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Cordillera’s heirloom rice: A bright spot in the export market

heirloom rice

Mina-angan, hungduan, ulikan, jekot, diket, and tinawon—they can be mistaken as names of people but they’re not. They are actually varieties of heirloom rice from the Cordillera region which are now making a niche in the export market and are heading their way in the United States through the efforts of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

According to reports, the US-bound heirloom rice is considered “a milestone in the government’s effort to expand markets for premium varieties and promote the rich cultural heritage attached to it.” Exporting Cordillera’s premium rice will not only provide a bright spot in the world market but will also help sustain the status of rice terraces as part of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Preserving a taste, protecting a heritage – this is how the rice growers in Cordillera want the heirloom rice production to be recognized in the world. According to Marilyn Sta. Catalina, director of the DA-Regional Field Unit in the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR), who represented Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala during the ceremonial send-off on 20 September 2013 at the Manila International Container Terminal, “more than profit, we are promoting the rich Cordilleran cultural heritage through this export.” She added that the grains represent the best in the Cordilleras, notably the industry and ingenuity of its people, as they are organically grown, and manually harvested and pounded to perfection.

Fifteen metric tons of organic heirloom rice, worth P870 thousand, were sent to the US. These were composed of three varieties: 10 tons of “mina-angan” from Banaue and “hungduan” from Ifugao, and 5 tons of “ulikan” from Pasil and Lubuagan in Kalinga. The volume of premium rice was consolidated by the Rice Terraces Farmers Cooperative (RTFC), in cooperation with Rice Inc. Eighth Wonder Inc, a non-government organization based in the US that helps market products from the Cordillera’s rice terraces. DA has been facilitating RTFC’s export to the US through Eight Wonder Inc. since 2005.

The 15 metric tons premium rice is part of the 27.6 metric tons that the Philippines will send to the US this year, which was bought from the 272 farmers from the three mountain provinces.The remaining 12.6 metric tons is currently undergoing organic fumigation at the Philippine Rice Institute (PhilRice) laboratory in Nueva Ecija. This procedure is in compliance with the strict US sanitary and phytosanitary requisites for importation.

To date, shipments of various heirloom varieties to the US has totaled to 97 tons, including the 24.4 tons valued at P1.3 million in 2012. Among the heirloom varieties exported were: “Mountain Violet” of Mountain Province, unoy or “jekot” and ulikan” red grains of Kalinga, and tinawon, “fancy rice” and “diket” of Ifugao.

To assist the upland farmers in sustaining its production, DA has embarked on various initiatives to preserve organic farming practices in northern Philippine regions and expand overseas markets for indigenous rice varieties. Part of this initiative is the funding and supporting of various research and development initiatives on organic farming in the Cordillera region through its Commuity-based Participatory Action Research (CPAR).

Sustaining heirloom rice with CPAR

Heirloom rice is a special kind of indigenous rice that has been planted by the ancestors of Ifugao and other upland tribes. It is colored glutinous rice that possesses outstanding quality, aroma, texture, color (red, purple or violet), taste, and nutritional value. Most importantly, the heirloom rice varieties in the Rice Terraces are organically-grown. These qualities made the harvest very appealing not only to local consumers but also to foreign buyers.

One of the most popular among these varieties is Tinawon (local name which literally means “once a year”).True to its name, tinawon is the first rice variety of rice that was widely grown in the Rice Terraces and is grown only once a year.

To sustain this indigenous gem that is thriving in the Cordillera region, BAR supported the tnawon production through a CPAR project. Initiated in 2011, it aims to increase the production of tinawon to supplement the export volume of heirloom rice in the US and to sustain the needs of the farmers. Through the CPAR project, farmers were introduced to various R&D interventions on organic production without compensating the increase in yields.  They were taught on using bio-organic and foliar fertilizers, early transplanting, and proper distancing.

Dr. Catherine Buenaventura, supervising agriculturist of Ifugao’s Provincial Agriculture Environment and Natural Resources Office (PAENRO) and CPAR project leader, said that these interventions led to a five percent increase in the production of tinawon rice during the first cycle alone. ###(Rita T. dela Cruz)

Getting to know the Roselle


Products from a certain plant that looks a lot like the gumamela have been constantly featured in different agricultural trade shows and activities. However, many people may still be unaware of what it is, what it looks like, and what benefits it can give to us.

What is roselle?

One of the highlights during the 20th Farmers’ Field Days and Technology Forum of the Northern Mindanao Agricultural Research Center (NOMIARC) held at Malaybalay City, Bukidnon was value-adding technologies for different commodities–one of which is wine production technology from the roselle plant. According to Ms. Fe Abragan, a senior agriculturist in NOMIARC, when Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Proceso Alcala graced a field day back in 2012, he urged the station to promote roselle. This is in line with the DA’s thrust of promoting indigenous plants for health and wellness and recognizing the need to explore the untapped potentials of such plants for them to be fully utilized, promoted, and more importantly to be developed as foods and sources of materials in the nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, and cosmeceutical industries. 

Roselle is included in the book of Dr. Roberto Coronel titled “Important and Underutilized Edible Fruits of the Philippines”. In the book, roselle was described as an erect, branched, herbaceous plant that grows to about 1 m high. It bears yellowish or pinkish large flowers and its fruits are enclosed in its large and red fleshy calyx. Roselle was first introduced in the Philippines during the 1900s where it has been cultivated in some home gardens and has adapted well in the country’s humid tropical climate.

Regarded as a low input and low maintenance crop, roselle requires less management but is very productive. Maintenance is only through pruning as it easily matures. Reproductive stage occurs in about 4-6 months. It is believed to be beneficial in an intercropping system, especially with legumes. The plant is considered to be an underutilized species that has economic importance and potentials for fruit processing which can provide farmers with alternative sources of food and income.

How useful is roselle?

Many countries in the world have been cultivating roselle for many purposes such as food, fuel, fiber, lipids, and decoration, among many others. It is popularly used in making cooling beverages and wines, and in making delicious desserts such as jams, jellies, puddings, cakes, pies and others. When dried, it is processed into a nutritious tea. Its tender leaves and stalks can also be eaten as a vegetable in salads, or as seasoning for various delicacies. In the country, it was found to be used as a souring agent in dishes such as sinigang. The stems are seen as potential raw materials for charcoal and as sources of bast jute-like fibers. Meanwhile, its seeds are rich in linoleic acid, a fatty acid essential for nutrition, and can be potential sources of vegetable oils.

Many of its parts are also believed to be of medicinal value. In Guinea, its leaves are used as a diuretic and sedative, while the Angolans found it as a useful remedy for coughs. Its seeds are used for debility in Myanmar and as diuretic and laxative in Taiwan. In the Philippines, its bitter root is used as aperitive and tonic. Additionally, the flavonoids contained in roselle can be used to naturally color foods such as yoghurt and rums.

Various studies in many parts of the world have also been conducted which are aimed at studying the plant’s biological activities. Results have showed promising outcomes such that roselle can provide protection from atherosclerosis, and are regarded to possess anticarcinogenic and high antioxidant properties.

NOMIARC, as a research station that believes in the potentials of the plant, is conducting research initiatives to further explore and promote the plant. As of the moment, the station is subjecting their roselle wine for further analysis before making it available to the public. It is also now in the process of submitting a proposal to the Bureau of Agricultural Research for the product utilization and processing of roselle into products such as tea, jam, and candies. NOMIARC also provides seeds to interested farmers and individuals priced at P5 per pack.### (Anne Camille B. Brion)

DA’s R&D program lauded by top IRRI official

Dr. Bruce Tolentino, IRRI’s Deputy Director General for communication and partnerships

One of the key officials of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has lauded Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala for his strong support to the country’s agricultural research and development (R&D) community, including IRRI itself.

Dr. Bruce Tolentino, IRRI’s Deputy Director General for communication and partnerships, said Secretary Alcala has provided the biggest funding and other provisions for the R&D community of all the 11 agriculture secretaries from 1986 to present. For IRRI alone, the Philippine government’s annual contribution to the institute’s research agenda ballooned to US$2 million under Secretary Alcala’s leadership – from the average of US$38,000 since 1960 when IRRI was established.

“This is very important because it means the Philippine government through the Philippine Rice Research Institute and the Department of Agriculture has the first call on any research that IRRI produces [before it is released to other partner countries so Filipino farmers benefit from it first,” said Dr. Tolentino, who once worked for the DA’s Office of the Secretary in various capacities from 1986 to 1993, and then 1998 to 2003. He is one the few Filipinos holding a major position at the global institution.

IRRI is, in fact, supportive of the government’s food security blueprint dubbed Food Staples Sufficiency Program, under which DA aspires to become self-sufficient in rice by the end of 2013. In December last year, both institutions entered into a 5-year agreement to jointly pursue eight major areas of collaboration. These areas include which include strategic mapping of current rice production and expansion areas using GIS and remote sensing to provide a better estimate of the country’s total production, area planted and harvested.

Dr. Tolentino made the statement on Thursday at the annual awarding ceremony for outstanding agricultural researches at the BSWM Lopez Hall in Quezon City. Now on its 25th staging through the lead effort of the DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research, this year’s National Research Symposium was dominated by scientists and researchers from the Visayas State University in Baybay, Leyte and the University of the Philippines-Los Banos in Laguna, which bagged three and two gold medals, respectively, from eight categories that attracted a total of 130 entries.

These are Basic Research; Applied Research; Applied Research (Technology/Information Generation – Fisheries); Applied Research – Technology Adaptation/Verification (Agriculture); Applied Research – Technology Adaptation/Verification (Fisheries); Socio-Economics Research; Development (Agriculture); and Development (Fisheries).

Higher investments, wider engagement

DA’s investments and engagement with the R&D community have indeed flourished under the Aquino Administration, as proven by the Department’s increased allocation for R&D as well as extension activities. In its proposed 2014 budget, DA has earmarked around P2.41 billion for its R&D operations and projects –arguably the highest in history – in a bid to raise farm and fishery productivity and efficiency.

For DA, the challenge now is how to ensure that these investments get mobilized in such a way that the right technologies reach smallholder farmers, who constitute the majority in the country.

“At the end of the day, ito po ‘yung kailangan: ‘Yun pong tulong na maibibibay ng inyong researches ay masusukat lang po natin kung gaano nagtagumpay kung mas marami pong barya at mas marami pong buong pera ang matitira sa bulsa ng magsasaka at mangingisda (At the end of the day, the success of your research will be measured by how much money is left in the pockets or our farmers and fishers.),” Secretary Alcala said in his remarks directed to R&D stakeholders at the same symposium.

Over the next three years, DA has set its three central goals as follows: (1)Food Staples Sufficiency Attained and Sustained; (2) Environment for Enhanced Competitiveness in Agriculture and Fisheries Established; and (3) Climate Resilient Agri-fishery Technologies and Infrastructure Developed and Improved. And through all of these, research will play a major role as Philippine agriculture have to contend with multiple challenges including climate change, ever-rising population,

“Wala pong aabanteng programa sa sakahan at pangisdaan kong walang tamang research na gagawin (No agri-fishery program will ever succeed without the support of relevant research),” said Secretary Alcala. ### (DA News Release)

Support to Surigao del Sur’s soybean industry intensified

Mindanao, especially the CARAGA region, has the biggest soybean production in terms of area with 1,050 hectares dedicated to the planting of the crop. Surigao del Sur is one of the major soybean producing areas in the region making soybean a thriving industry since the 1980s. Most farmers in the province, especially in San Miguel and in Tago where bulk of the soybean is being produced, consider it as a major cash crop due to its potential in solving problems on hunger and malnutrition.

To boost and further enhance the soybean industry, the CARAGA region initiated a development project implemented under the national program spearheaded by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) titled, Building Sustainable Soybean Industry in the Philippines.

“We started our initiatives three years ago and concentrated our efforts on different on-station researches. One of those researches is adaptability yield trials wherein we used 14 new varieties developed by the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (IPB-UPLB) under the leadership of Mr. Elmer Enicola. On top of those, we also have an observational nursery where we raise about 2,000 strains of soybeans. We subject them to different stresses and select which among them are adaptable to the locality,” explained Ms. Wilfreda Manos, manager of CARAGA Research Integrated Agricultural Research Center, and project leader. She furthered that the development of the soybean industry in the region will not only serve as a source of cash for the farmers, but also as foods for human consumption and feeds for the animals.

Currently, a component of the project being focused on is the processing of soybean. According to Ms. Manos, even if Surigao del Sur farmers have already been planting soybean in the past, it is just now that the farmers are learning on the value-adding technologies for soybean. Through the conduct of trainings, the farmers were taught how to make soya milk, taho, and tokwa.

In support to this, BAR through the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) funded processing equipment which are housed at the SCI facility in Tandag. Among the equipment include a milk extractor which they use for the production of soy-based products including soya milk and chilled taho. These are being sold in nearby schools, hospitals, and at the SCI Cooperative.

Soybean farmers’ field day

Aimed at showcasing the 14 varieties of soybean to the farmers, a field day was held in Tago. “This [field day] will give the farmers options to choose the best and suitable varieties which they can use aside from the local variety,” said Ms. Flor Pante, focal person for technology demonstration on soybean.

According to Ms. Pante, some of the farmers were able to observe the susceptibility of the local variety to pests such as bean fly and aphids. Hence, the field day served as a good venue for them to look for promising varieties which they can plant in their respective farms. Aside from the tested varieties: Tiwala 10, Tiwala 8, and the local variety, AGS 374 arose as one of the varieties preferred by farmers because according to them, the variety does not easily collapse, contains big seeds, and is resistant to diseases.

With the soybean’s nutritional value, a feeding program was also launched in conjunction with the field day. It serves as one of the major activities under the project which targets to feed 100 pre-schoolers from Cahalinan, Poblacion, and Bangsud Day Care Centers with soya milk and other soy-based products for a year. A cooking demonstration on preparing soymilk was also conducted.

Despite the promising potentials of the crop, one of the problems besetting the soybean industry in Surigao del Sur is marketing, especially on how to maintain the price on a stable level which discourages some of the farmers to plant soybean. The provincial government through Governor Johnny Pimentel said that in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture (DA), they are more than willing to intensify information dissemination on the benefits of soybean through the conduct of trainings and seminars that will teach the farmers to plant soybeans, leading to increase in production.

Being a short-gestating and protein-rich crop, soybean will surely be of great help to the farmers of Surigao del Sur. Due to its potentials, there are plans to expand the project in other municipalities within CARAGA region including Cantilan, Carmen, Madrid, Lanuza, Barobo, Lingid, Bislig in Surigao del Sur as well as Trento and Talacogon in Agusan del Sur. ### (Anne Camille B. Brion)

Batanes’ Arius wine is cited as a promising product


A new product, Arius fruit wine, developed by the Batanes State College (BaSCO), received a special citation for being one of the promising products exhibited during the 9th Agriculture and Fisheries Technology Forum and Product Exhibition (NTF) organized by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR).

Ano yung Arius?” was the usual question asked by the participants and visitors when they came across the booth of BaSCO which displayed various products developed from the Arius fruits including wine, jam, yema, and pastillas.

Arius (Podocarpus costalis), a pine bearing sweet and sultry reddish purple berries, is indigenous to Batanes and is found thriving in the province for a long time. Before, it was famously utilized for aesthetics especially during the holiday season when it is decorated as a Christmas tree. Exploited for its landscaping appeal, the Arius pines are also grown in other parts of Luzon, especially in Metro Manila to give a touch of nature to urban areas such as plazas, parks, roadsides, and schools. However, Arius pines in Metro Manila do not bear berries unlike those grown in Batanes. Moreover, the berries were originally underutilized by the people and were left to be eaten by the birds, which are responsible for dispersing its seeds throughout the province.

Today, with the realization of how appealing the sweet taste and succulent texture of Arius berries, BaSCO has conducted projects focusing on developing various food products using Arius berries.

Two projects titled “Processing Technology Development and Utilization for Organically Grown Arius Fruits in Batanes” and “Arius Fruits Product Development” were led by Dr. Roger G. Baltazar, director for research and extension of BaSCO, and were supported by BAR through its banner program National Technology Commercialization Program (NTCP).

The projects aimed to develop various product technologies from Arius berries so to create value-adding strategies that will improve livelihood and profit. The products developed through these projects are Arius candies (e.g., pastillas, yema), jelly, jam, juice, pastries (e.g., tart), preserve, prunes, tea, and wine.

The “Arius Fruits Product Development” project also paved way for the development of Arius as feed additives to animal feeds and as fertilizer when fermented.

The special citation during the 9th NTF shows how promising the potentials of Arius not only as a wine but also as an indigenous commodity beginning to be known by the mass consumers as a versatile and delicious fruit.

The continuous collaboration of BaSCO and BAR aims to intensify the production and commercialization of Arius products to improve the income of farming communities in Batanes and to encourage investments that will help trigger economic rise in the province. ### (Leila Denisse E. Padilla)