It’s a time to rice to power!

Makko’s adventures in: IRRI Rice Museum (July 2013)

Our power to survive as a people is greatly attributed on how we value rice. Unfortunately, Filipinos waste around 1,200 tons of rice per day, which is conservatively estimated to cost P14.4 million worth of rice wasted per day according to a report by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (see online document). For a country struggling to rise to power among other ASEAN countries as an economic powerhouse, our rice-wasting culture would surely not help achieve our dream of prosperity and near-zero poverty. But is this rice-wasting culture really a part of our identity as long time citizens of the Philippines?

Our rice culture under the three pillars of sustainability
The concept of sustainability has long been known to farming folk way before the word “sustainability” became main stream. The cultivation of rice has always been, from my experience as an indo-“genius” people (a play on the word “indigenous”, as termed by film maker Eric de Guia), a culture of sustainability in practice. Planting, tending, and harvesting rice, as it cycles in the lifestyles of indigenous people, not only form values of good morals and right conduct, and most of all, saving and conserving rice. It also imbibes a culture fit for a society to move forward towards the future sustainably.

In the Philippine highlands, particularly in the present western Mt. Province, cultural practices and rituals are almost always associated with rice production. For example, the concept of ub-ubbo/ugbo or collaborative voluntary labor. Not only is the labor-intensive process of planting or harvesting rice made lighter for the person/family planting/harvesting rice, but social cohesion is strengthened at the same time. This practice not only equates to an equitable distribution of resources, in Conway’s (1986) description of agro-ecosystems, but also in easing up the process in terms of time and labor, for planting and harvesting rice. As a result, economic implications mean that productivity is higher, compared when ub-ubbo/ugbo is not practiced.

At the same time, social capital is strengthened for the community. The quality of social networks is not only stronger, but valued more highly as well. This is the case since, once your paddy field has been taken cared of, you are “obliged” to work for others. It is “obliged” in the sense that you really do not think of it as an obligation, but rather as a sense of goodwill to do well for your neighbor. For if you do not do well, your sense of being with the community is either not good, or maybe you are meant to tend paddy fields on an island (see also the dissertation of Joachim Heinrich Voss, University of Toronto, 1983).

Finally, environmental effects include the reduced need to use farm inputs. Insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are not that much of a thought since the extra labor account for such needs. For example, the availability of more people equate to the practice of more people to weed, to gather snails and other rice field pests, and to manually embed rice stalks for fertilizing the field.

Such, and many other practices related to rice production are beneficial sustainably, not only for the environment, but also for the people and the economy. This also holds true for other countries worldwide, where the culture for rice allowed the development of various technologies not possible without rice.

Rice Culture at IRRI Rice Museum

At the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Rice Museum, various interesting technologies have been developed for the sake of rice. From the storage, transportation of rice stalks or rice seedlings, to the technologies for safeguarding rice paddies, what strikes me most, is the convergence of tools for harvesting rice, as shown below. Personally, it implies that the level of how people value rice were very much similar not only for the Philippines, but of other Asian countries as well.

Various rice harvesting tools on display at the IRRI Rice Museum

Various rice harvesting tools on display at the IRRI Rice Museum

Furthermore, the practice of holding the harvesting tool is also similar. It further instills the fact that rice is not just a culture of a single people, but for various other peoples as well.

This is the way you hold it

This is the way you hold it, just make ipit-ipit.

Rice for all Filipinos

Our indigenous cultures highly value rice. The onset of “unlimited rice” or “extra rice” as promos for restaurants and other food establishments may also indicate that rice is indeed much loved by Filipinos. However, current data suggest that rice is overall undervalued as a cultural phenomenon and maybe even as food. This calls for measures to really highlight the processes involved in producing and maintaining rice. Once we know its true value, our culture for rice will not only be highly esteemed, but also an essential tool for achieving sustainable development for our country. Rice is like gold, that you would not throw away if something’s left on your plate. Now is the time for us Filipinos to value rice, as a food, as a culture, as a treasure. Knowing the value of rice, in my personal opinion, is a pre-requisite for us to rise as a progressive and powerful nation.

Visit the IRRI Rice Museum at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines. It is open Monday to Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. 😀 For more info, check this link:

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