Gelia Castillo encourages CURE to give priority to heirloom rice

By: Lorna Calumpang
1 September 2014

Gelia Castillo
On December 9, 2013, the CURE coordinating unit convened a brainstorming workshop to review overall accomplishments of CURE and chart new directions and strategies for CURE Phase 2. Participants agreed that more focus be given to crop management, particularly nutrients and decision support for site-specific recommendations.

In addition, Dr. Gelia Castillo*, CURE consultant, expounded on how CURE could make a difference in farmers’ lives through heirloom rice. Below is her message during the workshop.

Carving the way ahead: heirloom rice

“I have always believed that science must serve a human purpose. Through the years, I have come to believe that, in rice, science best serves its human purpose. From IR8, which until now I think is the best-looking rice on the ground, to SPIKE gene, which can raise yields by 13-36%, we have succeeded in having a grain of rice change the world. My attraction to CURE’s mandate is its focus on unfavorable rice environments where people who grow rice don’t get enough rice to eat and where indigenous people live their lives.

They grow heirloom rice. An heirloom is an heirloom. We have to keep it as such. Can we increase the yield of heirloom rice without changing its structure, its taste, its character, its aroma and its distinctiveness, its locality specificity-ownership qualities? Let’s do it without mixing them up, without changing its inherent characteristics like Tinawon Fancy, which belongs to Banawe and Hingyon, Ifugao. It is light pink in color, noted for its taste and texture, mild aroma, and fast cooking qualities. There are, at the moment, seven heirloom varieties being exported by the farmers through the support of a non-government organization, the Revitalize Indigenous Cordillera Entrepreneur (Rice Inc.).

Dinorado in Arakan Valley was easier to rehabilitate and restore to its former glory because Arakan was open to its revival, although it claims to be the home of Dinorado. The Cordilleras want to keep the distinctive qualities of each heirloom rice variety. We have to understand their system without changing it according to our values. How do we do it?

Capacity development of the Cordillera staff so they can lead in this effort seems to be the way to go. Let’s link this with Nepal’s and Lao PDR's heirloom varieties so IRRI will later be known as the institute that did not only save heirloom varieties but also assisted in improving their performance while maintaining the heirloom qualities along with community-based seed banks and a broadened market niche for those who hunger for the old, the traditional, the distinctive heirloom varieties. Let’s give and add value to them. Finally, how can heirloom rice farmers participate in CURE?”

Participating in the workshop discussions were Dr. David Johnson, Dr. Digna Manzanilla (CURE coordinator and workshop facilitator), Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, Dr. Casiana Vera Cruz, Dr. Glenn Gregorio, Dr. Yoichiro Kato, Dr. Ole Sander, Dr. Lorna Calumpang, Mr. Christian Umali, and Mr. Joel Janiya.

*Dr. Gelia Castillo currently serves as CURE consultant. She is a social scientist by profession and has authored several publications useful for agriculture, forestry, and natural resources and development researchers and extension officers.