Interest in organic food has sky rocketed since the beginning of this millennia. Organic rice has also made its debut in the Philippine market, but has been tagged as an “elitist diet ingredient” as most come expensively in high-end grocery stores nationwide. However, not all organic materials for organic food production are expensive. Some are actually readily available if you know where to look. And organic farming is key to finding where the real lifesaver is.

rice straw fertilizer

Organic farming

Organic farming is the cultivation of crops using only natural growth agents such as compost and manure and not the typical synthetic chemicals for fertilizers.Farming techniques like crop rotation are also used instead of chemical soil treatments that will affect the crop, the soil, and largely, the farmer.

As foreign substances are not used in organic farming, studies have shown that organic farming “enhances soil structures, conserves water, mitigates climate change, and ensures sustained biodiversity.”It also allows farmers to incur minimal expenses as waste materials can be used as fertilizers, plus no chemical fertilizers and pesticides need to be purchased.

Reduction of waste products is also another advantage of organic farming. Instead of adding to the daily landfill of waste materials, unwanted parts of crops are used as fertilizer as these parts also contain vitamins and minerals that could aid in crop growth and maturation.In addition, absence of chemicals retains soil characteristics in its natural form, making it highly productive for replanting, which in turn, preserves the available natural biodiversity of the area.

Ultimately, organic farming proves to be practical for farmers, as it does also shield our environment, and retains the natural vitamins and minerals of the crops.And in the movement towards food security and self-sufficiency, organic farming could be one of the many possible solutions to reach that target.

Rice farming in Biliran Biliran is a province where fishing is a sizeable income-generating venture and mountainous areas allow for a thriving high-value crop planting ground. Although only a small percentage of warm lowland area of the province is dedicated to rice production, specifically 94 percent of its cultivated area (220 hectares) in the two barangays of Hugpa and Canila, strategies in increasing rice production remain a priority for its residents.

The state of rice production in Brgys. Hugpa and Canila is acceptable, however not without deficiency. Although the province of Biliran is self-sufficient in rice, issues on production have emerged in the recent years. Farmers’ traditional practices of using chemical-based fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides and other outdated pre- and post-harvest techniques have lowered the rice yield in the province. Soil condition has continued to deteriorate as a result of the chemicals from the pesticides and insecticides used. Apart from these consequences, the rising cost of chemical fertilizers has also made it even more difficult for the local farmers to cope with the expenses of rice production.

Rice straw as organic fertilizer

Initially, local farmers used approximately one sack of inorganic fertilizer for every one hectare of land that costs up to Php 7, 700 to produce rice. After harvest, waste materials such as rice straws are burned in the fields, incinerating all options for proper waste management and zero (or even less) waste in the process of production. Increase in expenses and low net production levels, not to mention the deficiency in pre- and post-harvest techniques should have discouraged the local farmers of Biliran to pursue rice production-instead, they pushed forward and attempted to solve the problem.

Dr. Elvira C. Torres of the Department of Agriculture – Eastern Visayas Integrated Agricultural Research Center (EVIARC), Regional Field Unit (RFU) 8 and assistant manager for technical programs,with a team of researchers and representatives from the Naval State University – Biliran Campus instigated a project with funding support from the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) that would resolve the rice production issue in Biliran province.

Organic rice farming was set as the tool to alleviate the problem of insufficient funds, and the decline of soil condition in the lowland farms. As Dr. Vic Casemiro of PhilRice explained, “Too much application or use of inorganic fertilizers could damage the soil, as it results to high soil acidity. This is the function of organic elements, they neutralize the soil.”

Under the BAR banner program, Community-based Participatory Action Research (CPAR), the project, “CPAR on Organic Rice Farming in Barangays Hugpa and Canila, Biliran, Biliran” was implemented in 2009. The objective of the project focused on the utilization of organic rice farming in the two barangays to equip farmer cooperators with the proper techniques to be able to produce quality and quantity rice products, with minimal investment capital and without sacrificing soil conditions. Farmer cooperators were taught to use the would-be waste rice straw materials as compost via modified rapid composting method, instead of burning them to the ground and purchasing inorganic fertilizer for their crop. Progress in Biliran’s rice production became evident soon after the implementation of the project.

Expenses of farmer cooperators on fertilizer were reduced to more than half (from Php 7,700 to Php 4,700), according to Engr. Capangpangan of DA-RFU 8 as portions of commercial fertilizers were replaced with rice straw organic fertilizer that did not incur additional costs.Apart from this, waste materials were reduced to a minumum, and soil characteristic maintains its proper condition as active fungus formulators are found in trichoderma-rich organic fertilizers such as rice straws. To date, the project is ongoing with favorable feedback from latest CPAR Annual Review seminar.

Rice is a traditional staple food in the Philippines and is an essential food supply that affects all aspects in Philippine society.Many other commodities are being produced throughout the archipelago, however all provinces-regardless of area and location-produce rice.In order to supply the coming decades with this healthy and inexpensive staple, this current generation of farmers must be able to develop sustainable rice production techniques. Organic rice production, as this preserves the soil, retains the nutrients of palay, and keeps farmers’ finances afloat, ensures that our everyday ulamwill always be accompanied by a nutritious and affordable cup of steaming rice, produced by our own partner farmers.

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The article was based on the study, “Commercialization of organically grown vegetable in Region III,” by Dr. Honorio M. Soriano of Pampanga Agricultural College. For more information please contact Dr. Soriano at (45) 866-0800 or at junmsor@yahoo.com References:
1. IFOAM.org. —–. Environmental Benefits of Organic Agriculture. Available at http://www.ifoam.org/growing_organic/1_arguments_for_oa/environmental_benefits/environmental_benefits_main_page.html
2. Sarmiento, P. —. Organic Farming-The Way Forward. Available at: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=43845
3. Organic Farming. Wikipedia, Inc. Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice_production_in_the_Philippines

By: Zuellen B. Reynoso, Bar Digest July-September 2011 Issue (Vol. 13 No. 3)