Villar to DA: Why prefer imported hybrid rice seeds? Not all farmers can use it
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Cynthia Villar has questioned the Department of Agriculture (DA) over its reported preference toward hybrid rice seeds, stressing that such varieties are mostly imported and cannot be used by most rice farmers.
During the Senate finance subcommittee hearing on DA’s proposed 2023 budget on Tuesday, Villar suggested that instead of providing farmers hybrid rice seeds, inbred varieties should be given as the latter is locally sourced — giving the local industry an advantage.
Furthermore, fewer farmers benefit from hybrid seeds than inbred varieties, despite the higher prices needed to buy hybrid seeds. According to DA Assistant Secretary Arnel de Mesa, around one million farmers got hybrid seeds while 1.7 million got inbred seeds from the department.
“So you’re spending so much for hybrid and yet it benefits only one million farmers, whereas you spend less for inbred, it benefits 1.7 million farmers. Tama ba’ yon? Sobra-sobra (Is that right? That’s too much), I just want to clarify that, so mas malaki ginagasta natin sa hybrid (we are actually spending more for hybrid)?” Villar asked.
“We spend P7.9 billion for hybrid, benefitting [fewer] farmers and we spend P3.7 billion for inbred, benefitting more farmers. So doble ‘yong hybrid (So we spend double for hybrid), so why is this policy na gustung-gusto natin ng (where we prefer) hybrid (in place)?” she added.
In response, de Mesa explained that hybrid rice seeds usually produce a higher yield compared to inbred seeds.
“Madam chair, ang mag-aano po talaga nito ay ‘yong productivity level ng hybrid, because we’re expecting po na mataas ‘yong yield,” de Mesa said.
(Madam chair, what dictates the value of the seeds is the productivity level of the hybrid because we’re expecting a higher yield.)
Villar, however, pointed out that the higher yield still depends on the capability of the farmers to grow hybrid rice varieties, noting that not all DA beneficiaries, which are usually poor farmers, may not have the capacity needed to grow palay from these seeds.
“Eh ang productivity ng hybrid kapag hindi mo naibigay ang inputs niyan, hindi rin magpo-produce as ano (expected). So ‘yong mahihirap na farmers they cannot provide the inputs to make it productive, so pareho rin ‘yan ng inbred,” she said.
“But the productivity of the hybrid if you do not provide sufficient inputs, it would also not produce as expected. So for poor farmers, they cannot have the inputs needed to make it productive, so it would have the same yield as the inbred.)
“Mas mayayaman ‘yong mga binibigyan niyo ng hybrid. Ba’t natin binibigyan ‘yon eh mayaman na ‘yon? Kasi hindi kaya ng poor farmer ‘yong inputs ng hybrid, and with those inputs, hindi naman sila makaka-produce as projected, tapos mas mahal pa ‘yan, inbred is P30 per kilo, ‘yong hybrid is P250 per kilo,” she added.
(You are giving hybrid to richer farmers. But why would we help them when they are rich? Poor farmers cannot shoulder the inputs needed for hybrid, and with those inputs, they cannot produce as projected, and then the costs are higher, inbred is P30 per kilo, while the hybrid is P250 per kilo.)
Rice varieties on the market are classified based on the size of grains and on where they are grown. There are also classifications based on traditional, modern, and hybrid varieties.
Both traditional and modern varieties are called “inbred,” because they are reproduced through self-pollination or inbreeding, and the products or the seeds are what farmers use for planting.
Meanwhile, hybrid seeds are made by crossing two genetically different parent seeds with superior qualities to increase yield or production. However, planting these seeds is more complicated because, aside from higher production costs, seeds cannot be reused for another planting season.
Villar asked the DA for a written explanation on why the department still prefers hybrid rice despite the variety being only made available to fewer farmers.
“I cannot understand that, I hope you will give me an explanation for that because I cannot understand that. Because we are helping poor farmers, the poor farmers cannot spend for the inputs that are required in hybrid, so why go hybrid, maybe inbred seeds fit them better,” she said in Filipino.
“It’s always in my mind, that policy of the government, why they like hybrid. But we are helping poor farmers here […] we don’t need to help the rich farmers, they can take care of themselves,” she added.
After Villar’s request, DA Undersecretary Mercedita Sombilla explained that hybrid rice, although benefitting only a smaller number of farmers, can actually yield a produce 50 to 100 percent higher than that of inbred seeds. However, Villar was still unsatisfied, insisting that it appears the government has a bias toward imported goods, starting with chemical fertilizers and hybrid seeds.
“You submit the study because we seem biased towards chemical fertilizers that are imported, biased over seedlings that are imported. Why the bias for imported, why don’t we give it to the local industry?” she asked.