LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Philippine Senator Loren Legarda urged the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to work with government agencies to create more Climate-Smart Villages, build rice seed nurseries, and organize capacity-building workshops for farmers. Legarda’s call for urgent action on Climate-Smart Villages was prompted by the recent unrest among farmers in drought-stricken areas of Cotabato province on the southern island of Mindanao.
Legarda, who chairs the Committees on Finance, Climate Change, and Cultural Communities, visited the institute on 12 May where she was briefed on IRRI’s research agenda, with a focus on climate-smart and heirloom rice varieties.
"I want to have, if not the whole country, some prototypes of Climate-Smart Villages, replicating what you've done in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and other countries,” she said. A Climate-Smart Village is a community-based approach to minimize the impact of climate change through interventions that fit the local context and engagement with stakeholders. The idea is to mainstream climate-smart interventions into village development plans with the use of local knowledge through local institutions to address the triple challenges in agriculture. These are improving food production (quality, quantity, and diversity), adapting to climate change and contributing to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.
“Why not implement these in the Philippines? We'll find the funding,” Legarda added during a discussion with Dr. Jackie Hughes, deputy director general for research; Dr. Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general for communication and partnerships; Dr. Reiner Wassmann, IRRI’s climate change expert; and Drs. Casiana Vera Cruz and Digna Manzanilla, leaders of the Heirloom Rice Project.
"Let's go local; I mean grassroots,” said Legarda. “Not just regional, but let's get down to the barangay level. Let's do it together with the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the local governments of those towns where we should best implement these climate-smart measures."
Legarda also inquired about drought- and flood-tolerant rice varieties, water-saving technologies, and climate-smart apps that farmers can use. The senator pointed out that El Niño and La Niña are nothing new and that governments should have been using the technologies developed by IRRI.
Moreover, she was also keen on crafting a water-use efficiency bill. "In fact, my dream is to have all the water agencies, which are all over in different agencies under one agency. If we can have a water efficiency bill, which is so important, IRRI could help me draft that," Legarda said.
Tolentino promised to get back to her with a set of concepts that proposes and integrates possible areas of collaboration. “IRRI’s technologies are there for the taking since we are an international organization with a purely public purpose,” he said. "We have some activities going on right now that relate to water-saving work with the DA under the country's Food Staples Sufficiency Program (FSSP). But it's really, really small and we need to expand it."
Another FSSP activity discussed with the senator was the Heirloom Rice Project. She lauded IRRI’s partnership with the DA in identifying, preserving, and propagating traditional rice varieties in the Philippines, particularly in the Cordillera Region.
"I just had my lecture series on traditional textiles and indigenous knowledge,” she said referring to Senator Loren Legarda Lecture Series, her project with the National Museum. “The next one should feature rice, climate change, culture, and heritage featuring experts from IRRI, DA, the Philippine Rice Research Institute, and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, among others.”
Legarda also launched cultural galleries with the National Museum, which include the Rice, Biodiversity, and Climate Change exhibit.
"We are fortunate that IRRI headquarters is here in our country,” said Legarda “We should take the opportunity to improve our agricultural systems and farming communities, provide better livelihood options for the rural population and indigenous communities, and preserve our heritage and cultural integrity.”
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