As most of us have neither seen nor heard of a crop called adlai, the Subanen tribe has known it all their lives. Adlai (Coix lacryma-jobi L.) is their staple crop. Adlai grains are pounded, threshed, and winnowed, cooked and served it steam just like rice. The grains are also fermented and served as pangasi (adlai wine) to the datu and timuay (traditional leaders) during buklog (Subanen festival) and other special ocassions including, weddings and funerals.


The Subanen people are known as the aborigines of the Island of Mindanao and considered as the first inhabitants of Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur. Originally, they lived along the river banks, hence the name “suba” which means “people of the river” but now they reside in the mountains, most of them as kaingineros. They are described as generally a conservative and shy tribe.

Although rice and corn remain as the staple crops in Zamboanga del Sur, production of crop yield is generally low (2.5 tons/ha.) due to low temperature and low solar radiation intensity prevailing in the highlands. In Midsalip, a cordial town in Zamboanga del Sur, adlai is extensively cultivated. The town’s name came from a Subanen word, “Migsalip” which means “to collect” or “to gather” and as the name implies, the people here depends on nature as their source of livelihood.

Due to the farming conditions in the highlands of Midalip-sloping terrain, lack of irrigation water-production of rice is not suitable. This is the reason why farmers opted to grow adlai. According to Ms. Apolonia A. Mendoza, BAR coordinator for adlai, Subanen farmers prefered adlai because it produces high yield in the highlands, tolerates low pH, thrives even in poor quality soil, grows well in sloping areas, tolerates waterlogging, and it is to pest-resistant. “These good features of adlai became well-known and making adlai a widely cultivated crop in Midsalip just like other cereal crops in the area,” reported Ms. Mendoza.

Adlai production practices

“The Subanen people have been growing adlai for as long as I could remember. When I was still a child, I saw how they plant this crop as source of food,” said Terso Balides, a Subanen farmer and sposkesperson for the BAR Adlai Project.

According to the Subanen, their ancestors have been growing adlai as staple food in the highlands, the way the lowland people eat rice. They commonly grow it in kaingin areas, freely branching upright, thriving robustly even in marginalized areas.

“We, Subanen people, believe in the medicinal benefits from eating adlai. Our early ancestors lived up to 150 years old eating only adlai porridge. This is because adlai is grown organically, with no chemical fertilizers helping it to yield. Now, Subanen people live up to 60 years old only because we eat porridge made from lowland rcie which is grown with chemical fertilizers,” revealed Danilo Eranga, farmer leader of Subanen Tribe and member of the Tumanod Posaka Subaanen Midsalip (TUPOSUMI) farmer association.

In a report conducted by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) during its “Documentation on Adlai Production Practices in Zamboanga del Sur,” it was found that from the 33 barangays in Midsalip, 19 are growing adlai. The documentation also showed that the Subanen are growing at least four varieties of adlai: ginampay (brown), gulian (white), pulot or tapol (red or purple – glutinous), and linay (gold). The gulian is often refered to as the “ordinary adlai” as this is the most commonly grown variety in the 19 barangays. Aside from gulian, ginampay is a popular variety due to its bigger grain size, good eating quality, and ability to produce higher yields compared to other varieties. Generally, Subanen farmers are growing 1-3 varieties of adlai in an average farm area of 100m -2.5ha.

Adlai plant has broad, erect, and dark green leaves and with main stem diameter of 0.5 – 1 inch. It has a profuse root system that anchors and prevents the big and sturdy tillers from lodging. Usually, it is grown with cash crops like ginger, taro, squash, banana, and forest trees to ensure availability of income while waiting for the adlai grains to mature.

Farmers in Midsalip practice ratooning of adlai and usually two to three times after the main crop. The first is done in July and harvested in October, second in December and harvested in January, and third in March and harvested in April. The length of cut from adlai base ranges from 0.6m-1m.

BAR’s Adlai R&D project

The documentation of production practices in Zamboanga del Sur is part of an on-going project of BAR in collaboration with selected Regional Field Units (RFUs) of the Department of Agriculture (DA), state universities and colleges (SUCs) and non-government organizations like Earthkeepers and MASIPAG.

Currently, the project is conducting 11 adaptability trials (station and on-farm) of adlai varieties for seed production and commercialization: 4 DA-RFUs, 5 SUCs, and 2 NGOs.

Dr. Nicomedes P. Eleazar, director of BAR, explained that “trials have been established in different regions basically to assess the performance of different adlai varieties in different locations and elevations. And so far, as initial results have been submitted to us, the nationwaide trials reported significant results.”

During the “Consultation Meeting on Adlai R&D Program” held in April 2011, the need to document the adlai production and harvesting practices in adlai growing regions including Zamboanga del Sur, was identified as one researchable area that needed to be conducted to provide reliable data. “This is also to support the potentials of the adlai as staple food crop in the area, and to provide technical basis for the packaging of location specific technologies using indigenous/traditional adlai production practices,” explained Ms. Mendoza.

As the result of the documentation conducted in Midsalip, it was found that although their production practices are still very traditional, they are low cost, environment-friendly, and sustainable.

“For instance, their seed selection for planting material is found to be very effective in maintaining the purity of the seed quality, reported Ms. Mendoza. Farmers select seeds for planting materials by selecting long panicles, fuller grains from neck to head, good tiller stand and free from blackish spots or diseases. This careful seed selection is in contrast to what farmers in the lower elevation areas are doing where there is a very frequent varietal change due to varietal deterioration. In the lowlands, there is a perennial problem of seed source because of the absence of judicious seed selection.

“They also use the leaves and other adlai parts of the plants as organic fertilizer. Other production practices include, clearing only the adlai root system areas to prevent soil erosion, and non-application of pesticide to preserve the population of beneficial insects,” added Ms. Mendoza.

Harvesting practices of adlai harvesting is also traditional shredding first the panicles with their hands after which they are milled and winnowed.

The documentation of the production practices in Midsalip is critical in assessing the yield performance of different varieties of adlai growing in the area given the different elevations. This, according to Ms. Medoza will be useful in the promotion and expansion of adlai in the future.

For more information about the BAR Adlai Project, please contact:
Project Monitoring & Evaluation Division (PMED)
Bureau of Agricultural Research-Department of Agriculture
RDMIC Bldg., Visayas Ave., Diliman, Quezon City
Tel Nos. 9288505, 9288624, 9200226 locals 3111, 3126, 3129