projected to reach a record-high of 14.5 million metrictons, mainly due to the use of high-yielding hybrid varieties.

Yields from hybrid seeds reach as high as 12 metric tons (MT) per hectare compared to the average yield of only 3.5 MT per hectare using traditional rice seeds.

Outgoing Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. has been pushing the expanded use of commercial hybrid rice seeds to increase production and income of rice farmers.












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