Together We Rice

by: Kyle Cruz, Giany Discar, Kenrik Ng, Michelle Parlan, Alexio Tabafunda, Maxine Trinidad

Rice has been, and still is, an important part of our Filipino culture. Just as our rich history, rice went through a long journey before becoming the rice that we know and eat today. It took generations to determine how to produce high quality rice for everyone’s consumption until after a brilliant man tested several breeds. After the lengthy and rigorous process rice went through, to whom should we give the credit of being hailed as the foremost rice breeder? Who would’ve known that this one man was able to revolutionize the science of rice for the country?

This year, 2013, is proclaimed to be the Year of the Rice according to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. We dedciate this blog entry to that man, the “Master of the Rice” of the Philippines, Dr. Pedro B. Escuro.

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Dr. Pedro B. Escuro

“The Master of the Rice”

As a farmer’s child living in Nabua, Camarines Sur, Dr. Escuro had always been exposed to agriculture. His father owned four hectares of farmland that he and his children cultivated for financial sustenance. Pedro would help his father plant crops, including rice, and would help him tend to the livestock. However, all that hard work still yielded a particularly low amount of rice harvest, and so Pedro and his family were never completely financially stable. The low yield was due to the fact they only planted traditional varieties. These varieties weren’t the best compared to other rice variants and would therefore be unable to produce better ones. Little did they know that Pedro himself would be the one to improve these varieties when he grew older.

Did you know… Out of the seven children Pedro’s parents had, only three survived. Their names? Candido, Pedro and Candida.

Pedro dreamed of becoming an engineer during his early years of high school in Naga. However, he changed his mind after witnessing the horrors that were unleashed when World War II broke out and ravaged our lands and people.

Since then, Pedro began to have further respect for what his own father did all these years and even regarded agriculture as a profession on the same level of prestige and importance that the rest of the world regarded engineering with.

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“Engineers and lawyers were a pitiful lot during the war.  Many of them came to our place to harvest rice.  They could hardly pick a panicle.  My father gave them all they could harvest.  I saw that they could starve during a calamity, like war.”

Pedro decided to enroll under the Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, major in Agronomy program in the University of the Philippines, College of Agriculture in 1948. (National Institute of Science and Technology, 1967)

In the beginning he had nothing but a few of his own sacks of rice to use for his studies, but through hard work and discipline, he began to make a name of himself. With sheer determination, Escuro became an instructor in the Department of Agronomy in UPCA after graduating college. His work began to earn him a reputation, and the chairman of the Agronomy Department thought he deserved to further hone his craft and so ha was granted a recommendation for a scholarship to study in the U.S. Pedro accepted this opportunity and went on to finish his master’s degree in plant breeding at Cornell University in 1954.

Did you know… Pedro graduated magna cum laude in the University of Philippines.

Persevering in his studies and aiming to make a contribution to agriculture, he developed the idea of a certain type of rice that should be grown in the Philippines during his master’s thesis. He characterized this ideal rice plant as being resistant to pests and ailments, stress tolerant, and capable of producing high amounts of stable, high-quality yield, all at minimum production cost.

In 1959, Pedro earned his Ph.D. in plant breeding at the University of Minnesota, where he confirmed a scientific rice breeding principle during his research. This principle states “the inheritance in rice (is) controlled by additive genes, or inheritance materials. For example, if the parents are both high yielding, the offspring gives a higher yield than either parent.” (Fontanilla, 2004)

Pedro pursued to realize this idea of the ‘ideal’ rice plant as the new acting head of the Department of Agronomy when he returned to the Philippines. His process began with the evaluation of parent rice plants characteristics and quality, because, as he deduced, the ideal offspring would obviously come from ideal parents through inheritance. He evaluated 1000 local parent rice plants and 2500 US-supplied parent rice plants. (Fontanilla, 2004)

After seasons of testing and working to grow the ideal rice plant, the C4-63 breed was found to have impressive results. “C4-63 is a medium maturing, moderately high yielding variety. It is moderately resistant to many pests and diseases and is adapted to a fairly wide range of soil and water conditions…” (Fontanilla, 2004) This specific grain showed high eating qualities, as tested through what is called ‘eating quality tests’ and became popular among Asians especially with the Filipinos.

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Dr. Escuro’s “masterpiece”, the C4-63 breed of rice.

He found success in his ambition to improve the yield of certain rice breeds, particularly those in the C-series. C4-63 itself had increased yield by 20% after careful breeding by Dr. Escuro. Pedro began to lead teams of pathologists, chemists, food technologists, and other agronomists to help with the breeding of the C-series of rice grains to which they succeeded and managed to improve other rice breeds like C40137, C4-168, C22, C4-113, UPL-Ri-5, PSB Rc 16, and PSB Rc 36.) (Fontanilla, 2004) Due to the successful development of C4 rice varieties, for the first time in Philippine history, the country had become self-sufficient in rice.

After being recognized for greatly improving the quality of rice in the Philippines, Dr. Pedro Escuro went on to perform further agricultural research abroad and in 1986 he joined the International Rice Research Institute where he became a consultant for his research in rice.

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Dr. Escuro being awarded National Scientist.

Eventually, he retired at the age of 68, but it is undeniable that he had created a large impact in the scientific and agricultural community, especially here in the Philippines. His work on the different varieties of rice helped us maintain our status as a rice-providing country. Not only did Dr. Escuro create new strains of rice, but he also served as an inspiration to young biologists and agriculturists. Philippine society views this as one of the Filipino people’s greatest achievements. It has inspired many people to work hard and try to be at par with such a great scientist. His achievements in this field proved to the world that even a lowly third-world country-dwelling person could create something so useful and important, thus deserving the title “National Scientist”.

References:

Fontanilla, Conrado. “Philippine Heroes of Science.”. Ed. Evelyn Mae Tecson-Mendoza and Serlie F. Barroga-Jamias. Taguig: National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines, 2004. P. 114-120. Print. Martinez, Aureo C. National Year of the Rice. Digital image.

Department of Agriculture: ATI in the Ilocos Region. N.p., 2 Feb. 2013. Web. 5 July 2013. <http://ati.da.gov.ph/rtc1/sites/default/files/NYR2013.jpg&gt;. National Institute of Science and Technology. “Philippine Men of Science”. Manila: National Institute of Science and Technology 1967. P.193-195. Print.

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