AGRICULTURE Secretary Proceso Alcala said Monday the Aquino administration is geared towards rice production self-sufficiency within three years.

Alcala said the matter was the first topic that was discussed between him and President Benigno Aquino III when he was assigned to the position.

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"Sabay po kami ng Pangulo nagpalabas ng statement na in three years time we will not be importing rice anymore. Tayo po ay magiging self-sufficient sa rice production. This coming year for sure po na kung magi-import tayo siguradong mas kukunti compared to 2010. By 2012 again mas lower yung i-import natin. We project na progressive po yung pagbababa and then on 2013 we will try our best na zero importation na po tayo and we might be exporting organic fancy rice," Alcala said during Kapihan sa SM media forum on Monday.

Alcala detailed how his administration plans to attain this goal by 2013, among others: developing upland rice variety; tapping communities in the uplands especially the indigenous peoples; promoting the use of high grade seeds; improve irrigation system; and putting a stoppage to the order of the previous administration which allowed converting rice fields to banana plantations.

"Mindanao has high potentials in developing its agriculture productivity," Alcala said.

Today, only indigenous peoples and those who really care for the land have meticulously kept upland rice seeds.

The agriculture secretary said he issued an order to tap the indigenous people to develop upland rice variety. He said he already talked to somebody in Davao City about a good variety of upland rice seeds.

"We will try our best na we will try this sa Luzon, trial sa Visayas para sa ganoon magamit natin," Alcala said.

He however clarified that a variety that is good in Mindanao might not be good in Luzon or Visayas.

The Agriculture official said contrary to belief that upland rice takes a longer time to produce the commercial rice, an almost equal amount of produce can be attained between the two.

"Sometimes it takes three and a half months to four months while sa upland merong four months to four and a half months. What's important is we have to take trials. Kung ano ang pinakamagandang variety yung ang paparamihin natin," Alcala said.

Alcala said his administration will seek to increase the use of certified seeds from 20 percent to 47 percent by next year which will increase rice production.

He said in the entire country, only 10 percent are using hybrid seeds, 20 percent used certified seeds and 70 percent are using poor quality of seeds.

Alcala said the department targets to increase the 20 percent certified seed users to 45-47 percent.

"Ang increment ng paggamit lamang ng certified seeds as against sa poor quality of seeds ay 1.3 tons per hectare. Napakalaki na po noon compared to using low quality of seeds. Do you know kung gaano lang po kalaki ang ating ini-import? It’s between 10 to 12 percent ng total output ng palay," Alcala said.

Alcala said he has also come to Davao region to talk to banana exporters of his policy that no rice farms will be converted to banana plantations, which the previous administration allowed.

"Ang pagko-convert sa rice farms to banana plantation hindi yan ine-encourage. Napagusapan po namin yan kanina (with the banana plantation companies). May katwiran po rin sila pero sinabi ko sa kanila don't forget na meron tayong social responsibility sa ating kababayan. Hindi po yung sarili lang natin," Alcala said.

"Kung gusto natin ng additional area for banana then they coordinate with the department at bigyan namin sila ng area na pwede. Hindi po yung sisirain natin yung area for rice," he added.

Looking forward to attaining self-sufficiency, Alcala said the country best aim for exporting organic rice as this has become the trend in the international market.

"Kung tayo ay gagamit ng organic system of farming, that would be our entry, our only entry point sa international market I think. Kung silay gumagamit ng conventional ng pagsasaka, gumagamit ng pestisidyo then they will be very interested in buying from us organic rice. Right now ang hinahanap kasi sa ng ibang bansa, kahit dito sa atin, are healthy foods na po," Alcala said.(Jade C. Zaldivar)