Sunday, February 15, 2009

MASIPAG Rice Technology


By Agnes Españo-Dimzon

"IF YOU DON'T USE chemical fertilizer, your rice will become bonsai."

This was the initial response of farmers when the Panay Rural Development Center Inc (PRDCI) began promoting the MASIPAG Rice Technology (MRT) back in 1996. The organization found it difficult to wean farmers away from chemical-based farming because they have gotten used to it even if high production costs have become prohibitive. They did not believe that organic inputs could actually work.

But now, more and more farmers are adopting the technology because they have seen its benefits not only on their household income but on their health and the environment as well.

MASIPAG means Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Ikauunlad ng Agham Pang-agrikultura, a group of farmers advocating for sustainable agriculture. With its components covering seed variety, farming system and management of the land, MRT as a technology aimed to increase the productivity specially of small rice farmer-producers through environment-friendly methods. Increasing productivity means reducing cost of production, increasing yield and regenerating soil quality. With PRDCI, it had become part of the Integrated Diversified Farming System (IDFS) approach in developing small farmholdings that constitute the majority of the organization's farmer cooperators.

PRDCI's objective is to widely propagate the use of the MRT technology and make it strong enough to influence the rice industry towards environment-friendly and sustainable farming in Iloilo province. Iloilo is considered as the rice bowl of Western Visayas which is the third largest rice producing region in the country.

PRDCI project areas are basically rice farming communities and rice farmers are main partners. It uses IDFS as a strategy for diversification and integration to raise farmer's productivity and income, prevent soil erosion and increase vegetation. The different farming technologies are the MRT, System of Rice Intensification (SRI), Bio-Intensive Gardening (BIG), and Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) for upland areas.

In order to achieve the three IDFS objectives, PRDCI encouraged its farmer partners to cultivate a combination of crops. In the upland areas were planted short gestation crops like vegetables, corn and root crops; perennial crops like timber and fruit trees; and forage crops like flamengia, renzonii and napier which were used to feed livestock. They also planted kakawate, ipil-ipil and tanglad or lemon grass that were used as raw materials for bioinsecticiding the farm. In the lowland areas were planted rice intercropped with vegetables. Lowland farmers also raised poultry, pigs, goats and other animals that are good sources of manure. Ducks were used as weeders and golden snail controllers. They raised freshwater fish in areas where there was adequate water.

Integrated Diversified Farming System (IDFS) makes good use of different farming technologies such as Masipag Rice Technology (MRT), System of Rice Intensification (SRI), Bio-Intensive Gardening (BIG), and Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT)

MRT utilized indigenous rice varieties which were known to be more resistant to pests like tungro compared with those produced by the government-recognized International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and PhilRice.

SRI used transplanting to grow more rice stalks from only about five to 10 kgs of seeds of selected indigenous rice varieties.

BIG used kakawate leaves, rice straw and pig and chicken manure as fertilizer for vegetable gardens. Rice bran is used to feed animals and fish.

SALT combined the propagation of vegetables, root crops, fruit trees, other vegetation as well as animals to maximize production of food crops and prevent of the hillsides.

Reasons to Smile

PANAY Rural Development Center Inc (PRDCI) technicians taught the farmers how to produce foliar fertilizers and bioinsecticides from the leaves of herbs and other indigenous plants growing in their backyards. PRDCI started implementing MRT in 1996 as soon as the organization became an "independent rural development institute" under the PhilNet-RDI umbrella. Barangay Tabucan in Barotac Nuevo was the first site. By the end of 1996, the area was expanded to include Tinurian and Monpon. In the same year also, PRDCI acquired funding for its first land and water resources development project with nine barangays of Janiuay and Maasin as the defined project areas. These barangays fall within the upper Suague watershed. The micro watersheds of Sorsogon and Caraudan creeks were identified for area development and MRT was a major program component.

PRDCI had 1,013 farmer-cooperators spread among the 55 barangays of its six project-covered municipalities (Janiuay, Badiangan, Maasin, Mina, Pototan and New Lucena; Barotac Nuevo and Dumangas were retained as service areas).

In 2004, PRDCI marked an 11.5 percent increase in the income of farming households every year since 1999 compared with the years before MRT was implemented.

Through the years, adjustments and innovations in the technology and the system of implementation were made to adapt to the needs that surfaced in the project communities.

Noe Ciasico, PRDCI technician, said, an almost 50 percent decrease in production was observed when non-application of chemical fertilizer was strictly followed in the first mass production. Some PRDCI farmer-cooperators adopted Low External Input For Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) which followed the 70 percent organic to 30 percent inorganic fertilizer methods in order to limit the decrease in production on a minimal level. Ciasico added, through LEISA, the soil can be slowly weaned away from chemicals until it has sufficiently recovered to tolerate zero input of chemicals.

Still, in its end-of-term report in 2004, PRDCI recorded a marked decrease in the use of chemical-based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides among its farmer cooperators.

To widen its reach to include more farmers, PRDCI allowed non-members of organizations to put up trial farms and verify seeds. Farmers who have not gone into trial farms were allowed to verify seed as long as the seeds were tested in adjacent trial farms.

Ciasico reported, some farmer-cooperators practiced direct seeding instead of recommended transplanting method in order to lessen their expenses. But the same farmers agreed, they eventually have to follow the required transplanting method.

Farmer-cooperator Jaime Mirar of barangay Bongol in Janiuay believed that transplanting helped control the spread of pests and diseases.

But the major factor why farmers could sustain the transplanting method was the lack of adequate water supply. Most farms in these PRCI-covered areas were rainfed.

Woman farmer Cecilia Barranco of barangay Mangil, also of Januiay, said that she usually could not apply organic fertilizer on time when there was not enough water which happens usually during the second cropping.

Instead of the communal seed banking, almost 90 percent of the FCs chose to have their individual seed banks, thus making them less dependent on seed growers. This also made it easy for them to find and gather more indigenous seeds.

PRDCI began teaching SRI along with the MRT method to its farmer-cooperators in 2004. During the same year, the organization intensified its campaign for the use of organic fertilizer by propagating vermicomposting in the production of organic fertilizer. It distributed African night crawler earthworms for FCs to produce organic fertilizer in their own backyards.

This was to answer the need for a steady source of organic fertilizer. But quite a number of farmer still run short of this valuable farm input.

In 2005, PRDCI signed a memorandum of agreement with the local organization Sitio Ambolong Young and Old Association (SAYOA) for the latter to handle a vermicomposting project. The two entities entered into another MOA with the local government of Janiuay and the Janiuay Market Vendors Association for the garbage from the market area to be collected and processed in a production center in sitio Ambolong in barangay Bongol. The center was equipped with a garbage shredder and compost tanks and was intended to become a showcase site for the processing of fertilizer and organic vegetable production in the months onwards.

Now, MRT farmers have another reason smile. Organically-grown rice have started to occupy the frontshelves of big grocery stores in Iloilo City and a number of university and hospital cooperatives are making regular orders for the daily consumption of their clients and members.


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