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October-December 2013 Issue (Vol. 15 No. 4)

Diana Rose A. de Leon

In a country wherein agriculture is the bread and butter for economic growth, water is a crucial and essential resource particularly in the food production chain. Its absence or presence determines the success and/or failure of crop production. This is why significant efforts have been undertaken to exhaustively expand the scope of irrigated agricultural lands. However, despite the efforts, only 19 percent of arable agricultural land is irrigated with the rest depending on direct rainfall to water the lands.

In the absence of irrigation, the cultivation of crops that relies on using green water (that comes from precipitation and is stored in the soil) is called rainfed agriculture. In fact, 80 percent of the world’s agricultural lands fall under rainfed agriculture and accounts for 60-70 percent of world food production.

With the pressing issue on poverty further aggravated by population explosion, food insecurity is imminently escalating the hunger incidence. This is why the call to invest more on improving rainfed agriculture is becoming more urgent. There are studies asserting the potentials and possibilities of rainfed agriculture in answering the need to meet rising global food demand in the coming years and thus can be harnessed and this will help greatly in alleviating poverty.

Rainfed Agriculture in the Philippines

The country more or less has 13 million hectares of agricultural area devoted to crops of which only 1.626 million hectares are irrigated. A big chunk of the agricultural lands (estimated to cover 75 percent of the cultivated land) is into rainfed agriculture. With this scenario, it is high time for the government to pour in investments to support the practice of rainfed agriculture in the country.

The attempt to bring to the fore rainfed agriculture in the country gained headway when the India-based organization, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), began to extend their expertise to the country and collaborated with the Department of Agriculture (DA) through the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR). Being the lead global agricultural research organization focusing on semi-arid/dryland/rainfed research, ICRISAT has been successful on improving the agricultural productivity in these areas and on stimulating change for the betterment of the lives of millions. This is what ICRISAT and BAR hope to accomplish with the collaboration.

The partnership aims to intensify research, development and extension (RDE) being done to address the current needs of rainfed agriculture in the country and shape it to the extent wherein it can be a large contributor to the growth of the agriculture sector, vis-à-vis, be one of the driving forces of the economic growth of the country. ICRISAT shared their knowledge and expertise through the extension of appropriate technologies and innovations on production of legumes which include sorghum, chickpea, pigeonpea, and groundnut.

From the efforts of the concerned stakeholders and advocates of rainfed agriculture, one significant leap taken on the matter was the filing of House Bill 76752 in the 15th Congress that calls for the establishment of the Philippine Rainfed Agriculture Research and Development Institute (PhilRAI), formerly proposed as the Philippine Dryland Research Institute (PhilDRI). Once the bill is passed as a new law, PhilRAI will be in the forefront to encourage investments and move forward the cause of rainfed agriculture in the country.


Way back in 2004, BAR and ICRISAT started their collaboration through a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) signifying the interest of both parties to diversify legume production in the Philippines through utilizing the legume technologies developed by ICRISAT.

The agreement materialized in 2009 through a project titled, “Field testing of ICRISAT legume varieties and technologies in selected regions in the Philippines.” The project is now on its third phase, wherein the legumes that performed well during the first and second phase are being subjected to on-station and on-farm seed production, and also the expansion of the project to other regions.

The partnership of these two organizations was further strengthened with the launching of the Philippine Rainfed Agriculture Research, Development, and Extension Program (PhiRARDEP) in 2011 with funding support from DA-High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP). The program aims to “develop, coordinate, monitor and evaluate the implementation of a vigorous agriculture RDE program to enhance food, nutrition and energy security, improve livelihoods, and empower communities in the country’s rainfed areas.”

From the various consultations done with the stakeholders, including the DA’s national and regional bureaus and agencies, state universities and colleges (SUCs), and non-government organizations (NGOs), a unified RDE action agenda for rainfed agriculture which will be used as a basis in prioritizing and funding specific projects was formulated. This action agenda of PhiRARDEP focuses into four major areas which are: 1) rained farming systems innovation; 2) participatory watershed management; 3) strategic social science and policy research, and; 4) capacity building, communication and social mobilization.

To date, BAR has funded 16 on-going rainfed-related projects, of which four projects are newly-approved.

The Yamang Lupa Program

Encompassing the four components under the PhiRARDEP, the Yamang Lupa Program was launched in October 2013. The program is patterned after the ICRISAT’s Bhoochetana mission program (meaning revival of the soil) implemented in Karnataka State, India. Due to massive success and recognitions received by the Bhoochetana program, which was able to increase crop productivity by 30 percent and help 2.2 million smallhold farmers in Karnataka, the program was brought to Philippine soil by the ICRISAT and, hopefully, it will garner the same success like in India.

Basically, the Bhoochetana program is working towards improving dryland agriculture through the use of scientific technologies while promoting the sustainable use of natural resources. The same principles, processes, approaches, and strategies that were successfully used in the original Bhoochetana program will be employed under the Yamang Lupa Program.

Assessment of soil health status; preparation of GIS-based soil fertility status for developing specific nutrient management recommendations; development of best-bet soil, water, nutrient, pest and crop management; improvement of seed delivery systems; and capacitation of the stakeholders to realign their set knowledge and skills to the requirements of rainfed agriculture are the expected main outputs of the program.

In this program, the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) serves as the lead implementing agency with ICRISAT providing the technical assistance, BAR as the coordinating agency and HVCDP providing the funding. Other collaborating agencies are the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), together with selected DA-Regional Field Units and state universities and colleges (SUCs).

For the initial conduct of program activities, three pilot sites were identified representing Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. These are Region IV-A (CALABARZON), Region VIII (Eastern Visayas), and Region IX (Zamboanga Peninsula).

Future Endeavors

Millions of Filipinos depend on rainfed agriculture to sustain their living and yet, only in the recent years has this sector been given due attention and inclusion in the development agenda of the country. What have further aggravated the situation are the impending challenges being brought upon the country by the threat of climate change. Longer dry spells and droughts, and more intense typhoons and flooding, can be experienced by the country. This is why there is no other way but to strengthen the capacities of Filipinos to withstand its impacts and repercussions, and that adaptive measures be in place in critical areas such as the rainfed areas.

From the activities being pursued by BAR, together with the partner institutions under its rainfed program, this once neglected part of the agriculture sector is progressively coming into light and, in the future, be a significant contributor to the attainment of the development goals of the country. ###

1. Rainfed vs. irrigated agriculture. (2012). Retrieved from
2. International Atomic Energy Agency.(2011). No rain, no food.Retrieved from
3. Wani, S.P and et al. (2009).Rainfed agriculture: unlocking the potentials. Retrieved from