The aromatic rice sector has great potential for industry expansion. This potential is important to be explored especially in the current Philippine agriculture setting. The current local aromatic rice industry has opportunities for import substitution. Local farmers must be empowered to increase local production in response to the increasing demand for aromatic rice and to the ramifications of the Rice Tariffication Law.
Specialty rice (SR) types are those varieties that possess unique characteristics making them highly valuable in the market. One of these types is aromatic rice that emits fragrance, particularly a pandan-like scent. Development of fragrance level in these rice varieties is affected by genetic and environmental factors.
This type contains the main aroma compound 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline (2AP) that is responsible for the pandan-like scent. This chemical compound is also detected in non-fragrant rice varieties but at a lower concentration level compared to that of aromatic rice. In terms of environmental factors, induction of aroma can be influenced by climate and soil type. Varieties grown in cooler habitats tend to develop higher aroma level.
There are other types of aromatic rice exhibiting 2AP that do not belong to these two major categories; examples are those found in the Philippines. These may be modern or traditional rice varieties. Aroma in rice varieties has been considered a favored characteristic by the consumers in choosing what to eat, and by the farmers in selecting what to plant. Thus, aromatic rice is highly regarded as one of the premium rice varieties. Its pandan-like scent translates to a higher price in the market compared to ordinary white rice.
With this quality attribute, consumer demand for aromatic rice has been generally increasing and is expected to expand more in the future. Rice farmers and traders from different parts of the world are also considering to enter this industry. In fact, aromatic rice has an opportunity to be significant in the export market since this type is becoming more popular not only across Asia but also in Africa, Europe, and the USA.
With these trends in place, the aromatic rice sector has great potential for industry expansion. This potential is important to be explored especially in the current Philippine agriculture setting. As of February 2019, the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) has been ratified, which means that quantitative restrictions (QR), or the maximum volume quota, has been removed. This has negative impacts on local farmers since cheaper but good-quality imported rice were patronized by market players and consumers. Philippines cannot compete with other neighboring countries due to high costs of production.
Opening of trade is double-edged. It opens imports but it also encourages opportunities for exports albeit small and niche markets. The government intends to empower the local farmers through export promotion as part of the eight new paradigms espoused by the Department of Agriculture (DA). The country can harness the opportunity to develop the local aromatic rice industry to take advantage of the growing local and global demand. In view of this, there have been researches in the Philippines characterizing the existing local aromatic rice varieties. A study of the grain quality characteristics of traditional upland rice varieties, including aromatic rice, showed that unpolished rice samples have slightly fragrant to fragrant attributes.
In spite of previous initiatives to profile the aromatic rice being planted in the country, there is still limited knowledge on its productivity and profitability. Studies discussing this SR type are sparse. Thus, understanding these two factors is vital in presenting aromatic rice’s potentials and in crafting strategies to develop the industry. Considering the identified research gap on aromatic rice, this study aims to:
(1) present farm and farmer profiles;
(2) describe the current production system and farming practices;
(3) examine the productivity and profitability;
(4) identify the best rice varieties; and
(5) provide recommendations for harnessing its industry.
The profiles of aromatic rice farmers in both provinces were comparable in terms of age, educational attainment, and farming experience. Notable difference was observed in the men-to-women ratio as Apayao growers were more female-dominant. The gender differentiation reported in farming activities should be considered in crafting training designs and implementing extension interventions for the aromatic rice producers. Another significant finding was the substantial percentage of Apayao farmers who were non-members of any rice-based organization. This imposes an adverse impact on farmers’ access to government support such as technical assistance, provision of credit, and machinery.
Productivity of aromatic rice in Oriental Mindoro was comparable with the national average, but there is room for yield enhancement and cost reduction. First, supply of seeds must be ensured to maintain the quality and sustain cultivation, especially in the case of NSIC Rc 218. Philippine Rice Reseaerch Institute (PhilRice) stations near existing and potential production areas should particularly propagate and commercialize these seeds. Additionally, newly released aromatic varieties that mimic NSIC Rc 218 should be introduced and made available in the area.
It should be noted that a stringent system for truthful labeling must be in place since there were reports on NSIC Rc 218 being marketed as Dinorado. Moreover, the National Rice Program and the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund Seed Program can produce certified seeds of this variety to be available in identified regions concentrating on aromatic rice production such as Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan. Rice research and breeding should be conducted in support of these ventures.
Second, the adoption of integrated pest management should be intensified in the province, given their heavy use of pesticides as primary response to pest and disease infestations.
Lastly, land conversion policies should be strictly implemented to lessen the cost of land rent. Urbanization and land conversion in the province resulted in high cost of land rent. This modernization thrust is expected to escalate through the years and the value of aromatic rice must accord with this to ensure sustainability.
Traditional aromatic rice varieties (e.g., Dinorado) in Apayao are typically cultivated in the upland ecosystem with low use of fertilizers and pesticides. These conditions caused lower yields compared with lowland and modern rice varieties. Hence, aromatic rice production in the province is more considered as subsistence farming. Despite this situation, productivity can still be improved and costs can be reduced. This study reinforces the recommendations for upland rice farming given by the Heirloom Rice Project.
First, availability and access to pure seeds must be safeguarded through community seed banking (CSB). Such seed banks are the repository of local seeds that facilitates exchange among community members (Vernooy, Sthapit, & Bessette, 2017). In support of this, training on seed purification must be conducted and CSB infrastructures must be developed.
Second, PalayCheck for Highland Rice Production System and Diversified Farming Technologies must be introduced to the aromatic rice farmers. This module contains recommended farming techniques and strategies to improve productivity and profitability. For varietal selection, smaller bundles of panicles are recommended to achieve uniform drying of grains. Proper storage must also be done to prolong shelf-life and ensure good germination. For land preparation, microtillers are recommended for soil tillage for flat to slightly rolling fields in order to reduce manual labor cost. Further details of technology recommendations for upland rice farming are discussed in PalayCheck for Highland Rice Production System and Diversified Farming Technologies.
On grain quality, aroma is clearly the most important attribute. After series of evaluation, Gobyerno and Azucena from Apayao and NSIC Rc 218 from Oriental Mindoro were identified as the top local aromatic rice varieties due to their evident pandan-like scent, good taste, and tenderness when cooked. Proper postharvest practices must be observed to maintain these unique and premium qualities.
First, sun drying, if weather permits, is recommended to achieve the desired moisture contet (MC) level. It is recommended to set a maximum thickness of paddy layer at 4 inches and stirring every 30 minutes. Mechanical dryers that use biomass or petroleum are not recommended as this produces a smoky odor that could neutralize the pandan-like scent.
Electric mechanical dryers may be used instead, if available, as a shared facility in a community, to accommodate bigger volume and reduce cost. Second, favorable levels of temperature and humidity must be secured in storing these rice types to maintain the recommended MC of 12-14% and more importantly, the aroma. This SR type must be stored in paddy form for a shorter period than ordinary rice.
As aromatic rice is being positioned in the market, it is important to widen the demand and still offer an affordable price. Blending of aromatic rice with ordinary white rice is recommended to cater to specific preferences of consumers. The optimum mixture should be reinforced with truthful labeling for transparency on rice quality. PhilRice, through its Rice Chemistry and Food Science Division (RCFSD), can assist in determining this optimum blend. Developing marketing strategies and creating linkages will also boost the demand for SR.
This study concludes that the current local aromatic rice industry has opportunities for import substitution. Local farmers must be empowered to increase local production in response to the increasing demand for aromatic rice and to the ramifications of RTL.
Read the study:
Beltran JC. Daplin KM, Relado-Sevilla et al. (2021) Productivity and profitability of aromatic rice production in the Philippines. International Journal of Sustainable Agricultural Research 8, no. 4: 209-221.