“Rice self-sufficiency is possible”, according to Dr. Antonio M. Salazar, a research professor in the Cereals Section of the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB, UPLB)
This can be achieved with the help of corn, Dr. Salazar and his team of plant breeders and extensions workers believe.
“The country imports only ten percent of our rice requirement. If this amount can be substituted by other alternatives, like corn, we can achieve self-sufficiency,” said Dr. Salazar.
The rice-corn (RiCo) blend born in 2008 is the team’s proposed approach to achieving rice self-sufficiency.
Rico is a mixture of rice and corn grits at 70:30 ratio, respectively with the corn grits made from from IPB Var 6, an open-pollinated white corn variety developed by the IPB. IPB Var 6 has higher lysine and tryptophan and is more nutritious that other white corn varieties.
Lysine is an essential amino acid that boosts metabolic functions of the body, while tryptophan helps in the production of serotonin that improves appetite, weight loss and mood.
The average price good quality rice is about 45 pesos/kilo while pure corn grits is about 30 pesos/kilo. At a ratio of 70:30, the RiCo blend costs about 41 pesos/kilo, making the blend not only nutritious but cheaper.
To promote the consumption of RiCo, the team has conducted information campaigns in pre-schools, elementary and high schools. Four years ago, it co-spearheaded with the UPLB Institute of Human Nutrition and Food and the local barangay officials a feeding program for pupils of the BN Calara Elementary School in Los Baños.
The Feeding program was able to help 140 pupils achieve normal nutritional status. Demand mounted and the Cereals Section has since been supplying about six tons of corn grits per month to various institutions in the country.
The team also participates in an organic fair every month at the UP Open University. This event features food products for health and wellness. It also participates regularly at a local hospital’s Diabetes Awareness Day to highlight the health benefits of using RiCo.
To meet the increasing demand for corn grits, IPB enjoined farmer cooperators in Quezon and Mindoro to produce more white corn. Of the cumulative 20 hectares of land in these locations, three hectares in Mindoro are planted and managed by the Mangyans. IPB trained them on seed production, to ensure that their efforts would yield a good harvest.
The Benguet Provincial Hospital heard about RiCo and bought more than 300 kilos for its own feeding program. Even the clerics have also shown interest in the RiCo blend. A monastery in an upland town in Oriental Mindoro has been engaged in corn grits production after acquiring a corn mill machine
UP President Alfredo E. Pascual himself has endorsed the use of RiCo blend during an event in 2015 and included it in gift packages that he gave to his colleagues. Likewise, Chancellor Fernando C. Sanchez, Jr. issued Memorandum No. 006 Series of 2016, directing all food concessionaires in UPLB to adopt the 70:30 rice-corn blend. The UP Board of Regents, during its 1315th meeting, approved that the first and second tranches of rice subsidy for 2016 for UP employees be blended with corn grits.
With the increase in white corn production, the growing support for RiCo and the continuing efforts of the team, rice self-sufficiency is not a distant scenario but is definitely achievable and possible.
Planting of more IPB Var 6 white corn will easily facilitate the achievement of the 10% rice supply we are importing, thereby making our country rice self-sufficient.(PSciJourn MegaManila).