The Evolution of Rice Production Practices

Eulito U. Bautista, Evelyn F. Javier
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In this chapter, a summary of the evolution of major practices in rice production over the last 100 years in the country is presented. These practices essentially evolved out of the changes in the varieties introduced and planted by Filipino farmers, which have to change the manner by which production and postharvest operations have to be done in order to maximize productivity and reduce costs. Varieties were introduced in three major periods: the pre-Green Revolution era dominated mainly by traditional varieties which were planted once a year, the Green Revolution period of 1966 to 1988 which was characterized by the diffusion of modern high-yielding varieties which are planted for two seasons per year, and the post-Green Revolution period from 1989 to the present times. As varieties changed over time, farmers practices also changed to attain maximum yield potential of the varieties as well as in response to goals of higher productivity, greater efficiency, and, for the present period, environmental sustainability.
From preparing the rice plots to rice milling, operations evolved out of the need for greater efficiency and higher productivity. Although the first period has been characterized by single rice crop per year and field operations were not necessarily done efficiently, farmers were already looking for better alternatives to conduct field tasks that were done either manually or with the use of carabaos. Much of these practices have been romanticized mainly because the social life of farmers and their communities evolved within the conduct of these tasks, often done with the assistance of relatives and neighbors. There were less inputs needed as yield from the traditional cultivars was limited by the plant itself so that labor productivity and time as well as efficiency were of less concern compared to the drudgery in the conduct of manual tasks.
The period spanning the introduction and diffusion of short-statured, non photosensitive and early maturing high yield varieties, coupled with the availability of irrigation water from newly constructed irrigation systems, were quite different. Demands for efficiency and time became of greater importance to attain the high yield and double crop potential of these modern varieties. Tasks which formerly were not given attention to, such as fertilizer management, chemical control, threshing and drying suddenly became important to small farmers who suddenly found themselves tillers and managers of their own land due to newly passed land reform law. Techniques and equipment to accomplish these tasks were developed or improved upon so that this period revolutionized the whole rice production system. Research on land preparation, planting, fertilizer management, pest management, harvesting and threshing as well as drying and milling were actively pursued and promoted although farmers were selective in adopting only a few of these new breakthroughs. The International Rice Research Institute led in both the development of these varieties, management practices as well as machinery to answer the needs of farmers at this time.
After the Green Revolution, concerns on costs and productivity including sustainability continued to become important as Filipino farmers struggle to sustain productivity gains over the past period while pursuing cost reduction measures as well. While neighboring farmers in Southeast Asia adopt modern practices and big machinery to attain economy of scale, our farmers continue to be selective of technologies that are efficient, inexpensive and with high potential for income generation from the neighboring fields. At this time, the Green Revolution technologies continue to be practiced while some crop care measures such as the integrated pest and nutrient management are further refined. We also see old practices becoming relevant again as the need for more efficient management of the decreasing amount of water becomes vital. Direct seeding, a rainfed
area practice brought about by the early maturing varieties and the development of herbicides during the previous period, also continues to be increasingly popular due to less costs to farmers. The use of high quality seeds and the introduction of hybrid rice cultivars both from the public and private sectors are also pursued by government programs that continue to seek rice self-sufficiency levels enough to feed the increasing population of the country.
Rice production practices is expected to continue to evolve to the changing challenges and needs of the times, when both the Filipino scientists and the rice farmer will come up with innovations that seek to pursue rice self-sufficiency and global competitiveness for the Filipino farmer. Direct seeding, mechanization and integrated nutrient and pest management will continue to be refined and practiced on wider scale. As new high yielding inbred and hybrid varieties that cater to new environments and conditions are developed and introduced, farmers will continue to adapt improved methods to plant rice and to maximize their benefits from producing it. Research institutions like PhilRice, the International Rice Research Institute and other research institutions will continue to lead in developing these innovations for more productive, profitable and sustainable rice production for the country.