"One thing is clear about climate change—we need to be ready for it," said Undersecretary Fred Serrano of the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA).
Serrano was addressing about 400 farmers who attended the Araw ng Magsasaka sa IRRI (Farmers’ Day at IRRI) held today in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines. In his keynote message, he described the new challenges for agriculture in the face of a changing climate.
The DA official also commended the work of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on developing climate-smart technologies. He specifically cited IRRI’s ‘climate-smart’ collection—rice varieties that can withstand and survive flooding, drought, and salty soil—that were developed and disseminated under the Philippines-IRRI partnership.
"Farm-level rice yields in the Philippines have grown in the last decade without significant increase in inputs," said Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general for communication and partnerships. "This can be attributed, in part, to the DA-IRRI collaboration, which includes making smart and sustainable crop management practices available to farmers."
Tolentino mentioned, as an example, the Rice Crop Manager, a web-enabled tool that offers site-specific crop management advice. "Based on our studies on the ground, the Rice Crop Manager has helped farmers increased their income by about Php 4,700 per hectare," he added.
"Farmers are IRRI's number one client. If, in the end, they do not like the output of the Institute's research, then there's no point in doing any of it," Tolentino emphasized.
Jimmy Lingayo, an heirloom-rice farmer, called Farmers’ Day an "effective learning experience." He was especially grateful for technologies that he can use in his upland rice farm and is hopeful that specialty products, such as heirloom rice, can be the focus of a future Farmers’ Day. Mr. Lingayo is also president of the Rice Terraces Farmers' Cooperative (RTFC) based in the mountainous Cordillera region in northern Philippines.
DA and IRRI are implementing the Food Staples Sufficiency Program (FSSP), a set of projects that supports the Philippines’ rice sufficiency efforts. The program also seeks to strengthen national resilience against the effects of climate change.
Pioneering farmers from India and Bangladesh also came to IRRI for Farmers’ Day. These farmers traveled all the way to IRRI to dialogue with their Filipino counterparts on common experiences and practices, as well as to learn from one another. One of them is Nekkanti Subba Rao, the first farmer who planted and widely shared seeds of IR8 in India in 1967. IR8 is IRRI’s first modern high-yielding rice variety and became known as "miracle rice" as it effectively staved off looming famine during that period. Subba Rao is affectionately called "IR8" in his community, due to his huge success in multiplying IR8 seeds.
Another farmer, Md. Janab Ali, from Bangladesh, who successfully saved his livelihood from annual flooding in his rice farm using the flood-tolerant Swarna-Sub1, a variety developed at IRRI and now used by millions of farmers in Asia. Janab is now producing Swarna-Sub1 seeds for distribution to farmers in Bangladesh, through the IRRI-led project, Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA).
Each Filipino farmer who came for the event was given a kilogram of high-quality rice seeds as a symbolic gift for their crucial contributions to food security. Usec. Serrano called on those who received the seeds to multiply and share them to fellow farmers in their communities — the "rice bayong challenge".
Several collaborative and IRRI-led projects were showcased during Farmers’ Day. Featured were IRRI initiatives with heirloom rice farmers in the Cordilleras; conservation of rice genetic diversity; and the decades-long field experiment which recently yielded its 150th harvest.
Providing Filipino farmers access to improved varieties and rice-based technologies is the aim of the longstanding partnership between the Philippine government, through its Department of Agriculture, and IRRI.