Innovative rice-growing method withstands typhoons

Photo: Tul Pinkaew

Battered by an annual average of 20 typhoons, the Philippines’ food production is increasingly at the mercy of the elements. The latest figures from the Department of Agriculture (DA) peg the damages of typhoons Pedring (international name Nesat) and Quiel (Nalgae) to agriculture at 12 billion pesos (excluding crop insurance pay-outs worth 334 million pesos) .¹  This amount is equivalent to 30% of  the DA’s 35 billion-peso budget for 2011.²  A different method of cultivating crops might just be what it takes to safeguard our food from natural disasters.

A rice-growing method called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) makes rice plants more resistant to extreme weather . “SRI-grown plants suffer from less typhoon damage because they have studier stalks and deeper roots,” says SRI Pilipinas coordinator Roberto Verzola. “The deeper roots also make the plants more drought-resistant. These traits come on top the method’s main benefits, which include higher yields, lower input costs, and avoiding the use of poisonous chemicals,” said Verzola.

SRI improves the productivity of irrigated rice by changing the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients. These result in more fertile soil and healthier plants supported by greater root growth and the nurturing of soil microbial abundance and diversity.³

Here are testimonies from SRI farmers whose rice fields endured the back-to-back onslaught of Quiel and Pedring:

Retired Manila police senior inspector Renato Carig, who tried SRI on 1.5 hectares of his 5-hectare farm in Barangay Catanding, Balanga, Bataan, reports: “Strong winds from typhoon Pedring hit my rice field, fraying the leaf ends and making the plants look pale. But my rice plants recovered quickly. The SRI-grown rice plants which I treated only with compost look fine. My neighbors’ plants are different because they don’t have too many stalks. They say whatever I did was great because my plants have sturdy stalks and lots of body.“

Barangay chairman Ernesto Encarnado of Barangay Caingin, Meycauayan, Bulacan reports: “Our SRI-grown rice is doing fine. The plants are sturdy and were not damaged by the typhoon. Some neighboring ricefields were flattened, but ours were unaffected by the typhoon.” Another Bulacan farmer, Froilan Capule of Malolos says: “My SRI trial was pummelled by the typhoon. But my plants had sturdier stalks than my neighbors’, and they resist better.”

Watch out for photographs of the actual rice plants on the blog soon. *

SRI-Pilipinas, an Oxfam-assisted organization, records an average of 6.4 tons per hectare, which is a yield gain of around 114 percent over the current national average; and higher returns on investment (as much as 300% in one site).  SRI Pilipinas has been conducting SRI trials and free one-day SRI trainings nationwide for several years. It also sends free primers by mail to farmers who text their name and address to the SRI Text Hotline (0939-117-8999). Learn more about SRI at http://sripilipinas.wordpress.com/

Sources: 1) “Tyhpoon damage to farms nears P12B,” The Business World, www.bworldonline.com; 2)  Hazel Tanchuling, ‘2012 Philippine Agriculture Budget’, unpublished;  and 3) SRI International Network and Resources Center

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