The Department of Agriculture on Wednesday said it is focusing on the Bicol region to make a significant contribution to national rice production by putting in place organic farming that capitalizes on drought-tolerant varieties.
The region's upland rice varieties are being developed for the market because of their potential for higher grain output and tolerance to drought — vital traits amid the threats from climate change. These include the cultivars Palawan, Gayang-gang white, and Kinaraba.
Upland rice varieties have an average yield of 1 to 2 metric tons per hectare, but selected Bicol varieties have exceeded the yield average, according to the Agriculture Department.
The region used to account for 20 percent of national rice output.
Citing an International Rice Research Institute report, the Bureau of Agricultural Research noted that 63,699 hectares of upland areas in Bicol were devoted to rice production in the 1960s.
The numbers dropped to 53,480 in the 1970s.
The land is still there and can be revived now with a proper climate change program in place, the department said.
“Our development of upland rice is very timely as these varieties have the potential to withstand higher temperatures and less water supply... What we really need amid the threatening climate change,” said Agricultural Research Bureau director Nicomedes P. Eleazar.
The project will focus on using upland organic farming in the river basin towns of Baao and Nabua in Camarines Sur, with a profitability target of 20 percent above prevailing incomes in the covered uplands.
To achieve this profitability level, the program is encouraging the method of intercropping upland rice with vegetables, or legumes such as peanuts.
The return on investment from intercropping a row of upland rice with two rows of peanuts was 34.64 percent, better than sole rice cropping, according to Bicolandia Greenfields Development Organization Inc., a project partner in the program.
“The crops will act as live mulch in between the rows of upland rice. This will prevent weed infestation… Expenses for labor on weeding can also be saved by adapting the technology,” Bicolandia Greenfields added.
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