The Family Planner.

Plan with your best science, please!

By Frank A Hilario

April 21, 1740 hours Manila time. I have just come from a serious ‘Roundtable Discussion on Food Security with Focus on Rice’ organized by the College of Public Affairs (CPAf) of the University of the Philippines (UP) Los Baños and held at the Operations Room, Abelardo G Samonte Hall (Admin Bldg) on campus. (If it's UP, it must be something very important and very intellectual. It was a one-day conference; I was late because I wasn't invited to it, and I learned of it only mid-morning. Anyway, I am UP, and so I was attracted to it like a bee to a flower in waiting.)

The objective of this roundtable discussion is to come up with a list of recommendations that can guide the Department of Agriculture in defining strategies to increase rice production through the following: increase areas planted to rice, increase palay yield per hectare, minimize post-harvest losses, minimize marketing inefficiency, and minimize rice consumption wastage per capita.

Of the big names, from UPLB came Chancellor Luis Rey Velasco, CPAf Dean Agnes C Rola, Dean Victor B Ella of the College of Engineering and Agro-Industrial Technology (CEAT), and Dean Candida B Adalla of the College of Agriculture. CPAf because you need community; CEAT because you need technology, not only irrigation facilities.

Invited discussants included the Director of the Agricultural Training Institute, who sent a representative, and Crop Director Joy Eusebio of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), who attended; PCARRD for knowledge gathered and experience gained in the field of policy. The Provincial Agriculturists of Quezon Province, Laguna and Cavite were present, for what is obtaining in the villages.

Two important guest discussants were present: Rice Program Director Frisco Malabanan of the Department of Agriculture (DA), who was invited to discuss the DA program, and National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) President Emil Q Javier, for his perspective of science applied nationally and internationally. Javier is a one-man powerhouse. He has been Chancellor of UP Los Baños, President of the University of the Philippines System, and Philippine Secretary of Science (under President Ferdinand E Marcos). He is also currently President of the Asia Rice Foundation, a science-based NGO.

Late in the afternoon, Adalla summarized the discussions and mentioned that in order to increase the areas planted to rice, tapping the idle uplands of Mindanao was suggested. To increase palay yield per hectare, the planting of more hybrid rice was recommended. To minimize post-harvest losses, more efficient techniques and technologies were to be used.

I was listening to much of the discussion. Marketing and minimizing wastage were not discussed to the point of arriving at suggestions to improve the status quo. I thought ‘marketing inefficiency’ – such as the farmers not getting paid enough for their sweat and the traders getting too much for their saliva – was of the highest importance, but I didn’t want to sound like the activist I was 40 years ago, so I kept my mouth shut. The past will visit you if you welcome it.

And no, nobody brought up the subject and they did not discuss how to reduce the cost of producing a kilo of rice; with the high prices of inputs, harvest after harvest year after year the poor rice farmers have been busy harvesting more grains while the fertilizer and pesticide interests have been busy harvesting riches. They forgot to discuss organic farming and the like. (For good agricultural practice, my photograph shows rice hay laid on plots as ground cover to reduce evaporation of moisture and keep the topsoil cooler, not to mention to control the weeds. This is at the AgriPark, UPLB College of Agriculture.)

In any case, I was interested more on the question of population explosion, the number of children of the many poor being the usual scapegoat for the underdevelopment of a country, especially Roman Catholic Philippines, since the Catholic Church is opposed to artificial family planning methods and I am a Catholic, if I may say so myself. Rogelio N Concepcion of theSchool of Environmental Science and Management mentioned the ‘population problem’ as a fact;Merlyne M Paunlaqui assumed it to be so and proceeded to discuss the many methods of population control. He is entitled to his view; she is entitled to her own methods.

I had my own. I had them listed down, and when I was recognized, I said I had 5 points to make, and I did:

#1, I have 1 wife (pause), 12 children (pause), and they have only 1 mother. (Nobody laughed.) Fair warning.

#2, If you connect the population question with food production, you believe in the Malthusian theory of overpopulation. Now, the Malthusian theory states that population increase will always overtake food increase. So, where is your science? Inutile. No matter how much you increase food, the population will always increase faster. Is that your best science?

#3, Did you know that Taiwan is more overpopulated than China? And yet Taiwan has a much higher per capita production than China. (I had done my research.) So, it’s not the number of people.

#4, About the population growth figure for the Philippines mentioned by the lady speaker (MMP), 2.04% for 2007 is correct. That’s the NSO figure, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and I believe the Inquirer. Now, the NSO also mentions that the population growth rate of the Philippines has been decreasing since the 1960s. That is to say, the rate of increase has been decreasing. So, where is the population explosion?

#5, Somebody mentioned, but most of you forgot the rainfed and the uplands, what I refer to here as the drylands. There are more than 2 million hectares of those. Consider just 1 million hectares; if you increase the yield per hectare by 10 cavans, you have 10 million cavans of added rice in 100 days. If you plant rice twice a year, you have 20 million cavans. So, where is your rice crisis?

So, there is no problem with the population of the people. There is a problem with the population of scientists! (Laughter)

(My ad-lib about the population of scientists would be funnier if you knew that one of the claims to fame of UP Los Baños is that this campus has the highest concentration of doctors (PhDs) in the world.)

The discussants in the end agreed to create a small group to finesse the intellectual inputs before submitting to the DA. Excellent.

In his last remarks, among other things, Javier emphasized that the population size was nonetheless a real problem. I did not add to what I had already enumerated. Enough said, I said to myself. He is entitled to his opinion, and I am entitled to my silence.

But I was thinking: They must doubt the National Statistics Office (NSO) data, because it's government data. Is the NSO on the side of my President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (so, GMA doesn't have to badger the Church) and on the side of the Roman Catholic Church (so, no family planning necessary)? A question of credibility. The man in the middle: Poor NSO!?

So, what they want is for couples to be family planners. They believe that there are too many Filipinos already to share the rice and we can only produce so much. But why is it that family planning consists only of controlling the size of the family? Heaven knows how many problems a family has, the size being the least of them. I should know: I have a dozen.

That reminds me of a good friend of mine, Mike P, who had always believed in family planning the way I always had not believed. Years ago, when my family was not that many, this was our little conversation:

Mike: How many children do you have now?
Me: Six.
Mike: Why, you never heard of family planning?
Me: Oh yes, I have! In fact, I plan to have 12!

It so happens that I have 12 now. Our precious dozen.

I have always been adamant that the problem of development does not lie in the size of the population. Perhaps, the scientists and their managers believe less in their science than I do? Plan with your best science, please! And please remember: Excellence is in the details.

I studied to be a teacher, not a scientist, but since I studied at the University of the Philippines College of Agriculture (UPCA, now UP Los Baños), and since I have been editing technical papers in agriculture, forestry, aquaculture, statistics, crop science for the past 33 years, and with an open mind I have been assiduously reading email attachments and open-access documents in the Internet, I know enough of science to believe that it can be put to good use in this case, thatthe seed of excellent science sown would be fruitful and multiply a hundredfold, nay a thousandfold.

More specifically, I sincerely believe the State of the Art of the Science of Agriculture tells us we can, among other things:

Save on water and multiply the yield. Like, rice doesn’t need that much water that the farmers and their surrogate scientists have been using to grow this crop. Too much water! It has been shown that intermittent irrigation of rice results in the same harvest as flooded fields at the very least. We have published a paper on that in the Philippine Journal of Crop Science (PJCS) (EF Javier, S Furuya, R Soriano & F Garcia, April 2005, PJCS, 11-17). This is technology developed in the Philippines. It has also been shown that the system of rice intensification (SRI) requires much less water than conventional farming and yields even more. SRI means lower costs, higher profits (Anielyn C Yadao & Oscar B Zamora, August 2007, PJCS, 99-107). This is technology developed in Madagascar in 1983 (sciencelinks.jp), by Fr De Laulanie (ciifad.cornell.edu).

Apply little fertilizer and harvest much food. Scientists of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) based in India have developed what they call ‘microdosing’ by which you apply the right amount (just a little) of fertilizer at the right place at the right time. How little is little? Just one beer cap-full into each hole wherein goes the seed also (icrisat.org). ICRISAT says the thing is not to maximize the harvest but to maximize the return on investment. Your yield is good but we need more cash.

Sow the drylands and reap the good fruits. So what do you call the farms and fields of the Ilocos Region in Northern Philippines? Drylands. What do you call the uplands? Drylands, most of them. So what happens if you breed or select the more adapted specific crop for a specific locale, like a drought-resistant variety for a water-starved field? You increase the yield relative to the traditional variety planted. Try it sometime!

And don't plant only rice, rice, rice. After rice, for instance, why not sweet sorghum? This crop grows well in the drylands and has multiple uses: food, feed, fodder, forage, fuel, fence, fertilizer. Excellent. (See my 'Grey-to-Green Revolution,' frankahilario.blogspot.com for more details on this.)

Ladies & gentlemen of science & policy, the challenge is one of excellence. For that, you also need a paradigm shift – looking to reduce the cost of development rather than to reduce the number of beneficiaries of development!

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