IRRI VISIT. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. recreates a photo of his late father's visit to the International Rice Research Institute headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna province with IRRI senior scientist Virender Kumar (standing, left), IRRI director general Jean Balie (center), IRRI lead specialist for phenotyping and crop monitoring Steve Klassen (left, squatting), and IRRI chief of staff AJ Poncin (left, squatting) on Tuesday (Nov. 29, 2022). Marcos said national government must make use of new technologies to transform the country’s agriculture sector (PNA photo by Rey Baniquet)

MANILA – The national government must make use of new technologies to transform the country’s agriculture sector, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. said Tuesday.

Marcos, who heads the Department of Agriculture in a concurrent capacity, made this remark following his visit and meeting with officials of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Laguna province.

During his meeting, Marcos said he found renewed hope in technological innovations that could greatly shape the country's agriculture industry through time.

“Ang maganda sa naging resulta nitong bisita ay marami tayong nakita na mayroon talaga silang bagong technologies (The good result of this visit is that we found a lot of new technologies) that are completely appropriate to the Philippine setting. So nabigyan kami ng pag-asa (So we have been given hope),” he told reporters in an interview.

“It’s up to us now in the Philippine government to make sure those technologies, those products go down to the grassroots,” he added.

Marcos likewise raised the need to adopt "supportive policies" to modernize the rice sector as part of a vibrant agri-food industry in the Philippines, according to a press release from Malacañang.

"There are new technologies that address the problems that we are facing, and that those technologies are beginning to be disseminated down to the local farmers," he was quoted saying.

"We hope to strengthen those partnerships because we very much need — not only to be able to disseminate or to provide these new varieties, the new techniques — but we also have to have a more focused approach to how we deal with the agricultural sector to the rice lands in the Philippines," he added.

He recognized IRRI's vigor and success over the years in the development of climate-resilient, high-yielding rice varieties and farming technologies that significantly improved farmers' productivity, profitability, and competitiveness all over the world.

"I think that there is no way that I could overstate the importance of the work that you were doing. And so you – I have received so many thank yous from all of you. And I feel that perhaps it should I, it should be us from the Philippines who should be thanking you for the continuing thirst for knowledge that you have shown," Marcos said.

He also underscored that agricultural technologies are being pursued as rice crops face risks from higher fertilizer prices and challenges in water management.

Marcos was briefed about the various initiatives being done to improve crop resilience, which includes direct seeding of rice, which is the process of putting up a rice crop from seeds sown in the field. It offers a more sustainable and environment-friendly option, reducing the labor and cost of rice production while significantly lowering water use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Laser Land Leveling (LLL), on the other hand, is a laser-guided mechanized system to redistribute soil across a field for a leveled and uniform cultivation area, significantly improving water and input efficiency and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions of paddy farming.

Solar Bubble Dryer, meanwhile, is a low-cost seed drying technology that can be set up anywhere, eliminating losses from traditional sun drying such as spillage, animals, weather, and vehicles running over the grains.

He learned about the Hermetic Storage System, wherein airtight seed storage containers in various sizes help reduce oxygen and moisture penetration, minimizing losses from insects and rot and helping preserve grain quality for longer.

Marcos also recreated a photo of his late father’s visit to the IRRI headquarters on Oct. 26, 1966 with US President Lyndon Johnson, IRRI Director General Robert Chandler and scientists.

IRRI is an independent, nonprofit, research and educational institute, founded in 1960 by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations with support from the Philippine government. It has offices in 17 rice-growing countries in Asia and Africa and employs more than 1,000 staff.

The IRRI is the world’s premier research organization dedicated to reducing poverty and hunger through rice science; improving the health and welfare of rice farmers and consumers and protecting the rice-growing environment for future generations.

Cheaper rice

Meanwhile, Marcos expressed hope to see the cost of rice in the country even cheaper than current prices in the market by Christmas.

“I am hoping that we will see some adjustment in prices for Christmas and it looks like baka naman suwertihin tayo (we could be lucky),” he said.

Marcos again acknowledged that there was still so much to do to lower the prices of rice even further.

Based on the Department of Agriculture’s price monitoring, locally produced commercial rice products are selling at PHP38 to PHP50 a kilogram in Metro Manila markets.

However, he assured that cash assistance will still be distributed to eligible rice farmers under the rice farmers financial assistance (RFFA) program.

“The PHP20 was really the goal. The dream is paabutin natin ng (to reduce it to) PHP20. We are continuing with the transfer payments that we have begun with,” he said.

He also cited how the government has started lowering the prices of rice at least through its nationwide Kadiwa caravan where Filipinos can buy cheaper basic commodities, including rice from the National Food Authority (NFA), which is only at PHP25 per kilo.

Marcos said it was his initiative to extend the Kadiwa program from a localized one to national.

“We are going to widen the scope of the Kadiwa…The Kadiwa was always conducted in the LGU [local government unit] level individually. Ngayon ginawa na naming national program (Now, we made it a national program),” he said.

The Kadiwa ng Pasko project, an initiative of the Office of the President and spearheaded by the DA, aims to promote affordable and high-quality products.

The program was launched on Nov. 16 to address inflation and price surges associated with the Christmas season.

It provides a direct farm-to-consumer food supply chain to eliminate several marketing layers and help boost the income of local agricultural producers.

Fourteen Kadiwa stores opened nationwide – 11 in Metro Manila, one in Tacloban City, one in Davao de Oro, and one in Koronadal City, South Cotabato.

More stores are expected to open this week. (PNA)