On Food Security: Is P20 Per Kilo Of Rice Really Feasible?

UNIGROW plot in the Fertilizer Derby

By Luchie Aclan Arguelles

Today, if we were to conduct a mock survey with the man on the street and farmers on the BBM campaign pledge to bring down the price per kilo of rice to an all-time low of P20, majority will respond: “next to impossible!” 

When as of this month, the average price per kilo is P55, Jimmy Vistar of Unigrow Philippines, confidently claims, “Yes, it is possible!”

After the Fertilizer Derby conducted by the Philippine Rice Research Institute or PhilRice in Nueva Ecija, there is no doubt Filipinos could at least enjoy a cheaper cost of the staple. 

Proof Of The Pudding

With about four rice croppings or close to two years, Vistar proved as evidenced by the experiment initiated by PhilRice, a Department of Agriculture bureau, food insecurity for Filipinos would be a thing of the past. This is food security in terms of access to rice that Filipinos could not do without on the dining table.

Skeptical as many would seem, they need proof that this is possible and not just another botched promise by a candidate. 

President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. must have made this forward-looking pledge not without a scientific basis. 

Marcos Jr. has a foresight as he announced he himself will handle the agriculture department.

Fertilizer Derby

When PhilRice conducted the Fertilizer Derby in 2020 and in 2021, the theme was “Masaganang Ani at Mataas na Kita Challenge?” This was within the government’s vision for a “Rice-Secure Philippines”.

The objective was “to determine the best nutrient management package of technology in achieving high productivity and cost-effectiveness of rice farming in a profitable, sustainable, and environmentally-safe manner.”

The initiative was “to provide opportunities for all players in the rice sector to show what can be done to improve yield and possibly reduce environmental pollution and contribute partly to the goals of sustainable development.”

On June 2020, former Agriculture Secretary William Dar challenged all fertilizer companies to showcase their products and possibly achieve low production cost for the farmers, high yield, and most environment friendly. 

Jimmy Vistar, the owner of patented internationally-recognized Unigrow name of the product, confidently enlisted in the derby, together with 35 other multinational and local fertilizer producers and distributors. Only 10 passed the criteria on PhilRice-managed seed quality, land preparation, crop establishment, irrigation, pest management, and harvesting. One backed out after the first cropping.

Since 2020, even at the height of the pandemic, Vistar did not hesitate to join the derby just to prove the potency of his bacteria-based organic fertilizer. It was held at the PhilRice domain in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija.

At the end of the 2021 wet season and fourth cropping with the remaining seven other fertilizer manufacturers, Vistar’s Unigrow bested all categories.

Control Check

In the derby, each entry was given a one-hectare plot each by draw lots, separated by a space of three meters from the neighboring challenger. They were supposed to get through two wet and two dry seasons or four croppings for PhilRice to assess replicability results. 

The control check was the farmers’ practice in the locality.

The moment cropping time started, PhilRice took over and the contenders were not allowed to touch, go near and could only view their plots from a distance. 

Jimmy Vistar was always there, rain or shine, and videoed for documentation. 

Caveats and Challenges

Jimmy Vistar was ever persistent, eagerly observed and, without fail, documented developments in his plot “from a safe distance”.

Typhoons, wind gusts and the changing temperature did not deter his Unigrow team from “visiting” specially after a typhoon. Most significant to him was Typhoon Pepito (international name: Saudel) that made landfall in October 2020.

“Nagtumbahan lahat. All else laid flat as if a carabao has rested on the rice crops.” Only Unigrow plot crops endured the tropical depression and proudly stood straight. On the whole, Pepito left P92.5 million damage to agriculture.

One of the major concerns in rice planting is the attack of pests and airborne diseases.

Good Bacteria

Biotechnology has preceded the old ways of manufacturing fertilizers. The “good bacteria” with high and unique strains are sourced from  Iceland and brought to the US to be shaped into jelly form. It is then shipped to China that produces the powder from the jelly form.

Jimmy Vistar, who coined the word “Unigrow” and adopted by the original manufacturer, exclusively distributes the innovative product to eight countries. Unigrow is being used in farms, poultry and fishcages all over the world. Its biggest consumers are US, China and Peru.  

Unigrow Microbial Soil Conditioner is in powder form and distributed in a 20-gram sachet to be dissolved in water and sprayed or put directly on paddy fields. On first cropping, 36 sachets could be used for every hectare or a minimum equivalent of four sacks. This costs around P10,000.   

On second cropping, only two sacks of Unigrow could be used, diminishing to one sack on third cropping, and none in the fourth. This means each plot saves 25 percent in fertilizer need and save 40 percent on the second, and so on.

What more? With Unigrow, there is no need for pesticides. It has a great effect on the prevention and control of rice seedling blight and bacterial wilt. 

Unigrow Philippines’ Jimmy Vistar attended the ASEAN Agriculture Summit 2018 held at the SMX Convention Center, Pasay City.

Perhaps, Not At ‘P20’

From his 30-year experience in the use of Unigrow, Jimmy Vistar guarantees a harvest of 77,780 kilos per hectare of inbred fresh palay. 

On a conservative note, he said that even if a farmer harvests 6,500 tons per hectare, he will definitely earn and the market price could dramatically hit Marcos Jr.’s target price. 

If based on the farmgate rate of around P17 per kilo of dry palay, the grower could earn from direct sale approximately P100,000 minus the middleman’s cut, computes Vistar. Assuming farming expenses amounts to 75 percent, the net remainder is an easy P25,000 for the cropping season. One cropping is usually three months and 10 days.    

Even if the technology has been there for decades, the Philippine government started recognizing the effectiveness of Unigrow only for the last two years .  

Jimmy Vistar said that with the income, farmers will be getting there is a likelihood that each kilo of rice could go as low as P25 after the next cropping season.

Who Is Jimmy Vistar?

Jaime C. Vistar is originally  from Cebu and now operating under the JCV Worldwide Traders Corp, a family agriculture-based business venture based in Palayan City in Nueva Ecija.

He is also a member of all three media groups — the Publishers Association of the Philippines, Inc. (PAPI), the Federation of Provincial Press Clubs of the Philippines, Inc. (FPPCPI), and the Boracay Global Press Corps Philippines (BGPCP) — as he is the publisher of PWERSA News.

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