From binhi to bigas: the laypersons’ guide to the rice production process (Part 2)

Published May 14, 2021, 12:06 AM

by Yvette Tan

Avant Gardener

Yvette Natalie Tan

Many people think that farming is just planting seeds and harvesting crops. They don’t understand that like any business, it entails a whole production process, and that money may need to be spent in different areas along the way.

Raf Dioniso of Make a Difference (MAD) Travel and MAD Market decided to partner with a couple of Zambales farmers to plant rice in 2020 after the pandemic shut down the travel industry. To do this properly, he had to go through the whole production process himself. This is what he learned.

Part 1 [] of this two part series laid out a simplified version of the typical rice farming process in the Philippines from land preparation to harvest. This part talks about what happens to the rice after it is harvested.

Separate the grain. After the rice stalks are harvested, the grain, which can be found at the tip of the stalk, has to be separated. This is done by a machine, though it can also be done manually.

Drying. “That’s where you start seeing them putting rice on the highway because the highways are absorbers of heat and so they’re good solar dryers in that sense. Or basketball court,” Dionisio says.

Dehulling. This is usually done with a machine, though it can also be performed manually. Filipino fine art is filled with images of this. “[Those scenes where] there’s a big wooden bowl and you’ve got one or two people with big bats grounding on the rice? That’s basically taking out the dried rice husks from the rice field,” Dionisio shares, adding that for the Aetas, this is also the perfect time for young people to start courting.

Separating rice from husks. Again, this is usually done with a machine. Like the dehulling process, husk separation is also a popular subject in Filipino fine art. “Do you know the imagery of the circular bilao and they keep [tossing] the rice in the air?” Dionisio asks. “After you grind the rice hull so the rice seeds come out, you put it in that bilao and you start flipping it so that when you flip it out, the rice hull will fall slower and the rice seeds will fall faster so you’ll be able to get rid of all the rice hull and dust and you’ll only be left with the seeds. There’s a tactic, that’s why it’s not only straight up, it’s [kind of a] forward motion kind of and it’s a dusty process.”

Packing. “After that, the rice is packed into your sacks and you can sell it,” Dionisio says, emphasizing that “the process I mentioned is quite general. It generally has to go to a rice mill to go through a lot of the processing.”

Transportation, warehousing, and sales. After this, a sack of rice’s journey will differ. Ideally, it will go straight to the retailer. Most of the time, it will pass through a series of transportation, warehouses, and resellers, where it may be repacked or sold as is.

Each step will require funds, either to pay for the product, the transportation, or the warehousing, among other things. Weather can also play a part. A storm, for example, may mean extra time in a warehouse, which also means extra expenses. Delays brought about by the pandemic are another factor.

Money is also required even before planting begins. “The seeds, the land preparation, and the actual planting, fertilizer [and pesticides], and harvesting, those are the five points of cash out because you have to buy your seeds, you have to rent a machine or hire people to till the land,” Dionisio says.

Many farmers borrow money for these, and since they can’t borrow from banks, they have to resort to informal money lenders who can charge as high as 140 percent interest a year, usually paid through a percentage of the harvest. This is why many farmers stay poor, why they cannot afford to automate, and why they would rather that their children not follow in their footsteps.

This simplified breakdown of the rice production process shows that farming isn’t just planting and harvesting, but a long chain that requires funds and proper planning. Folks like Dionisio hope to one day shorten this chain and increase the income of farmers, both from lessening expenses and interest and increasing yield, to encourage more people to stay in the industry.

An easy way to support Filipino rice farmers is to buy local rice. Another way is to support reforestation efforts, as these will help with the water problem over a long period of time. The easiest way is to avoid wasting food and to gently remind everyone that it takes a lot of effort to grow the food that appears on our plates, even if it’s just a grain of rice.