By Yvette Tan

Photos by Noel Guevara/ADB, courtesy of CTI-Southeast Asia

Reynaldo San Jose, better known as ‘Mang Rey,’ has been farming for more than 30 years. He got into the industry after he resigned from his position in local government service. “Nagsaka na ako kasi kinondisyon ko na yung sarili ko na maghanap na ng trabaho,” he says. “Siyempre, unang pangangailangan ng pamilya ay yung pagkain.”

His 35-hectare farmland in Taytay, Palawan grows coconut, mangoes, and rice. The self-taught farmer loves experimenting, and is always on the lookout for projects to take on. “Hindi ako agriculturist. Ang natapos ko ay sa barko. Yung mga kaklase ko na nagtapos ng agriculture, binigay nila sa akin mga libro nila, mga theses about agriculture. Kumbaga, self-study na lang.”

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Rey San Jose in front of his field of experimental saltwater rice.

Organized Farming

Mang Rey stresses the importance of a farm plan. “Sa isang hektarya, tataniman mo ng iba-iba pero naka-layout,” he says. “Uumpisahan mo rin yan sa palay, asi una yang pakikinabangan. Pag na-harvest mo na yung palay, dito na yung banana. Bago dito yung kape. Habang naghihintay ka ng coconut na 6 to 7 years, ito yung magmi-maintain sa ’yo. Yung saging na kasi mabilis eh. Bago yung kape na two years lang namumunga.”

He also plants bamboo. Not only is it a valuable product, it also helps prevent erosion. By planting different crops in strategic places, Mang Rey ensures that he has a constant source of income, no matter what the season. “Kaya ang nangyayari ngayon, magpipitas sila ng kape, magtitingin ng saging na pwede na nilang ibenta. Yung coconut naman kasi makikita mo na lumalaki. Pero pag nawala na yung ibang banana, ang maiiwan naman sa huli yung niyog at coffee,” he says. “Pag nag-fail yung rice ko, dito ako kukuha sa other crops.”

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Saltwater-Resistant Rice Experiment

His latest successful experiment is the propagation of different types of climate-smart rice
varieties, including those that are resistant to high salinity
in a project called Coastal and Marine Resources Management in the Coral Triangle-Southeast Asia (CTI-SEA), which was funded by the Asian Development Bank and the Global Environment Facility implemented by management consulting firm PRIMEX.

Mang Rey says he tested a total of 21 rice varieties from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) from 2013 to 2017, starting with the Salinas 1 and 9 which were developed by IRRI to
grow in salt-affected ricelands. Other varieties that were piloted in Mang Rey’s farm were
Katihan which can thrive in farms with limited water supply, Sahod Ulan for drought affected
areas, and Submarino for ricelands prone to flooding.
“CTI-SEA regularly provided Mang Rey with inputs to motivate him to use the new rice varieties in his farm,” says Raul Roldan CTI-SEA Deputy Team Leader for the Philippines. “Mang Rey’s equity of course is the land and labor.”

Farming is not easy, and experimenting with crops even less so. What’s more, it can be expensive. “Mahirap mag-test kasi it involves time and money,” Mang Rey says. “Game naman ako sa ganon.”

Testing involves planting 1/2 a kilo of grain in around 1,000 square meters, a small plot of land. “Manageable. Minsan apat na variety na klase tapos pagsasabay-sabayin mo yon at pagsasabayin mo rin yung ani.”

Harvest times can be synchronized. “Halimbawa, ang edad ng pinakamatanda na variety sa Pilipinas ay 121 days bago i-harvest. Yung isa naman ay 115. Ico-compute mo para anihin mo yon nang sabay-sabay. Hindi mo sila sabay-sabay na itatanim pero sabay-sabay silang iha-harvest.”

The benefit of such a system is that it promotes natural cross-breeding between the rice varieties. “Kung meron makapunta dito, sa susunod na generation nila, itatanim ko ulit yan, paparamihin,” Mang Rey says.

He recounts one of his successful experiments, which happened before the CTI-SEA project. “Ilang butil lang at itinanim ko. Mga pangalawa, marami-rami na. Pangatlo, umani na ako ng 58 bags,” he says.

Unfortunately, despite the experiment´s success, he was forced to stop planting that variety because of a lack of buyers in Palawan. Ironically, it was a variety of red rice that’s expensive in Manila. “Mahal siya pero doon sa amin hindi siya binibili. Kaya tinigilan ko yon. Kasi aanuhin mo yung production mo na hindi naman bibilihin?”

Until now, only China has been able to produce saltwater-resistant rice. Mang Rey’s success in this field could mean big opportunities for Philippine farmers.

For one thing, it could be a solution to the rice shortage that many fear may affect the country. Mang Rey says that they’ve successfully dealt with this in Taytay. “Actually, sa bayan namin, na-solve na namin. Sumobra na yung production namin. Nakapag-benta na kami sa ibang municipality ng Palawan. Kahit dito sa Manila, nakapag-padala na kami.”

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Training Others to Farm, Experiment, and Battle Climate Change

Producing rice that grows in saltwater is important because of climate change. “Yung mga dating sakahan na hindi inaabot ng dagat, inaabot na. Nararamdaman na natin yon,” Mang Rey says, referring to how rising sea levels has meant the intrusion of saltwater into coastal areas, leading to increased salinity in agricultural land.

Climate change has been wreaking havoc on agriculture all over the world. “Noong panahon may cropping pattern kami. Pero ngayon through experience na lang. Tantsahan na lang ang laban dyan,” Mang Rey explains. “Iba na talaga ngayon yung tamang cropping season.”

These challenges only make Mang Rey more determined to make sure his experiments succeed. “Yung sekreto, hindi mo hangad yung pera. May dedikasyon,” he says. “Sa field ng science and agriculture, wag mong tutuldukan yung alam mo ngayon kasi after three years magbabago yan. Continuous dapat.”

Though his project with CTI-Southeast Asia has ended, Mang Rey is determined to keep up his agricultural experimentation. He’s also started sharing his findings—and his farmland—with others. A Farmers’ Day was also organized by CTI-SEA in December 2016 so that other farmers
in Taytay and nearby municipalities can see for themselves the different IRRI varieties growing
in Mang Rey’s farm and bring home samples of the rice for testing in their own farmlands.

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Seed growers in Taytay, Palawan examine the grain quality of climate-smart rice in the field of Rey San Jose, CTI-SEA farmer cooperator during the Farmer’s Day. (Photo courtesy of CTI-SEA)

When the CTI-SEA project ended in December 2017, Mang Rey continued to spread his
advocacy and share his knowledge with others. His farm is now a study area of central Taytay
National High School, where students plant climate smart rice as part of their science activities.

Farming may not always be easy, but Mang Rey wouldn’t have it any other way. “Mabusisi ang trabaho. Kaya nga doon sa hindi nakaka-intindi, nakakapagod sa kanila yon,” Mang Rey admits. “Sa akin naman, kuntento ako doon at masaya ako. Mundo ko yon eh.”