Thursday, December 3, 2015

Chefs bring flavors of heirloom rice alive in family farming confab

"I think nothing can get more original or local as Philippine heirloom rice. It's something that we should be proud of, and it deserves a place in international kitchens," said Ken Dacanay, a sous chef of Cyma and Green Pastures restaurants after quickly demonstrating one of their two popular heirloom rice recipes at the 9th Knowledge Learning Market and Policy Engagement (KLM-PE) event last 25-26 November.

KLM-PE was organized by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Philippine Office, in coordination with the Departments of Agriculture (DA) and Agrarian Reform (DAR), with support from various civil society organizations that recognize the value of smallholder farmers and family farming in the country.

Seen as a viable model for sustainable agricultural development, family farming found favor with many participants of the KLM-PE that not only included groups of smallholder farmers, but also fisherfolk and producers of poultry, livestock, dairy, and other agricultural products.

IRRI is currently supporting many smallholder farmers in the Cordillera region of the Philippines through its Heirloom Rice Project (HRP) with the DA and an IFAD grant called the Cordillera Highlands Agricultural Resources Management Project. The project had previously been under the technical innovation services component of the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE).

“We’ve adopted the so-called value chain approach with the HRP,” explained Dr. Digna Manzanilla, CURE coordinator and IRRI social science expert. “That is,” she continued, “we’re helping farmers with the production system -- from improving the product, to processing, then analyzing preferences of the consumers, to promoting the heirloom rice varieties themselves.
“And one of the ways by which we do this is through partnerships with some well-known chefs in the country,” she explained. A total of 11 farmers’ organizations are currently involved with the HRP, most of which have been exporting their heirloom rice varieties, she added.

"For this year, the [cooking] demonstrations are something different at the KLM-PE because we had always focused on discussions about policy, good practices, and others. But, I'm so happy with the case of heirloom rice because it's been able to link a product to markets such as restaurants," remarked Yolando Arban of the IFAD country program office in the Philippines.

"So there is value adding in terms of developing these products. I was just joking a few minutes ago that I'd only be able to cook a simple arroz caldo [rice porridge] but with this, rice gets a special twist. So this is very important and very good," he added.

"Our heirloom rice is really quite versatile. So we thought, 'Why not use them for dishes that are even popular outside of the country?'" asked fellow sous Chef Marvin Paul Catalan of Cyma and Green Pastures restaurants.

He explained that, arroz con pollo, for instance, uses arborio rice from Spain, the same kind used in making risotto. But they found out that tinawon, a type of heirloom rice, also shared similar characteristics with arborio so they decided to try it for their dish. The result was quite good.

"Plus, we were able to support local farmers and help our local market because we're using what's available locally and don't need to import from other countries," he explained.

Apart from heirloom rice, about 92 farmer-participants of the KLM-PE were also able to get climate-smart rice seeds for free through IRRI's Next Generation project with the DA.

KLM-PE was held at the Convention Hall of the Bureau of Soils and Water Management in Quezon City, Philippines.

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