It is very hard to ignore the potential of hybrid rice in making the Philippines more than 100 percent self-sufficient for grain.
Chinese “super hybrid rice” easily attains yields in excess of 10 metric tons (MT) per hectare (ha) of palay (unmilled rice), which is significantly above the 4- to 4.5-MT/ha average yield in the Philippines.
However, it should be no surprise that China is much further ahead in researching and developing hybrid rice varieties, as professor Yuan Longping successfully developed the first high-yielding rice strain as early as 1973 after about 10 years of research. Longping would continue leading China’s development of cutting-edge hybrid rice varieties, including a strain that can grow in salty water.
In the Philippines, Chinese hybrid rice technology is being propagated by the Philippine-Sino Center for Agricultural Technology (PhilSCAT) based in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija. For several decades, both the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in Los Baños, Laguna, and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) based in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija have been researching and developing hybrid rice strains, helping the country attain higher palay yields.
However, there is still much hesitation on the part of farmers and the Philippines as a whole to go full-blast in hybrid rice adoption. If that was not the case, the country would have easily attained more than 100 percent self-sufficiency in rice as even a 20-per cent yield in palay output per hectare can easily translate to attaining more than 100 percent self-sufficiency.
Additionally, a 20-per cent increase in palay output per hectare is not unrealistic, as this means bumping up the per hectare average in the production in the Philippines from 4.8 to 5.4 MT/ha. Take note that there are hybrid rice varieties in the Philippines that have proven yields of 8 to 12 MT/ha.
The Philippines also has private players in the hybrid rice industry, which bodes well for the domestic rice sector, as farmers can have numerous choices when it comes to hybrid rice seeds and inputs.
An overview for a paper on the Philippine hybrid rice industry by Mordor Intelligence Private Ltd. based in India and posted on their website showed that the local market for hybrid seeds is projected to register a compound annual growth rate of 5.2 percent from 2022 to 2027. This means that the adoption of hybrid rice varieties by farmers is expected to increase.
On private companies that are interested in the hybrid rice business, the paper states that “the Philippine hybrid rice seed market is a consolidated one, with few players in the market.” It named Bayer AG, Pioneer Hi-Bred Philippines Inc., SL Agritech Corp., Syngenta Philippines Inc., and Yuan Longping High-Tech Agriculture Co. Ltd. as the major players, describing them as “investing heavily in R&D (research and development) to launch innovative products as per the requirement of the farmers.”
On the part of the government, the distribution of hybrid rice seeds still forms part of the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) National Rice Program and should be part of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund-Seed and Extension program. The latter gets 3 billion PHP per year from 2019 to 2024 based on Republic Act 11203, or the “Rice Tariffication Law.”
There are still more farmers who prefer to use certified in-bred seeds, saved seeds, or traditional varieties that, however, produce yields below the national average.
As early as 2013, the Philippine Seed Industry Council (NSIC) approved the release of the first flood-tolerant hybrid rice variety in the country labeled as NSIC Rc194, which was also known as Submarino 1. A press statement from the PhilRice said that Submarino 1 has a submergence tolerance gene that was discovered by IRRI and the University of California-Davis from an Indian rice variety, FR13A.
R&D and trials for drought-resistant hybrid strains are also ongoing, which will help farmers cope with extreme weather changes caused by climate change.
However, while hybrid rice is one factor in pushing rice self-sufficiency for the country, it isn’t the ultimate solution to leveling up Philippine palay production and attaining food security or sovereignty. Other factors like good agricultural practices, irrigation, mechanization, and digitization can help progress palay production alongside the use of hybrid seeds.