BAGUIO CITY – The Department of Agriculture (DA) is allocating PHP72 million for the preservation of hundreds of varieties of heirloom rice handed down by ancestors of the region’s people for generations.
“We are confident the amount requested in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of PHP72 million for next year for the heirloom rice will be approved. It will be the first time a specific fund will be allotted for heirloom rice varieties,” lawyer Jennilyn Dawayan, regional director of the DA in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), told the Philippine News Agency in a phone interview Wednesday.
Dawayan said the proposed funding will be used for market linking because the agency has already approved several special projects under the Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP) that still need additional support.
She said the amount will also be utilized for capacitation in terms of the use of certain technologies that will reduce the cost of production, as well as fund research and development focused on the economic viability of the commodity.
Heirloom rice is manually milled. In terms of production, this undergoes the natural way of growing crops, thus taking longer period than the commercial ones.
Its storage is also different as heirloom rice needs to be kept and stored in the “dirty kitchen” of the houses where the smoke coming from firewood is needed to maintain the freshness of the grains despite long storage periods before they are pounded to become rice.
Preservation of seeds component is also included in the program. This involves setting up a preservation plant and genetic center to ensure a continued supply of the variety.
“The planting materials cannot be bought commercially. If you want to plant it, you have to go back to the community that produces it. We have to make sure that we have stored seeds that we can withdraw in case we need to replace those that are in circulation to maintain the quality,” Dawayan said.
Agronomic characterization is also done to identify the characteristics of every variety, which is registered under the name of the province or locality where it comes from.
At present, about 300 varieties of heirloom rice have been characterized to belong to the specific groups of people in the Cordillera, with around 17 identified to tribes in the province of Benguet, Dawayan said.
Dawayan said the rice characterization project started in 2014, spearheaded by the Philippine Rice Research Institute in collaboration with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.
“This project is continuing. We still have a lot of varieties being studied for characterization,” she added.
Data obtained from the DA-CAR show that Benguet utilizes 2,487.44 hectares for its heirloom rice production out of the 4,201.65 hectares total area used for rice production. (PNA)