Food Security Potential of Adlai for RP (First of 2 parts)

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SAGADA, Mountain Province — A long forgotten plant consigned only to memory by people in the olden days is being resurrected from the grave as alternative to the politically sensitive issue on rice, in the face of numerous Filipinos struggling to feed their families, exacerbated by the pandemic’s shadow and continuing low rice production unable to meet domestic consumption.   

Millions of Filipinos nowadays are unfamiliar about a plant called Adlai which, if  exploited to good use, will help in the reduction of yearly importation of rice and even add income to Filipinos, as seen by Philippine agricultural experts.

Studies conducted by the Department of Agriculture – Cordillera Administrative Region (DA-CAR) and the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (DOST-PNRI) have traced Adlai had been grown by Filipino aborigines since ancient times.

“It had been cultivated in ancient times as staple food,” the studies stressed. It is an ancient Philippine grain.

Why it became consigned to history, government experts believe the policy of past administrations in pushing for national rice and corn production capability, somehow, contributed to Adlai being cast by the sidelines, until it was lost on the awareness of incoming Filipino generation.

Not given equal attention as done with rice and corn production, use of Adlai as food diminished through time.

Many Filipinos being unaware of Adlai, a dearth of information about its uses and properties evolved.

Fortunately, Philippine agricultural experts are now trying to capture the values of Adlai and bring it to the consciousness of the present Philippine general public-at-large. And they are bent on championing Adlai as one solution to hunger and poverty that stalks many parts of the Philippines.

However, their job has only started. It will take some time before benefits of Adlai will finally sink into the realization of present day Filipinos.

Mass production of Adlai will help the county to boost food security for all, secure income of farmer-producers and the need of consumers, agricultural experts said.

What agriculturists wanted understood is that supply and demand for food commodities, like rice, should always remain balanced. 

As to the case of rice, it remains a political issue as farmers are presently pressing national legislators to revisit Republic Act No. 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law for possible amendments of its provisions.

Farmers brought out the fact that that Rice Tariffication Law resulted in higher rice prices for consumers but lower palay prices for farmers, positioning themselves from a stance that this is not the balance that economists envisioned from the law.

Surge in rice imports hit Filipino rice growers hit farmers with significant drop in their farm gate price, they claimed. Coupled with the slow implementation of the Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF), this provoked the farmers to coalesce once again to voice opposition to some provisions of the law.

Cultivation and production of Adlai is also being seen by the government agriculturists as another bright step towards smart agriculture, an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and re-orient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate.

Or, it is simply called a step to adaptation in the face of the marching climate change.

Adlai has been proven by the agricultural experts for its resilience to extreme weather conditions as compared as compared to the various rice varieties being grown locally.

They can grow in marginalized areas, in kaingin systems and even in backyards and do not require a lot of water compared with rice and corn.

Nutritional values of Adlai have been tested by DOST-PNRI as higher compared to rice, its food energy content as high as 356 kilocalories.

Adlai is a tall grain-bearing tropical plant from the Poeceae (Coix lacryma-jobi L.)    Grass family, the same family to which wheat, corn and rice belong.

It is known in the English world as jobs’ tears. It is native to tropical Asia. In the Philippines,   it had been grown only in parts of Cordillera highlands and in Mindanao.

Its English name attracts fascination. Job’s tears, referring to the droplet-shaped and pearly white beads which are actually the grains of the plant, are tied to the biblical man of the Old Testament who endured great suffering.

There is universal unanimity in agreement that the beads resemble tears; however, there is disagreement as to exactly whose tears the beads resemble.

Depending exactly on various citizens around the world, the plant is called by various names as “Christ’s tears, “David’s tears,” or “St. Mary’s tears” or just plain “tear drops.” 

In Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Adlai is called “bistak-ay,” by tribe folks in Mountain Province, according to Gina Dizon, who hails from the municipality of Sagada, one among the province’s ten municipalities.

In the municipality of Kapangan, province of Benguet, Adlai is called by the folks there as “ag-gey.”

DA-CAR revealed it had already conducted information drives in Sagada and other nearby towns, distributing seeds and searching for other varieties under its Adlai Adaptability Field Trials. 

Results of the field trials in Sagada were instrumental in the testing of Adlai planting in provinces in Cagayan, Isabela and Ifugao before seeds were distributed to local farmers and the municipal agriculture’s office, DA-CAR explained.

In Lamut, Ifugao, DA-CAR assessed the performance of different Adlai varieites under the organic-based condition of Lamut.

Considered by DA-CAR as “heirloom grain,” DA-CAR is working Cordillera tribal communities to ensure the sustainable and ethical production of Adlai and the sale of it as heirloom product once CAR finally produces commercial Adlai for local consumption.

Gina Dizon said she  remembered tribal children in Sagada in the 50’s and 60’s usually gathered  the tear-like grains  and wove them into necklaces, a practice confirmed by other  CAR highlanders who, too,    related “tribal children of the 50’s and 60’s associated the tear-like grains to making of cultural beads.”  

Adlai in Sagada were growing then within or along rice paddies and terraces in Sagada until in the course of time, it suddenly became mysteriously rare, Dizon narrated.

“It (Adlai) grew near rice fields and abandoned rice fields. It is rare now, super rare. Must be something to do with clearing of fields. It was used for bracelets, then,” Dizon explained in a message.

Dizon got the surprise of her life when informed that the tear-like grains she gathered and woven into tribal beads during her teen hood can just as well be eaten – like rice.

Adlai has a similar taste and appearance to common barley.

Adlai is two times as rich in protein compared to rice and has been used by indigenous people in Asia as source of flour, tea, vinegar, coffee and wine, has anti-tumor and other medical properties, DOST-PNRI said.

Presently the five  areas tracked by the agricultural experts  for having grown  Adlai  are Sagada in Mountain Province, Kapangan in Benguet, Kiangan in Ifugao, Midsalip in Zamboanga Del Sur and Malaybalay in Bukidnon, as discovered by DA’s   Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR).

DA-CAR in a report to its BAR arm, explained that of the five Adlai varieties  growing in said   studied places, the dwarf variety suited best the climate condition of CAR, as well as yielding the most grains.

Such variety also happened to be the same case in the municipality of Kapangan in Benguet. Such is also the case in Ifugao.

“Dwarf proved to be the best and adaptable variety due to high yield, high yield components and resistance to leafhopper and leaf blasts.  Other inferior performing varieties need further evaluation for more stable results,” DA-CAR reported to BAR.

There are five varieties presently being evaluated for CAR conditions. These are the Gulian, Guinampay, Pulot, Tapol and Dwarf varieties.

Ana Maria Veluz, DOST-PNRI science research specialist recounted Adlai can improve nutritional status of Filipinos  recounting that DOST-PNRI recorded many   cases of the Subanen aborigine people in Mindanao who depended on Adlai and went on to live longer.

When the next generation of the Subanen tribe switched to rice, their life span shortened,   Veluz narrated.

DA-CAR, fully cognizant of the potential of Adlai as key food with its nutritional benefits intends to push for the planting of Adlai in suitable places in CAR and also allow growers to earn by encouraging rice tillers to shift to different crops to maximize their farm gate gains.

Those presently familiar with Adlai have developed the grains or millet into classic Filipino dishes like pasta risotto, paella, champorado arroz caldo and kakanin and sell these at affordable price.

A study be several United Nations agencies emphasized last week the need to ensure  a reliable and functioning food supply  not only in times of crisis to deter disruption to food markets and systems. Adlai can very well help Filipinos in this universal call.