6 Interesting Facts about Rice Cultivation in the Philippines
Rice permeates virtually every facet of Filipino life—sometimes in surprising ways. This humble grass, considered by many as the most important agricultural product of the country and the rest of monsoon Asia, is now being cultivated in the Philippines in amounts never before achieved. If you’ve always wanted to learn more about this crop, below are six interesting things about rice cultivation in the Philippines that you may not have known about.
1.) The Species of Rice Most of Us Enjoy Today Probably Came from Mainland Asia
The earliest archaeological evidence shows that, in the Philippines, rice was first cultivated in the Cagayan Valley, around 3,240 years ago, give or take 150 years. While this seems ancient, there is evidence of Oryza sativa (domestic rice) being cultivated in the Yangtze River Valley in China about 12,000 years ago.
The rice found in the Cagayan Valley site was most likely to be Oryza sativa, which is still the species of rice that is most cultivated in the Philippines today. Domestic rice is likely to have reached the archipelago through waves of seaborne human migration from mainland Asia, which means that the rice species we are most familiar with probably did not originate in the Philippines.
2.) The Philippines Is Home to Four Native Wild Rice Species
Even though Oryza sativa is likely to be alien to the archipelago, the Philippines also has its own native rice species. The country is home to Oryza meyeriana, Oryza minuta, Oryza rufipogon, and Oryza officinalis, with possibly dozens of different subspecies. These rice species grow wild and are not widely cultivated due to their low yield.
However, genes from these species are used in the development of new Oryza sativa varieties in research centers throughout the world. These species are known for their resistance to drought, insects, salinity, and other adverse conditions, making their genes extremely valuable in ensuring future food security not only in the Philippines but around the world. Future farmers wanting to know how to grow rice will benefit the most in the discovery of new rice variants that arise from such research.
3.) The Philippines Is the World’s Eighth-Largest Rice Producer
Despite its comparative limitations in suitable flatland areas, mechanization, and modern cultivation practices, the Philippines is nevertheless one of the world’s biggest producers of rice, coming at eighth, with 19.44 million metric tons of production in 2020. However, this is far behind the leading producer China, which produced 211.86 million metric tons in the same year.
4.) We Eat and Waste More Rice Than We Produce
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the average Filipino consumes 118.81 kilograms (kg) of rice annually. This is about 325.5 grams of milled rice daily, making Filipinos one of the world’s heaviest rice consumers per capita. However, warehouse losses from pests and negligence ensure a significant portion of rice produced is wasted.
Even as the country posted record production in 2020, rice imported to the Philippines amounted to around 2.23 million metric tons that year. However, total annual consumption was estimated to only be 12.9 million metric tons, which means almost half of rice available in 2020 from both domestic and foreign sources is not consumed as intended. This is partly due to various inefficiencies in processing, transport, storage, and market preferences that result in waste.
5.) It Costs P47,000 to Produce a Hectare of Palay
According to a 2021 report by the Philippine Statistics Authority, the per-hectare median cost of cultivating rice in the Philippines in 2020 came out to about PHP 47,000. However, this is not particularly handy, as the cost varies dramatically per region.
For instance, the average cost per hectare in Ilocos Norte came out to PHP 64,776, with costs going up to PHP 66,336 during dry season cropping. For wet season cropping, Cagayan Valley emerged the most expensive, at PHP 66,580 per hectare.
Meanwhile, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) emerged as the most affordable place to grow palay, costing farmers only PHP 38,610 per hectare during the dry season and PHP 35,197 per hectare during the wet season.
This variation in costs comes down to the different challenges of rice production in different regions. Less fertile soil with limited irrigation options, for instance, will raise the cost of fertilizer and water inputs. Transportation and delivery costs and other external market forces will also add or detract from the average cost per hectare.
6.) Philippine Palay Production Has Almost Quadrupled Since the 1970s
In 1970, the Philippine population was 35.8 million and total rice production was at 5.32 million metric tons. Fast forward 50 years to 2020, and the population has increased to 109.6 million people and rice production nearly quadrupled to 19.29 million metric tons.
While this only seems like production went slightly above the pace of population growth, there are other things behind those numbers. In that time, the rural population barely doubled, due to massive urban migration. Farmers, including those involved in rice cultivation, also started to comprise a smaller proportion of the population, an issue that has become worse in recent years. There is also less arable land available today than 50 years ago, due to climate change and soil mismanagement.
However, the use of new high-yield rice varieties, agriculture technology investments, as well as better rural infrastructure development have significantly improved rice production, more than compensating for these losses. In a few generations, the Philippines may follow the path of other economically developed countries, where a very small group of well-compensated farmers produce exponentially more food.
Rice is an endlessly fascinating subject that goes beyond its role as an affordable source of calories. Apart from playing a role in our culture, it also links us to billions of other people in the world. Hopefully, these facts will give you pause whenever you prepare or eat rice.