What exactly does it take to produce a grain of rice?
Lots of work and capital.
Although rice is a staple of the Pinoy dining table, few Filipinos understand how the country’s favorite grain changes from binhi (seed) to bigas (ground rice).
When Make a Difference (MAD) Travel, his social tourism business was suspended due to the pandemic, agroforestry and tourism entrepreneur Raf Dionisio tried his hand at growing rice. He partnered with two farmers from Sitio Yangil in Zambales, the community that MAD Travel works with, to see if rice cultivation could be a viable business addition to MAD Market, the farm-to-home online store, and to find out why this is such a controversial industry.
It breaks down, for the layman, a simplified process that many Filipino rice farmers must follow.
Earth comes first. Some farmers own their own land. Others will rent it to a landowner in exchange for part of the harvest. The profit share will depend on their negotiations, but is usually between 10 and 20 percent of the harvest.
Will there be water? Since rice is a crop that consumes a lot of water, the farmer will therefore have to find a way to ensure that his field never goes dry. The best way to do this is through irrigation, but since many farmers in the Philippines do not have access to proper irrigation facilities, they have to rely on the weather conditions. âIf it is natural irrigation, therefore rain-fed, then they will probably plant in May-June. If it’s irrigated, they can probably plant most of the year, âDionisio said.
Prepare the ground. Soil health is a crucial part of agriculture. The farmer will need to check if the soil has enough nutrients to support the crops planted. Otherwise, it will need to be amended with fertilizer. They will also plow the field to aerate it. This is actually what is depicted in these paintings of farmers with carabao plows. Fertilizers will cost money, and farmers often have to borrow from a lender at around 140% interest per year.
See the seeds. Then the farmer has to acquire seeds. These can be purchased or they can sometimes be acquired free of charge from the Ministry of Agriculture through the Provincial Office of Agriculture. The seeds will be germinated in a small batch before being planted in the field. Germination takes place at the same time as the preparation of the ground.
It’s time to plant! Once the seedlings have reached the desired height, the farmer will transfer them to the field once it starts to rain as rice needs a swampy environment to thrive. “Here it is planted manually, so the distance and spacing can be a bit prone to human inconsistencies, but we see that a machine would be very useful for planting, if we can get it, of course,” a declared Dionisio.
Care and culture. While the rice is growing, the farmer maintains the field by keeping pests like birds and rats away, while making sure their crops are disease free. They also need to make sure the rice is watered properly, and in areas without sufficient rain, this may mean using gasoline pumps to pump groundwater for watering. Paying for gas is another expense.
Time of harvest! If the farmer is lucky, he will have waited the full 115 days before harvesting. Sometimes the arrival of a typhoon will force them to harvest a week or two earlier, but it is better to have a young harvest rather than none. âWhen you harvest, again, it can be manual, so the guys come out with their sickles and knives and scythes or can be machine made, like in other countries,â Dionisio said.
If you think the process ends here, you are wrong! Next week, I’ll cover the rest of what Dionisio found about the rice production process, as well as areas where farmers have to shell out money, and why they end up spending so much but still earn so little.
And here you thought planting rice was just putting seeds on the ground and pulling up the crop plants afterwards!
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