DAVAO CITY — Former Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said upland rice farming on small plots could serve to mitigate hunger among farmers.

The “Kalahating Ektarya sa Bawat Pamilya (A half hectare for every family)” program (KEBP) will involve both hybrid and inbred rice, and is designed to address a possible downturn in production due to the prevailing El Niño.

Ang focus nito ay may makain ang pamilyang Pilipino in the rural areas kasi sila ang pinaka vulnerable whenever the prices of commodity goes up (The focus is for rural families to have something available to eat because they are the most vulnerable whenever rice prices rise),” he said.

Mr. Piñol, who is also a former chairman of the Mindanao Development Authority, said the recommended hybrid seed variety is the Tatag TH82 (mestizo 51 NSIC 350H) alongside AMO Foliar Fertilizer and chicken manure slurry. The combination has a target yield of at least two metric tons per half hectare, ultimately yielding 1,200 kilos of milled rice or 24 50-kilo sacks of rice.

According to Mr. Piñol, other ways of cushioning the expected rice shortage include the repair and rehabilitation of irrigation systems, especially those used for communal irrigation, and maximum use of high-yielding hybrid and inbred seed to increase production, including the Inbred RC 222 variety.

He urged all companies in the hybrid rice seed industry to conduct an inventory of the seed supply.

He said upland areas benefit from high moisture and regular rainfall even during El Niño events.

Mr. Piñol said the program will engage local government units to use their development and calamity funds to prepare for the impending rice crisis by aiding farm families in planting rice for their own consumption during the crisis and eventually as an eventual component of a broader food security strategy.

The KEBP initially targets North Cotabato’s upland rice areas in Arakan, Antipas, President Roxas, Magpet, Kidapawan, Makilala, Tulunan, M’Lang, Matalam, Aleosan, Midsayap, Libungan, Pigcawayan, Alamada, and Banisilan, where upland rice farming had long been practiced.

“For every farm family in the highlands or in non-irrigated but water supply-accessible areas, seed good for half a hectare will be provided along with the needed inputs for land preparation, fertilization, and plant care,” Mr. Piñol said.

Mr. Piñol created the program in partnership with Seedworks Philippines, a company that is promoting TH82.

According to Remus Morandante, vice-president of Seedworks Philippines, with TH82 farmers can enjoy high yields despite the many biotic and abiotic stresses affecting rice farming.

TH82 has a proven tolerance to intermittent drought and is applicable for direct and dry seeding cultures.

Seedworks, a plant science company, is engaged in the research, production, and marketing of rice, cotton, millet, mustard, and vegetables that grow even in adverse weather and soil conditions. — Maya M. Padillo