A rice­bowl left un­touched

Sun.Star Davao - - OPINION - RIZ P. SUNIO

NEED­LESS to say, food is high in de­mand. It is a ba­sic need for hu­mans ev­ery day. But de­spite the Philip­pines be­ing blessed with plenty of rich, arable lands, its full po­ten­tial for agri­cul­ture is not de­vel­oped enough.

Lanao del Sur, for ex­am­ple, might just pos­sess the po­ten­tial to feed the coun­try, but its agri­cul­ture is un­der­de­vel­oped.

Here in Marawi alone, we en­joy a sig­nif­i­cant amount of rain­fall and an av­er­age an­nual tem­per­a­ture of 23°C. The Baguio-like cli­mate al­lows even the plant­ing of straw­ber­ries here. There’s also the Lake Lanao, the coun­try’s sec­ond largest fresh­wa­ter lake, where streams and rivers are con­nected, mak­ing ir­ri­ga­tion read­ily avail­able in many parts of the prov­ince.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr. Juliet Bangi of the Min­danao State Univer­sity – Marawi’s Col­lege of Agri­cul­ture, the soil tex­ture in Lanao del Sur varies from sandy loam to clay loam, which is one of the best soils for grow­ing crops, es­pe­cially in up­land ar­eas. These kinds of soils are found mostly in the mu­nic­i­palies of Butig, Mal­a­bang, and Bal­aba­gan.

De­spite all these agrar­ian as­sets avail­able at Lanao del Sur’s dis­posal, the prov­ince still buys 75 per­cent to 90 per­cent of its rice from neigh­bor­ing prov­inces, ac­cord­ing to Dr. Bangi. The prov­ince pri­mar­ily cul­ti­vates co­conut and abaca, but has very lit­tle pro­duc­tion of it. More­over, the co­conut trees here are al­ready too old and the abaca plants are plagued with dis­ease, Dr. Bangi added. High value crops such as ca­cao, cof­fee, fruit trees, and ba­nanas are also cul­ti­vated, but also have low pro­duc­tiv­ity.

The res­i­dents of Lanao del Sur also pre­fer to en­gage in busi­ness rather than farm­ing. There is also the con­stantly loom­ing prob­lem about peace and or­der that con­trib­utes to the re­gion’s in­abil­ity to un­leash its full po­ten­tial in agri­cul­ture. Only up­land rice and corn are the crops with sta­ble pro­duc­tion in the re­gion, said Dr. Bangi.

The rich agri­cul­tural qual­i­ties of the lands of Lanao del Sur could con­trib­ute to the na­tional food sup­ply prob­lem that con­stantly pops up. If only farm­ers were more open to in­no­va­tions in agri­cul­tural prac­tice, if res­i­dents of the Prov­ince would par­tic­i­pate more in agri­cul­ture, and if the gov­ern­ment would be able to in­vest more in de­vel­op­ing agri­cul­ture in the Re­gion, Lanao del Sur could fill in the low lev­els of rice stocks that the Na­tional Food Au­thor­ity (NFA) has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing in some re­gions.

There was a time when other coun­tries would go to us to study about the Philip­pines’ food and rice pro­duc­tion. Now, we are the ones who need their rice.

By pay­ing at­ten­tion more on Lanao del Sur’s farm­ing po­ten­tial, the amount of rice that we im­port from other coun­tries such as China and Thai­land will be re­duced. In some parts of the coun­try, rice fields are bull­dozed and trans­formed to roads or com­mer­cial build­ing lots.

In Bukid­non, hectares of rice fields are re­placed with pineap­ple plan­ta­tions. Here in Lanao del Sur that brims with po­ten­tial for a boom­ing agri­cul­tural pro­duce, some rich lands re­main al­most un­touched. Yet, re­ports of drop­ping food stocks and ris­ing prices for rice, fruits, and veg­eta­bles hap­pen ev­ery so of­ten.

The coun­try should be uti­liz­ing its own agri­cul­tural as­sets, rather than mak­ing quick but costly so­lu­tions, such as im­por­ta­tion, to ad­dress our food sup­ply prob­lems. Per­haps, it is also be­cause of the re­duced at­ti­tude of the peo­ple to­wards agri­cul­ture and sup­ply­ing real food for peo­ple has also sank.

Peo­ple refuse to make their hands dirty – lit­er­ally. It may be be­cause the ma­jor­ity has set their eyes on the de­sir­abil­ity of a job un­der a cool shade. A work set­ting where they wear suits in­side an air-con­di­tioned room while sit­ting in a swivel chair.

We may be shift­ing to a tech­no­log­i­cal age, but our bi­o­log­i­cal de­sign to eat and nourish our bod­ies will never change.

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