[This story first appeared on the web news portal of the Philippine Information Agency, 21March 2013. The online article can be found here: http://www.pia.gov.ph/news/index.php?article=1101363600918]
By Rey Anthony H. Chiu
Thursday 21st of March 2013 TAGBILARAN CITY, Bohol,March 21 (PIA) — To adapt to climate change, Bohol farmers have sought the climate-smart organic rice variety that will deliver the best harvest for specific types of climates.
Dr. Marina Labonite, research for development director at the Bohol Island State University (BISU), said since 1998, farmers and non-government organizations here have bred more than 200 organic rice ìaccessionsî in the search for the most suitable breed fitting the challenges of adaptation.
Here, climate change-resistant local upland rice were interbred with other breeds to produce organic rice that will stand the heat and brave the floods without using inorganic fertilizers, she said.
These are local breed so we canít call them varieties yet, and yes, we have a seed bank but these are back up supplies for farm trials, to allow farmers to sow them in seedbeds for their own production,î Dr. Labonite shared.
She recalled that a few years ago, farmers noted that commercial rice breeds produce bountiful harvests but the costly inorganic fertilizers needed to grow them have drained farmers of their profits.
Farmers also noted the onset of new pests and rice infestations which quickly affects commercial varieties, so that the option to go back to the native varieties just came naturally.
To this, Dr. Labonite confessed in an interview that the demands for adaptive rice varieties and the withdrawal of inorganic fertilizers soared high.
Some commercial rice varieties grow lush from the start, but sudden rains affect their productivity, taking swipes at the unpredictable abrupt changes in climate, despite the townís regular hydrology patterns.
ìThe production of these organic rice seeds is based on the demand,î she admitted.
In 1998, together with Searice, an NGO into preserving the rice heritage of the region, and the Central Visayas State College of Agriculture, Forestry and Technology (CVSCAFT) now known as BISU, they trained farmers to collect the seeds.
With the help of Searice, farmers started foraging back into their seed banks for the local varieties that have proven to survive intense climate changes.
Since 1998, these seeds have not tasted any commercial fertilizer, she said.
These are stockpiled for easy access to farmers and for those who would want to grow the same, but they have to produce their own seeds from these seeds.
ìSome of these seeds contain the genes of high-producing rice varieties and those that have been tested to survive in droughts or heavy rains, the seed banks become viable,î she said.
The seed bank also provides enough knowledge to farmers who were initially advised by technicians to vary the rice variety for every cropping season to break their susceptibility to diseases and pests.
First stockpiled by farmer organizations in nearby Campagao and Cansumbol, the rice seed bank became so useful that neighboring communities themselves were encouraged to put them up, she noted.
Because it was too burdensome to keep up with the demands to curate the community seed banks, the decision to transfer it to BISU was logical, according to Dr. Labonite.
The stockpile of rice accessions are now kept in air-dried panicles, in threshed forms and in cold storage.
Here, being an agriculture institution, students take care of the seed banks and at the same time learn about the technology of harvesting, air dried panicle storage, panicle in threshed form storage, including measurement of panicle.
The school also maintains small patches of fields for annual test planting of these 200 accessions to make sure they are fresh and can germinate when farmers get them, she said.
In Bohol where an anti-genetically modified organism ordinance is in effect, the farmers have started to feel the effects of climate change.
Going back to the basics may mean sustainable agriculture for future generations, Labonite said. (rmn/RAHC-PIA 7, Bohol)