He also extolled the interventions being employed by the Department of Agriculture (DA), particularly through its Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), which operates its Bicol station within a vast field in Barangay Batang here and providing a new direction to the local rice industry.
“We in the district, in partnership with the PhilRice and other public and private agricultural stakeholders, have been initiating various interventions that inspire local farmers to produce more and generate at least Php1 million earnings per year from every hectare of their rice farms," Gonzalez said.
In the recent palay harvest in this city, for example, he said, some rice fields planted to hybrid varieties have been successful in producing up to 10 metric tons (MT) per hectare, which at present-day prices would generate as much as Php180,000 per cropping period.
The Albay lawmaker attributed such success to good quality hybrid seeds, reliable irrigation, correct soil preparation and fertilization, sufficient capital investment, availability of post-harvest facilities, government support price that ensures reasonable prices and most of all, “generosity and kindness by the Lord for bountiful harvest”.
“The recent harvest was good, but not good enough. There’s still much room for improvement, which when taken advantage of may lead to nearly doubling that earning towards the Php1-million mark in a year-round period of three-cropping cycle,” he said.
Gonzalez, himself a part-time farmer, said he is taking his cue from the Rural Transformation Movement (RTM) of the PhiRice that is focused among others on the “Gusto Naming Milyonaryo Kayo (We Want You to be Millionaires)” drive aimed at reforming farmers’ behavior on farm enterprise and draw a deeper sense of responsibility in keeping the country rice self-sufficient.
In the “Gusto Naming Milyonaryo Kayo” campaign, farmers are inspired to maximize use of every farm space and time through crop diversification in which agri-business enterprises will be integrated to rice farming, according to him.
“The proposed rice museum would be a site where the contributions of our farmers to the agricultural sector and to regional development are to be featured to become an agritourism attraction,” he said.
Agritourism, as broadly defined, involves any agriculturally-based activity that brings visitors to a site as a form of niche tourism that is considered a growth industry in many parts of the world, including the Philippines.
Other terms associated with agritourism are "agritainment", "value-added products", "farm direct marketing" and "sustainable agriculture".
It involves the act of visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural or agribusiness operation to enjoy, be educated or be involved in activities.
This generates supplemental income for the owner.
Agri-tourism falls under the same general category as eco-tourism where the intention of the tourist is to gain a greater appreciation of a local culture or environment through non-invasive and sustainable activities.
“Our intention here is to leverage tourism to supplement its main economic activities and help to preserve its social and environmental framework,” Gonzalez said.
Agri-tourism has yet to be developed as a major tourist drawer in Bicol and this city, and most of the third district’s towns are well suited for it because of its reputation as leading adaptor of modern farming techniques and as Albay’s rice granary.
The congressman said tour operators have noted the inconsistent quality among local agri-tourism sites, that is why “we are taking steps towards the establishment of an agritourism site that could provide visitors with educational experiences.”
This museum would offer an agriculturally-oriented educational experience suitable for different ages such as food production, land stewardship and history of agriculture which are common topics that visitors enjoy learning about, he stressed.
As a tourism facility, the planned rice museum will offer customer services manned by trained personnel who will interact with visitors in an appropriate way to ensure a safe and high-quality experience.
The PhilRice station itself is already a potential agri-tourism destination, given its modern facilities that contribute to the significant increase over the past two years of rice and other supplemental crop production in the city, the third district and the whole of Bicol that now enjoy rice-self sufficiency and even a surplus, Gonzalez said.
And as an expansion of its services, the station is putting up a Php10.9-million laboratory and training building which will showcase research activities focused on the production of seeds to cater to the needs of Bicolano farmers.
“This facility is another dream coming true for us in the district as it represents the wide acceptance by our farmers of government interventions focused on modern technologies and innovative farming techniques as they shift from the conventional system that limits them to barely hand-to-mouth existence,” Gonzalez added.
The ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of this new facility was done over the week and its completion, according to PhilRice Executive Director Edilberto de Luna, is slated before the end of November, this year. (By Danny O. Calleja, PNA)