Rice intensification program eyed by DA

by Oct 24, 2023Featured Article, News

THE Department of Agriculture (DA) is eyeing the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) as a means of producing the staple in a sustainable manner by utilizing less chemical inputs and water, in the process improving soil health.

The DA said in a statement on Sunday that SRI could help address rising input costs and water insufficiency for cultivating rice as the country faces another El Niño weather disturbance.

Under the SRI, rice plants are spaced wider and the use of natural inputs like farm wastes and manure is encouraged to reduce the use of chemical inputs. Also, soil health is constantly monitored.

“Since agriculture contributes to climate change, it is also the sector most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Part of the critical adaptation to climate change is the capacitation of farmers on resiliency strategies,” the DA said.

Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian said that SRI initiatives in the Philippines, often referred to as “unidentified field observation,” are not yet widely practiced as most rice farmers are stuck to the conventional method or system that uses so much water and chemical inputs.

A forum tackling SRI and the importance of weaning farmers away from destructive traditional planting practices was conducted on Friday and hosted by the DA.

It was attended by foreign SRI practitioners, including representatives from Nigeria, Iraq, India, Australia, and some Southeast Asian countries.

The forum highlighted the importance of eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, weedicides and herbicides that harm not just the farmer but also the environment.

Delegates said that “the utilization of SRI is expanding in various Asian and other countries, but it is still a work in progress.”

The DA said SRI was being scaled up in around 50 countries and was effective in addressing rising production costs for rice.

“There should be more promotion of SRI through the provision of government and institutional support as well as regional cooperation to expand its application,” it added.

The House of Representatives has approved a budget of P250 million to fund the DA’s SRI initiative for 2024.

The DA’s Climate-resiliency Field School also has a study on adapting local rice varieties through participatory varietal selection, a comparison of organic farming and farmers’ practices, and SRI farming methods.

“The SRI way calls for direct seeding and, depending on the farmers’ beliefs, organic farming or, when feasible, a mix of application of organic and chemical fertilizers,” the DA said.

The department is also promoting the balanced fertilization strategy (BFS) where farm waste, animal manure, and organic fertilizers are used in combination with chemical inputs. The BFS is also aimed at reducing rice farmers’ dependence on chemical inputs.

Field trials by the DA-Philippine Rice Research Institute in 2022 showed that rice farmers who successfully adopted the BFS got yields as high as 7 metric tons per hectare (MT/ha), which is higher than the national average of 4 MT/ha.