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Farmer-bred Rice Variety Produces Best Puto Calasiao

12 December 2012

This year’s puto festival in Calasiao, Pangasinan promises to serve more delectable and mouth-watering puto, thanks to a rice variety bred and grown by farmers in this town.

The rice variety bred and grown by farmers is proof that farmers can also conduct breeding activities since breeding is often thought to be the sole domain of scientists in white lab gowns in research institutions.

This rice variety is called ADB, named after the acronym of  the farmer’s organization that bred this kind of rice, the Aliguas Dumaralos en Buenlag or Progressive farmers of Buenlag, a farmers organization in this town.

The rice variety is the best ingredient for the famous puto Calasiao, for which the festival is being celebrated. Fondly called Calasiao’s “white gold,” the puto Calasiao and its contribution to the growth of the local economy clearly displays the staple grain’s central role in the life of the municipality – Calasiao is now the fastest-growing economy in the region.

The ADB farmers came up with this rice variety with the help of a tripartite partnership project of DA Kasakalikasan, Provincial Agriculture Office and Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE). The three organizations train farmers through a Farmer Field School (FFS). DA Kasakalikasan has always been at the forefront of IPM worldwide, with the PAO providing valuable assistance, whereas SEARICE is an NGO that has long been an advocate of farmers’ rights and agricultural biodiversity at the community level.

“Through the FFS, farmers’ plant breeding was strengthened. Farmers are the best plant breeders since they can identify traits or characteristics that should come out in a variety that can better meet their needs. In the case of Calasiao, the ADB farmers’ organization was able to come up with a variety that excellently suits the putoindustry,” Normita Ignacio, Executive Director of SEARICE said.

The season-long FFS program produced the ADB variety or Calasiao variety, soft and aromatic when cooked, with consistency, texture and taste perfectly suited to the local puto. Ultimately, the Calasiao farmers aim to make the Calasiao rice variety as the primary ingredient of Puto Calasiao in its distinction of being the Municipality’s flagship One-Town, One Product (OTOP).

Ignacio, added, however, that the farmers can only continue breeding rice varieties for so long as pre-breeding materials or parent rice varieties are free for the use of farmers. “Rice seeds must be kept in the public domain, therefore, and not be subjected to proprietary rights,” Ignacio added. For this reason as well as for reasons involving environmental and health risks, SEARICE does not encourage the cultivation and use of Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs. GMOs are patented, and farmers who unknowingly use patented seeds as breeding materials are penalized for patent infringement.

“Besides, GMOs can contaminate other rice varieties, and when this happens, the ADB variety might lose the traits that makes the puto Calasiao mouth-watering, and then what will Calasiao be famous for when that time comes?” Ignacio said.

For this year’s puto Calasiao festival, SEARICE will be conducting a discussion session on GMOs, particularly GMOs such as the Syngenta golden rice variety, Bt talong and Bt corn. Due to its strategic location as the heartland of Pangasinan’s four cities, Calasiao would be an ideal test bed for field trials of these GMOs.

Slated on December 17, 2012 at the Calasiao Municipal Hall, the discussion will shed light on the possible impact of GMOs on the rice and puto industry of Calasiao, Pangasinan.

SEARICE hopes to emphasize further the urgency for the circulation of relevant information related to the food safety and rice self-sufficiency of the province. An exposition on the benefits of farmer-developed rice varieties against hybrid or genetically modified (GM) rice like Golden Rice offers rice farmers of Calasiao  homegrown alternatives to GM rice and a better understanding of how new technology affects their livelihood, their way of life, and their beloved rice cake, the Puto Calasiao.

In the debate against the proliferation of GMOs, SEARICE remains committed to the progress of farmers and small farmer communities, by promoting farmer-bred rice varieties, not just in Calasiao, Pangasinan, but in the entire region of Southeast Asia.


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