MANILA, Philippines--For a brief spell during Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship, the Philippines became self-sufficient in rice, reversing a trend of buying overseas to fill in shortages in the staple since colonial times.
The country exported rice from 1977 to 1978 following the success of Marcos' "Masagana 99" program--a blueprint to harvest a "bountiful" 99 cavans of rice (4,900 kilos)--per hectare.
Rep. Salvador "Sonny" Escudero, the last agriculture minister during the Marcos dictatorship, recalled that during this period, the Philippines had exported to Indonesia and even contributed to the regional buffer stockpile.
Escudero, who recalled days of self-sufficiency and grains surplus, was among the officials who had implemented the Marcos project.
"The secret with Masagana 99 was the very liberal credit and extension work. We provided farmers with full credit support. We were in full control of our agricultural technicians, whom we regularly educated," he said.
With this program, the Philippines experienced its highest productivity increase in local rice production from 1976 to 1985--three years after it started.
Saturnina C. Halos, chair of the Department of Agriculture's biotechnology advisory team, said in a 2004 report for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies that the Marcos project was the first extensive rice production program in the country.
The program, she said, had four elements: Access to improved technology, credit, price support for rice and provision of low-cost fertilizer.
Program of survival
The report, "A century of rice innovations," said Masagana 99 demonstrated that given all the support, rice production could increase so that self-sufficiency in rice was achieved.
Dubbed as a program of national survival, Masagana 99 came at a time when the country was reeling from the effects of a series of calamities, the report said.
In 1971, the rice crop was devastated by 28 typhoons that battered the country within four months during the rice cropping season. This was followed by a severe outbreak of tungro--a damaging plant disease--and widespread flooding that inundated the Central Luzon plain, the nation's rice granary.
Masagana 99, the report said, "mobilized an extension system involving thousands of rice technicians to acquaint farmers with the new technology. Credit at low interest rates and without collateral was made available."
"The palay price support program was instituted through the National Grains Authority (now the National Food Authority) guaranteeing farmers a floor price for their paddy, assuring a stable price and reasonable profit. A fertilizer subsidy was implemented," it added.
Key is timely funding
Escudero said the P43.7-billion program, called FIELDS, announced by President Macapagal-Arroyo during the national food summit in April to boost rice production was similar to the Marcos project.
FIELDS stands for fertilizers, infrastructure and irrigation, education and extension work, loans, drying and postharvest facilities, and seeds.
"There's no secret in agriculture. The programs are already there and are similar to Masagana 99. The key is adequate and timely funding," Escudero stressed. "And these funds should be maximized."
"If the P43 billion in funds allocated for the FIELDS program will be released adequately, on time, and will be maximized, I won't be surprised to find palay oozing out of our ears," he said.