Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) strongly registers that pushing for hybrid rice to our farmers is not the answer to food insecurity. Moreover, pushing hybrid rice is a disaster in waiting for our already fragile rice biodiversity as it will further replace our traditional and farmer-bred rice varieties that are already adaptive to our local climate and in harmony with our local ecosystems.
Last week, upon meeting with agrochemical private company SL Agritech chief executive officer Henry Lim Bon Liong, President Marcos Jr. announced that he will be adopting hybrid rice as a better alternative to inbred variety for increased crop production.
“It is alarming that the only assurance we have from our President and acting Department of Agriculture secretary from this proposal was a measly ‘what is being done in Central Luzon, we will apply it in other areas’. While DA claims that hybrid rice has better yield than inbred conventional seeds, lest we forget, hybrid rice is a package technology that comes with chemical inputs that are both detrimental to the environment and to the farmers’ already spent pockets as they also need to buy it along with the seeds” said MASIPAG national coordinator Alfie Pulumbarit.
In the early 2000, economists and scientists from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) organized a study in Asia, including the Philippines, to evaluate the economic performance of hybrid rice at the farm level and it concluded that hybrid rice cultivation was not profitable to farmers despite varying levels of subsidies due to its high cost production such as chemical inputs, water, and labor.1
“We have seen how these package technologies during MASAGANA 99 of his late father, for a while gave promising results but at the expense of our environment as the chemical inputs contaminated our soil and water sources and enabled an emergence of new diseases and pests. This will also be the case of Marcos Jr. ‘s plan to shift to hybrid rice should it push through on a wider scale” added Pulumbarit.
A threat to the Philippine Food Security, Culture, and Rice Biodiversity
With hybrid rice being an extremely uniform crop, genetic erosion and therefore possible extinction of our traditional rice varieties that have been ingrained in our centuries-old culture and tradition will most likely be extinct once it is widely cultivated. In the indigenous communities of Ifugao, local rice varieties such as Balitanaw that has been a key component in the traditional rituals of the Ifugao indigenous community at the brink of extinction due to the government’s insistence to plant commercial rice varieties created by agro-chemical corporations.
“Hybrid rice is highly susceptible to crop failure with its genetic uniformity. If you plant hybrid rice on a wide scale–which the government intends to do, a single fungus or disease can wipe it all. Likewise, hybrid seeds have low yields unless they are applied with large amounts of fertilizers, and in return they become succulent and susceptible to pests and diseases” said Dr. Chito Medina, MASIPAG scientist.
Indeed, in 1970, a fungus wiped out 15 percent of the US corn crop, costing farmers millions of dollars, due to its genetic uniformity.2
“Consequently, hybrid rice requires pesticides. Thus, the treadmill of expensive seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides undoubtedly makes poor farmers poorer and bankrupt.” added Medina.
An Additional Threat to Local Farmers
“Hindi hybrid rice ang sagot sa krisis sa palay at bigas bunsod ng malawakan at mapanirang importasyon. Kailangan palakasin ang lokal na produksyon, isulong ang likas-kayang pagsasaka, at igiit ang ating soberanya sa pagkain.” said Virginia Nazareno, MASIPAG farmer-leader.
Farm gate prices of locally produced palay drastically went down from almost P7.00 per kilo in 2019-2020 to now with an average of P10-15 pesos per kilo because of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL). MASIPAG asserts that hybridization will do no good in a highly liberalized agriculture where it prioritizes the entry of foreign rice rather than our locally produced rice.
“Kung nais nilang palakasin ang lokal na produksyon, ibasura nila ang Rice Tariffication Law at suportahan ang mga maliliit na magsasaka ng bansa. Imbis din na ipamahagi ang lupa para sa mga magsasaka, ginagawang dahilan ang programa ng hybrid rice para pataasin ang produksyon ng palay sa papaliit na lupang sakahan.” said Virginia Nazareno, MASIPAG farmer leader.
Hybrid rice, among other commercial seeds, negatively affects our food sovereignty, and the people’s right to healthy and culturally-appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods.
“Kilala naming mga magsasaka ang hybrid rice bilang terminator seeds na kung saan ang mga binhing maaani mula dito ay hindi na pwedeng itanim pa para sa susunod na taniman. Mapipilitan kaming umasa at bumili sa mga pribadong korporasyon ng binhi para lang makapagtanim muli ng palay. Hindi katulad ng hybrid rice, ang binhi naming magsasaka ay aming naitatabi at naitatanim ng libre. Ito rin ay higit pa naming napag-aaralan upang mas lalo silang humusay at maging matibay sa kabila ng climate change.” added Nazareno.
Food Security: A Secondary Thought After Profit Security for Agri-Corporations
It cannot be denied that the corporate agenda is one of the major pushers of hybrid rice planting in the Philippines with Marcos Jr. having a meeting with SL Agritech Corporations (SLAC) Chief Executive Officer Henry Lim Bon Liong who will supposedly supply the hybrid seeds at the expense of the people’s tax money. Historically, SL Agritech Corporations have been riddled with scandals with regard to the quality of their hybrid seeds.
Many farmers have not forgotten the massive crop failure that our farmers in Nueva Ecija experienced upon planting SLAC’s hybrid seeds back in 2009. Aside from the empty hybrid rice grain that they have sowed, there was no technical support from the government that came to help them address the problem.3
Indeed, even the government’s own Commission on Audit raised the issue of poor seed quality coming from SLAC in 2007. While in 2009, Senator Loren Legarda sought a senate inquiry regarding the defective hybrid seeds of SLAC that were distributed by the Department of Agriculture citing the demand of the farmers to reimburse the money they have spent in planting the defective seeds because they failed to grow properly4.
Yield or no yield, the private seed and agrochemical companies such as SLAC had a guarantee of large profit at the expense of the misery of farmers and the people’s tax money because the hybrid rice planting was publicly funded but was sourced from them.
Peasant Science not Corporate Science
“It is irresponsible for Marcos Jr. and the scientists of SL Agritech Corporations to adapt and plant their hybrid seeds on a nationwide basis. It is basic science that in an archipelagic country such as the Philippines, different agro-climatic conditions occur in different areas. A one-size fits all approach such as hybrid seeds is doomed to fail” added Pulumbarit.
As mentioned above, the decline in rice varieties, genetic resources, and biodiversity pose risks to a sustainable food system, and to the production of safe, nutritious, and sufficient food. While hybrid rice follows the top-down approach to “achieve” food security, MASIPAG farmers say otherwise.
“Selection of rice varieties according to the agro-climatic conditions serve as alternatives to chemical-based solutions and laboratory-created technologies such as golden rice and hybrid rice. The local rice varieties that our farmers and scientists have been breeding, cultivating, and conserving under MASIPAG have yielded many positive results such as being climate-change resilient all while being free and accessible to small farmers.” added Pulumbarit.
“With farmers gradually regaining their lost knowledge erased by top-down solutions pushed by agrochemical corporations, farmers pride themselves as being the primary scientists of their farms and conservers of our local rice biodiversity. We reject hybrid rice and other corporate technologies and we reiterate that in addressing the food security of our country, you must listen to farmers and not to corporations.” ended Pulumbarit.
- C.C. David. 2007. The Philippine Hybrid Rice Program: A Case for Redesign and Scaling Down. https://pidswebs.pids.gov.ph/CDN/PUBLICATIONS/pidsrp0603.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0BnfM6OJWp862DEwhqxjx1nseEvlseiLKpJubK-XO4HoYW65hSyhLf7NM
- GRAIN. 2000. Hybrid rice in Asia: An unfolding threat. https://grain.org/article/entries/34-hybrid-rice-in-asia-an-unfolding-threat?fbclid=IwAR2XoCLZELIj3inAkyLPkk4Jbr4w-w8Ziwwe3ZS_VUiem6v94m9vW5Mti1s#3
- GRAIN. 2009. Philippines: Groups investigate latest hybrid rice fiasco
- Senate of the Philippines. 2009. Loren to seek Senate inquiry on alleged defective hybrid seeds. https://legacy.senate.gov.ph/press_release/2009/0204_legarda1.asp