By Anna Marie F. Bautista
Photos by Jayson C. Berto

It is a tradition for rice farmers in Anilao, Iloilo to swap varieties with each other. Every time they hear of a neighbor’s good yield, they eagerly ask for their fellow’s seeds and try it themselves, hoping that they will also enjoy a better harvest. Edgar Belago, 61, used to practice this.

Harvests for recent cropping periods have been productive for Mang Edgar, thanks to NSIC Rc 392 and Rc 480s ability to withstand soil salinity.

For more than a decade now, Belago and his family had been renting and tending a one-hectare farm beside their household. Here, they either planted rice varieties traded from neighbors, or replanted their seeds from the previous cropping season.

Despite their efforts to improve their harvest, Belago found he could only yield 35-45 sacks every cropping period. It was never enough to pay for their debts and expenses. Every season, every harvest was disheartening for the Belago family.

“The plants look healthy and well when the rain is pouring, but (they) gradually (wilted) with the scorching heat of the sun,” Belago said. His wife Maria Ana added, “Saltlike, whitish granules settle on top of the soil, and rust is present when we dig more.”

The couple also observed dark spots in the rice grains; worse, their crops dried up and died. They always believed that their soil was acidic. Belago tried planting vegetables on strategic areas in their ricefield but it was not as fruitful as he thought it would be.

While it was a losing venture, Belago’s wife said, “We (had) to keep on farming because we have needs to attend to.”

Saline Soils

From Belago’s farm and residence, it’s only a few minutes to Baringan Beach. The proximity of the beach to the farm is seen to contribute to the salinity of the farm’s soil. Every time the beach water reaches the land, salt particles are deposited on the soil and stay there when the weather is hot.

Their source of irrigation could not wash the salt sediments away because they only use a shallow tube well and the Belagos think that the water pump absorbs some of the water from the beach. Sometimes, when the wind sweeps across the land, salt particles are blown landwards and rest on top of the crops’ leaves.

“Our recent research results revealed that (Belago’s) farm soil reached 3.4-5.4 dS/m salinity level. This establishes that their farm is among those (in a) moderately saline environment,” said Virginia Agreda, head of the of the Western Visayas Integrated Agricultural Research Center (WESVIARC) in Iloilo City.

According to PhilRice experts, the warm weather worsens salt concentration in the soil. This affects plant growth, and usually results in reduced rice yields.

Standing Tall With Next-Gen

“Things are better now,” says the Ilonggo couple Edgar and Maria Ana Belago as they proudly present their rice crop that will soon be ready for harvest.

In 2014, WESVIARC, together with the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), introduced a number of rice varieties that are known to thrive in the saline soils of West Visayas provinces, including Iloilo. Studies have proven that suitable rice varieties have the mechanism to adapt to biotic and abiotic stresses.

This is part of the Participatory Variety Trial Selection (PVS) of the collaborative project, “Accelerating the development and adoption of next-generation rice varieties for major ecosystems in the Philippines,” known as Next-Gen. Researchers in this project aim to identify locationspecific varieties and introduce them to rice farmers for increased adoption. These quality inbred and hybrid rice varieties are known to be resistant to major pests and diseases, and are tolerant to adverse environments for better yields.

“Through the PVS, farmers can test for themselves how these improved varieties perform in their location’s condition. Ultimately, appropriate rice varieties become accessible for farmers’ use,” PhilRice expert Thelma Padolina said.

The Belago couple have tried planting NSIC Rc 392 and Rc 480 in their farm. They did not wait too long because the results quickly came: they enjoyed an increased harvest. “(Our) crops still (contend) with the warm weather. But, it does not dry (up) and die anymore. The truth is, we are pleased by the number of sacks that we have to count every harvest season. We now reach at least 90-120 sacks at 42 kilograms per cropping,” says a delighted Maria Ana.

Belago said he feels like he has finally passed a longtime test. For him, it was a blessing that they have proven these varieties, and that Rc 392 and Rc 480 were introduced to them.

Today, the Belago couple have become a living testimony and credible source of information for their neighboring farmers about the technology. “Things (are) better now,” Belago says.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s February 2018 issue.