MANDAON, MASBATE – The parched grounds underneath the verdant panicles of rice greeted us as we traversed Purok Palayan in Barangay Alas this municipality, two months after the distribution of upland rice to the beneficiaries of the Special Area for Agricultural Development (SAAD).

Rose Ann R. Trabado, one of the six (6) Area Coordinators of SAAD in the province of Masbate said that as of August 31, this year, they have distributed 535 bags of 40 kilograms upland rice to the beneficiaries of Mandaon out of the targeted 1,077 for the municipality.   Meanwhile, Barangay Alas has 170 beneficiaries of upland and rainfed rice under SAAD. Eighty eight (88) of them are female and  82 are male.

The family of Merlie Pardiño, 59 years old and her husband Epifanio, 63 years old, is one of the beneficiaries in this barangay.   Mang Epifanio is a fisherman but as he ages he became sickly, and he seldom go to the sea especially during rainy season as he cannot withstand the cold anymore. Luckily, they have 2-hectare upland area which they usually plant with rice for their subsistence to support their four (4) elementary grade children. Merlie has been planting rice since they got married and harvests an average of 50-60 cavans per hectare. She and her husband have never attended any training on rice and other crops production. With the interventions she got from SAAD such as training on upland rice production, rice seeds and fertilizers, she is hopeful that she will obtain higher yields this time.

Merlie planted RC 222 and 216 immediately after distribution of the SAAD interventions in the last week of July. “Malaking tulong ang ibinigay na binhi dahil hindi ko na kailangang bumili,” said Merlie. In the mountainous and hilly areas of Mandaon which is currently experiencing a dry spell, NSIC RC 222 or Tubigan 18 – a variety bred by IRRI, is suitable as it is drought tolerant, well adapted in rainfed areas and has a better chance for a higher yield as it is a new and improved variety released in 2010.  Researches conducted by IRRI have  shown that varieties that were released 20 or 30 years ago often yield about 1 ton/hectare less when they are grown today as compared to the time when they first appeared. These varieities are not adapted anymore to the fast  changing environment. RC 222 has also performed well in rainfed trials, yielding 6-8 tons in a hectare under direct-seeded conditions with standard management, and maturing in 105-110 days.

Lina Rico, 38, also received upland rice and started planting last July 25. Her husband Francisco,42, is a tenant farmer. Since 1998, they have been tilling any available land for tenancy in their neighborhood. Currently, their 1 hectare leased land is their only source of income for their family of seven (7).

Thelma Cabales, 58, widow, supports her three (3) children by sustaining three croppings of upland rice in their 2 hectare rice field. She hired laborers from land preparation to harvesting. During planting, she employs laborers whom she paid two (2) sacks of rice seeds for every one (1) sack seed planted. Her highest yield recorded was 60 cavans per hectare and lowest yield recorded was 20 cavans per hectare.

Wilma Valencia, 62, and her husband Isaac, 65, are also upland farmers in Bgy. Alas. For their 1.25 hectare rice filed, they hire laborers  who do land preparation at P400/day. Although they are already 40 years in rice farming  Isaac has never attended any training on new rice production technology, thus he never learned new technologies. As they are also aged, they just rely on hired labors to do the farm works. They usually obtain an average yield of 30-40 cavans/hectare. “Malaking tulong sa amin ang binhi galing SAAD dahil nagpapalitan lang kami ng binhi dito sa aming purok,” said Aling Wilma. The couple are very proud to be lifetime farmers because through their industry, they were able to send their three (3) children to college earning a degree in computer and education.

Under the SAAD program, a total of 5,990 beneficiaries from the selected six (6) municipalities of the province of Masbate will receive various interventions for the year 2018 such as upland rice seeds, small farm equipment, fertilizers, livestock, vegetable seeds and planting materials. Out of this total number, 3,135 are upland rice farmers

Barangay Captain Anabelle C. Victor of Alas, Mandaon confirmed that Alas has seven (7) Sitios and are composed of 529 households with 2,578 population. As the terrain is mostly sloping and some are mountainous, all rice areas are rainfed.

Merlie, Lina, Thelma and Wilma have one thing in common. These women have grit and guts and hope lits in their eyes everytime the SAAD area coordinators visit their areas because amidst all odds, they know bright prospects await the beneficiaries of the program. As an answer to their prayers, the long awaited rain brought by southwest monsoon started pouring as our ferry left the port of Masbate City. PAGASA forecast said that it was 54% of August expected rainfall that was experienced in just one day. (Lovella P. Guarin)