Bouncing back from typhoon Haiyan

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Photo by NASA, LAADS

Husband and wife Joven and Lydia Ganapin, farmers in a small village in Babatngon, Leyte, Central Philippines, clearly remember the floods triggered by super typhoon Haiyan on 7 November 2013 that submerged their home and the farm they were renting. "Nothing was left," Joven said. He was able to recover about 28 sacks of rice from his farm before the typhoon hit. He took them to a rice trader. He agreed to be paid by the trader after the typhoon. But, unfortunately, all the rice of the trader, including Joven’s, was looted. Joven was not paid because his rice had not even been weighed.

"We suffered a great loss," said Joven. "All was taken by Haiyan." He did not feel that badly because "everyone here had the same fate." What mattered to them was that no one in their family became part of the 6,000 casualties of the super typhoon.

Life after the storm

For this farming couple, everything about Haiyan is now a faint memory. Thirteen months later, all the debris is gone. There's almost no trace of the scars the super typhoon left in Babatngon, 33 kilometers away from the provincial capital, Tacloban. Life has returned to normal.

Lydia excused herself to attend to someone who wanted to buy from her small store, which doubles as their home. At first glance, it seems that they have no neighbors. The village was silent. One could hear only the swishing and swooshing sound of a neighboring farmer harvesting his rice.

Joven harvested his rice earlier. His house was filled with sacks of rice—some milled, others not. He proudly showed the grains of NSIC 2013 Rc344SR, a high-yielding newly released rice variety, fondly called "344" by the couple. The rice is said to be special for some good reasons. He raved about the quality of his newly harvested grain just like a father would of his newborn baby. He excitedly mentioned the long grains and "basmati-like" traits and that it is tasty and has a good aroma, and how the cooked rice doesn't harden easily when it becomes cold. His wife praised the variety’s 60% milling recovery and that they were able to harvest a little bit more than 6 tons per hectare.

A profitable variety

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1. Mr. Carlito Torreon, municipal agricultural officer of Kananga in Leyte, receives some seeds of NSIC 2013 Rc344SR from Paul Maturan, IRRI associate scientist. 2. Husband and wife Joven and Lydia Ganapin are happy to try some seeds distributed by IRRI. 3. Dr. Francisco Dayap, the superintendent of Babatngon Experiment Station in Leyte (right), shares some good management practices with Joven Ganapin.

Joven does not regret trying 344, which was introduced by Paul Maturan, an associate scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) through the Philippine Department of Agriculture and IRRI project Accelerating the Development and Adoption of Next-Generation Rice Varieties for the Major Ecosystems in the Philippines (Next-Gen). Mr. Maturan said that his mission for the Next-Gen project was to share the seeds of new rice varieties, such as NSIC 2013 Rc344SR, with other marginal farmers in Leyte and other rice growing areas in the Philippines.

At Joven's request, Lydia pulled out her records of how much they profited from 344. Lydia was very diligent in jotting down their expenses and computing the profit, which is not surprising for entrepreneurs like them. Her records indicated that they have harvested 75 sacks of rice, with 15 sacks used as rent payment to their landowner. Some were used for paying the harvesters and some went for the rent of a thresher. In the end, they had 46 sacks of rice left. Multiplied by 46 kilos per sack at about US$0.39 per kilo, the couple made $459 in profit.

Joven liked 344 so much that he did not sell all the harvest from this variety. He set aside 13 sacks for family consumption and for sowing. Mr. Maturan then decided to buy one sack of 344 from Joven to add to his seed stock to be distributed to farmers in Abuyog, Kananga, and Hinunagan, Leyte.

Overcoming adversity

The couple said that they were able to bounce back after Haiyan because of farming. Aside from rice, they grew vegetable crops—sweet corn, sweet bell pepper, eggplants, and string beans—that they planted in rotation to avoid diseases and pests. Crop rotation is a practice they learned from from Dr. Francisco Dayap, the superintendent of Babatngon Experiment Station, one of the research stations of the Department of Agriculture, Regional Field Office VIII and located just two kilometers away from Joven’s farm.

Since the vegetables can be harvested in 40 to 65 days, they have something to tide them over until the next rice harvest.

During interviews with the farmers, municipal agricultural officers in Leyte identified the lack of seeds suitable to the area as the main problem. Farmers usually plant whatever seeds are available or distributed to them even if these seeds have not been tested for the local areas. Mr. Maturan said that the new DA-IRRI Next-Gen project is currently conducting field trials for farmers to select the most adoptable new varieties and establish an efficient seed production and distribution system.

Mr. Gerry Bauya, the municipal agricultural officer in Abuyog, said that they have not heard of rice that can tolerate flooding, salinity, or drought. He said they need such varieties because 200 hectares of their rice areas are flood-prone while some 30 hectares have problems with salinity. In Kananga, Ms. Maria Cristina Aras, agricultural technologist, said the problem of farmers in their municipality is stem borer infestation. She added that the white stem borer is the most destructive because its larval stage could last up to 32 days.

The Next-Gen project is also targeting remote and marginal rice areas with similar problems. In line with the mission of the Global Rice Science Partnership, the project aims to speed up the introduction and adoption of higher-yielding rice varieties and hybrids that have resistance to or tolerance of pests and diseases and environment-related stresses such as drought, flooding, and salinity.

A collaboration between IRRI, the Philippine Department of Agriculture, Philippine Rice Research Institute, and the University of the Philippines Los Baños, the project is expected to help the country attain rice self-sufficiency under the Food Staples and Sufficiency Program.

Aside from the sharing of advanced breeding methods, expertise, and germplasm, another strategy of the project is "a modified farmers' participatory varietal selection scheme and improved seed system that can make these new rice varieties and hybrids more widely available to Filipino farmers," Glenn Gregorio, IRRI plant breeder, said.

"Multi-environment trials (MET) of the newly developed rice lines in many different environments will greatly improve the quality of materials going through the National Cooperative Tests, leading to the release of a better and improved next generation of varieties and hybrids," Dr. Gregorio added.

"Developing and promoting effective technologies through R&D is a viable option to attain the government’s goal of self-sufficiency," Dr. Dayap, said. A DA document indicates that, at today’s rate of population growth, the country's average rice yields must rise to at least 4.75 tons per hectare to attain self-sufficiency.1 "Hopefully, through this partnership, varietal development programs and continuous availability of high-quality seeds can support the goal of rice self-sufficiency of the country," Dr. Dayap said.

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Ms. Reyes is the managing editor of Rice Today.