Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Albay solon’s search for local farmer’s best success story ends in Polangui town
By Danny O. Calleja

LIGAO CITY, March 7 (PNA) -– The search for the best local farmer’s success story initiated by the office here of Albay third congressional district Representative Fernando Gonzalez recently ended in a remote farming village of the nearby Polangui town.

In Barangay Balangibang, once referred to by its residents as “tungro capital” being then frequently affected by tungro -- a rice disease caused by virus transmitted by leafhoppers -- the eight-hectare paddies being attended to by Edgar Pesebre caught the attention of the search.

“We were brought to a field of climate change-ready rice varieties of Mr. Pesebre, one of the local farmers benefiting so much from modern farming technologies introduced by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice),” Gonzalez told the Philippines News Agency Monday.

PhilRice is a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture (DA) that is tasked to help farmers produce more rice by way of developing high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies through research and development works.

Its regional facilities for Bicol, the eighth research station in the country, were through the efforts of Gonzalez established two years ago in Barangay Batang here within a 20-hectare plain surrounded by irrigated paddies serving as the regional demonstration farm and rice breeding center.

Going through the personal background of Persebe, 45, Gonzalez said, it was learned that this Barangay Balangibang farmer is a graduate of Business Administration but left a high-paying executive job in Manila 15 years ago to attend to the family farm in his poor village where he later on struck “gold” in rice farming.

The farm where he grew up and which was the source of the money spent for his education was left unattended after the death of his father, forcing Persebe to take the responsibility over it on the insistent prodding of his mother which defeated his hesitance.

“It was a very difficult start, considering the unfavorable weather condition that climate change renders, making high crop yield almost impossible despite heavy farm works,” Persebe said in an interview.

But his desire to succeed and be able to manage his own profitable farm venture was the motivation that changed the future of the once-sluggish rice farming in the village.

Persebe actively participated in agricultural training programs and activities until he was designated by the Municipal Agriculture Office of Polangui as Farmer-Led Extension in 2003-2008.

To further hone his technical knowledge in rice production, Pesebre, in 2009, became a grower of palay seeds he identified as suited to the environmental condition of his farm and its neighboring paddies through varietal trials in submerged areas to test the adaptability of different rice varieties in flooded fields.

As of today, he manages 16 varieties of rice in his entire eight-hectare farm and eight of them he calls the “next generation” series which are tested as climate change-ready varieties, being resilient and adaptable to extreme environmental conditions such as flooding and drought.

Among these varieties are the Rc342 and RC360 which have been recommended by the National Seed Industry Council (NSIC) for commercial cultivation in irrigated lowland conditions.

Local farmers highly favor these varieties owing to their aromatic smell and good yield which PhilRice data show at 7.9 metric tons (MT) per hectare.

The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides was also minimized through proper crop management, Persebe said.

At the same time, he applied alternative wetting and drying (AWD), a water-saving technology on reducing irrigation water use in rice fields without decreasing yield, which he learned from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

In AWD, according to Persebe, irrigation water is managed so that the field is alternately flooded and water-drained.

“I never got tired of attending training on rice production, conducting varietal tests and partnering with different agricultural agencies. That made me flexible in making adjustments in my farming method and readily receptive of new technologies which I apply when tested effective,” he said.

And so, via Persebe’s way, the traditional rice farming method in the locality evolved into scientific farming owing to the innovations he introduced to achieve high-yielding crops, resilient rice varieties and minimize the production loss.

While in the previous years, rice production was difficult in Balangibang due to extreme weather conditions and tough farming methods that yielded only about three MT of rice per hectare, today, the barangay could already harvest up to seven MT from the same expanse of field, he said.

Behind his good farming practices, according to Persebe, are the Department of Agriculture (DA) and PhilRice which both played significant roles in the improvement of his rice farming.

Owing to his efforts and innovations, the DA hailed him as regional and national winner under the Outstanding Local Farmer Technician (LFT) Category during the 2014 Agri Pinoy Rice Achievers' Award.

He is also now assigned by the DA in partnership with the PhilRice to manage wide areas of rice farm in the municipality for the Climate Field School (CFS) which demonstrates climate change-adaptable rice varieties while other agricultural agencies like IRRI and farmers from various parts of the country visit his farm to learn about his outstanding farm practices.

Gonzalez said his office’s search for the farming success story in the district, which found Persebe as the best so far, is not for an award but to find inspirations for local farmers towards producing more for food security and higher family income.

And since this Polangui farmer attests that good irrigation system is among the keys to better rice farming, Gonzalez said, his office is not mistaken in working on the prioritizing of the establishment of irrigation facilities in the district with the DA and National Irrigation Administration (NIA).

Polangui farms now are 90 percent irrigated owing to combined efforts of the government and local farmers and, Persebe said, he foresees that with the technologies developed to innovate rice farming and establishment of good irrigation structures, the Philippines is soon achieving its rice self-sufficiency goal. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD/