A fact-finding mission led by various peasant groups and non-government organizations revealed that farmers in Nueva Ecija towns received substandard hybrid rice seeds under the government’s GMA Rice Program. Worse, the Department of Agriculture’s response to the problem was far from being satisfactory.
BY RONALYN V. OLEA
Unlike the traditional rice seeds, the SL-8H rice variety distributed to farmers in Nueva Ecija towns is red in color.
The SL-8H rice variety is the latest hybrid line introduced by Chinese company SL Agritech Corporation (SLAC) and promoted by the Department of Agriculture (DA) under its Hybrid Commercialization Rice Program.
As rice granary of the country, Nueva Ecija is included in the target areas for hybrid rice cultivation along with other provinces such as Ilocos Norte, Isabela, Camarines Sur, Leyte, Maguindanao, South Cotabato, Lanao del Norte and Bukidnon.
Finesa Cosico, an agriculturist and member of the scientist group Agham (Advocates of Science and Technology for the People), said that the red color of the SL-8H seeds may be attributed to a grain protectant, indicating that they were stored in warehouses for a long time.
Cosico is a member of the fact-finding mission led by Resistance and Solidarity Against Agrochemical Transnational Corporations (RESIST) on March 19. The team went to Barangay (village) Tondod in San Jose City and Brgy. Santo Rosario of Santo Domingo town.
Other participating organizations include the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP-Peasant Movement of the Philippines), Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL-Alliance of Farmers in Central Luzon), Farmers and Scientists for Development of Agriculture (MASIPAG), EED Task Force Indigenous Peoples (TFIP) and Genetic Resource Action International (GRAIN).
Willy Marbella, national officer of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, compares the red hybrid seeds distributed to farmers in Nueva Ecija to the traditional rice varieties in a press conference in Quezon City, April 4. (Photo by R. Olea)
Closer examination shows that the seeds were not uniformly red and appeared to have been mixed with another hybrid variety, the mission report stated.
Cosico noted that the bags containing the seeds have no tags to indicate their origin and other important information. She said that traceability, an important factor in quality control, is a problem.
Without this information, the team said, the bags could have been tampered before delivery to the market.
The report of the fact-finding team states that the SL-8H variety showed early signs of flowering immediately after transplanting. Cosico said flowering normally takes a month. The hybrid rice seeds also produced panicles empty of rice grains.
“This caused massive panic to the farmer communities,” the report said. Cosico said the farmers increased the application of fertilizer, on a weekly basis, to catch up with the early flowering of the rice crops.
“Such abnormalities from the regular practice of fertilization of hybrids caused farmers additional expenditures in buying fertilizers,” the report said.
Cosico said that planting of hybrid rice seeds is usually input-intensive. But she said that in the case of SL-8H, the application of additional fertilizers is extraordinary.
The groups criticized the DA’s response to the problem.
“The Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Rice Research Institute failed to explain the failure of the SL-8H hybrid seeds,” Cosico said.