THE Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Negros Occidental-South has collaborated with the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist (OPA), Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) and La Carlota City Government for the implementation of the sugarcane-rice cropping system (SRCS) project in Barangay Nagasi, La Carlota City.

The land being tilled by members of Hacienda Esperanza Communal Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association (Hecarba) was identified as one of the additional sites of the project in the province.

Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer I Enrique Paderes, during the launching of the project on Wednesday, February 3, said the project is seen to directly benefit 30 members of the association.

Paderes said the agency is happy that such collaboration was materialized and that they will also replicate the project to other agrarian reform communities in the southern part of Negros Occidental.

He also expressed gratitude to their partner-agencies for making agrarian reform beneficiaries organizations (Arbos) as priorities of the intercropping project.

Provincial Agriculturist Japhet Masculino, for his part, emphasized that SRCS will not only benefit the farmer-beneficiaries but also the whole community because it contributes to ensuring food security in the province.

"This sugarcane-rice cropping project, this technology would provide additional rice production for Negros Occidental," he added.

The official earlier told SunStar Bacolod that the province is banking on SRIS to become rice self-sufficient and even explore export potentials for the commodity.

In terms of potential, Masculino said the province has 190,000 hectares of sugarcane farms.

"If we can utilize all these areas, this would mean an additional rice production for the province," he said, adding that "for instance, if we can only produce 10 sacks of palay per hectare, this would translate to 1.9 million bags of palay or about 900,000 bags of rice."

OPA records showed that Negros Occidental, with 325,000 metric tons average annual production, has an average monthly rice consumption requirement of 600,000 bags.

Its sufficiency level ranges from 95 percent to 85 percent depending on climatic conditions.

In terms of deficit, it ranges from 300,000 to 900,000 bags, it added.

This means that the additional production through sugarcane-rice intercropping can offset the province's deficit in rice, he said.

In September 2020, the Provincial Government reaped its first harvest in the SRIS pilot site located in Barangay Aranda in Hinigaran town.

Rice crops, planted alongside sugarcane in the block farm of Hacienda Bagacay Workers Carper Beneficiaries Association, were harvested three months after these were planted in June last year.

Lawyer Ignacio Santillana, of the SRA's Office of the Deputy Administrator for Research, Development and Extension Department, expressed support in pursuing the collaboration and expanding the project to other agrarian reform areas in the province.

For his part, Mayor Rex Jalando-on lauded the efforts of the DAR, OPA and SRA for converging in order to create bigger impacts to the lives of farmers.

"I welcome this kind of project, hence, I am giving my support," Jalando-on said, assuring that the local government will also try its best to extend all possible assistance to the farmers organization to ensure the success of the project.

Meanwhile, Hecarba Chairperson Estama expressed gratitude and optimism that the project will be sustained and will help them boost the income of their members' households.