Rice, Biodiversity and Climate Change

December 18, 2013


Privilege Speech on Rice, Biodiversity and Climate Change

December 18, 2013 – Senate Session Hall


Filipinos are rice-loving citizens. Rice is our staple food and we find it harder to resist eating rice than any other kind of food. In fact, many Filipinos can live with almost any dish as long as they pair it with rice.


The sad fact however, is that o`ur rice production is greatly affected by the warming climate. If we want to continue enjoying eating rice with our dishes, we have to do something to address the risks brought by climate change and the threat of further rise in global temperature.


I reiterate a World Bank report, which stressed that a 4-degree Celsius global temperature would cause flooding in many coastal cities; dry regions are expected to become drier while wet regions will be wetter; there will be extreme heat waves, water scarcity, stronger tropical cyclones, and loss of biodiversity.


We do not hope to reach such global temperature, but at present we are already experiencing weather in extremes, and this warming climate threatens all aspects of our life including the most basic of our concerns, including our staple food.


A 2009 study by the Asian Development Bank showed that rice yield in the Philippines can decline by 75% in 2100, which is likely to happen with the lack of climate change adaptation programs, considering that typhoons, floods and droughts from 1970 to 1990 resulted in an 82.4% loss in total Philippine rice production. Moreover, the El Niño-related drought from 1990 to 2003 is estimated to have caused US$ 370 million in damages to agriculture.


The unusual weather patterns we have been experiencing are bringing about a decrease in production of rice and several essential crops and with the absence of robust adaptation strategies, climate change will further imperil our food security.


President Benigno Aquino declared 2013 as National Year of Rice. This declaration underscores the need to address the concerns of our agricultural sector by ensuring more investments in agricultural research and infrastructure, improving water governance and land use policies, providing better forecasting tools and early warning systems, creating a strengthened extension system that will assist farmers to achieve economic diversification, and access to credit and crop insurance to make significant improvements in the country’s food security goals.


Agroforestry is also an effective solution to the problems in agriculture and environment.  It serves the dual function of addressing food security and maintaining a balanced ecosystem. Agroforestry improves forest goods and services and increases productivity. It improves soil quality and enhances the conservation of other biomes. Through agroforestry, farmers’ incomes are augmented, since cash crops are planted simultaneously with forest trees. This in turn translates to greater access to health services, food, shelter, etc.  Agroforestry also improves the quality of water and air, thus promoting water and energy conservation.


Adding to the challenges on rice and food security is the wastage of cooked rice. The 2008 statistics from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute showed that each Filipino wastes an average of two tablespoons of cooked rice daily. When put together, this wastage could feed about 2.6 million Filipinos for one year.[1]


To address this concern, the Philippine Rice Research Institute proposes that one-half cup of rice should be the default serving size in the food service industry.


Mr. President, it is in this light that I wish to stress the importance of a new exhibition at the National Museum titled, Rice, Biodiversity and Climate Change: Celebrating the National Year of Rice.


This exhibit, which we opened yesterday, highlights the need to address biodiversity loss and climate change in relation to rice production.  We take note that only two of the 20 rice species are being cultivated, an indication that varietal decline and species loss are inevitable.[2]


It is thus important that we ensure a more sustainable future for rice, which is a valuable crop even for our forefathers as demonstrated by the rituals they perform before, during and after harvest. For instance, the Hudhud Chants of the Ifugao, declared by UNESCO as one of the 19 Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, are performed in four occasions—the harvesting and weeding of rice, during funeral wakes, and in bone-washing rituals.


Through the exhibit, the National Museum also reveals that the social structure and annual cycle of activities in communities that cultivate rice—marriages, settlement patterns, festivities and seasonal migration, among other instances—are dictated by the rice production calendar.


This cultural significance as well as the indigenous system of agriculture must be preserved and be brought to the awareness of present generations so that we may have a deeper appreciation of our culture and our staple food.


In closing, I wish to enjoin my colleagues and our citizens, let us appreciate what we are blessed with and translate this appreciation into concrete actions to mitigate climate change, protect our natural resources, and preserve our heritage.


We need to take aggressive and immediate action to adapt to the changing climate and prevent further rise in global temperature or prepare ourselves for meals with no rice at all.


Thank you, Mr. President.



[1] National Year of Rice 2013 Program

[2] National Museum’s Introduction to the exhibition: Rice, Biodiversity and Climate Change: Celebrating the National Year of Rice.