The Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization(PhilMech) has underscored the urgent need to improve the mechanization level and post-harvest systems of the country’s rice industry.

PhilMech said the mechanization level stands at 2.31 horsepower per hectare, which is relatively low compared to other Southeast Asian nations.

Based on studies by PhilMech, rice farming in the country has negligible levels of mechanization in planting, weeding, spraying, and harvesting in some regions.

Notably,mechanical power is applied mostly in harvesting and land preparation, while manual transplanting is widely used as the method of planting.

Furthermore, sun drying is still preferred by farmers, probably from available solar power and high prices of mechanical dyers, which underscores the need to provide mechanical dryers to farmers to dry their palay harvests.

Surveys by the agency also show a low adoption rate among Filipino farmers for four-wheel tractors, mechanical transplanters and combine harvesters.

In Thailand and Vietnam, most farmers use the direct seeding technology, which is seen to be more efficient and less costly than the transplanting method widely used in the Philippines, PhilMech said.

However, the survey showed the Philippines has high adoption on thresher and two-wheel tractors, implying that small machines are attractive to farmers in the country. Jallorina said the mechanization component of RCEP seeks to address the gaps in farm mechanization in the country’s rice farms, as it includes the distribution of larger farm equipment.

Under the Rice Tariffication Law, the mechanization component of RCEP will be getting P5 billion per year in the next six years or up to 2024.

"Throughincreased mechanization, the cost of producing palay can be reduced by P2 to P3 per kilo and additional cost reductions can be made if rice farmers adopt higher-yielding rice varieties,” Jallorina said.

Under RCEP,P3 billion wil be allocated each year up to 2024 for the propagation and distribution of high-yielding seeds, P1 billion for training and capacity building of rice farmers, and P1 billion for credit support.

"Agrilink remains to be one of PhilMech’s effective platforms for showcasing the latest agricultural technologies we have developed. At the same time, it also serves as a venue to disseminate information, especially on the need to modernize the country’s agricultural industry and create more agribusiness enterprises,” Jallorina said.

A PhilMech study noted the other positive effects of mechanizątion, like the growth of Iocal manufacturing industry and employment generation among skilled workers, as well as after-sales services for farm machines in the rural areas, which includes repair and machinery services, training of farmers and the provision of technical assistance.

Last May, PhilMech launched a regional technology management and demonstration center in Leyte, a P3-million infrastructure furnished with various farm machineries that farmers In collaboration with the DA’s regional field office for Region 8, the facility is ultimately designed to jumpstart the commercialization of PhilMech-invented and other suitable post-harvest and processing technologies, and provide access to information and technology services to farmers and fisherfolks in Eastern Visayas.

Published in The Philippine Star