Tuesday, February 22, 2011

We can grow wheat in the Philippines (again).


Bread baked from locally grown wheat is at par with that of US wheat in all aspects from leavening to taste and nutrition.

Wheat grain somewhat resembles the shape and form of coffee bean. Whole wheat contains high protein, nearly twice that of rice. Wheat flower resembles that of most grains, including rice, barley and rye.

Threshing wheat by hand, similar to rice. Threshing is much easier, and wheat stalk is kinder to the hand. The hay has higher nutrient value than rice, and is easier for animals to digest.
Author's son Marlo, then 5 years old, takes pride in displaying a freshly harvested wheat from a farmer's field.

A wheatfield in early flowering stage in San Vicente, Ilocos Sur

Closeup of standing crop under different levels of fertilizer application.



Abe V Rotor

Everytime we eat pandesal, a unique and distinctly Filipino kind of bun, we take one step pro-Western. Economicswise, that is. Let me explain.

Pandesal as poor man's food is fallacy

The mother material - whole wheat grain - is imported from the United States by big companies which grouped themselves into the Philippine Association of Flour Millers, Inc. PAFMI mills the grain into flour and sell it to local bakers. The bran, the by-product of milling called pollard is an important ingredient of poultry and animal feeds. To augment this, the group also imports feed wheat.

Actually PAFMI and PAFMI (Philippine Association of Feed Millers) are one. They produced wheat flour for bakery products, mainly pandesal (70 per cent of all bakery products). They formulate feeds from pollard and from feed wheat and dominate the local feed industry. They produce poultry, meat and meat products through their local contractors called integrators. And they directly import hotdog, hamburger, dairy products, and the like.

Here is a scenario for the pandesal consumer. Wheat comes from the prairies of North American covering the Dakotas, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and a dozen more States, adjolining Canada. A state may be bigger than the Philippines in land area. The American farmer who cultivates hundreds, if not thousands, of acres using airplane and railway systems, plants his wheat either before winter (the germinated seed remains dormant or overwinters), or in the spring. Thus, when we import, we specify winter or spring wheat.

Generally spring hard wheat is preferred for pandesal, although it is more costly. We import the premium wheat, the best in the world. Just to make pandesal! The soft type of wheat (varieties with less of the leavening substance called gluten), is made into cakes, pastries and crackers. There is also the durum wheat or pasta, which is made into macaroni or spaghetti, also by the PAFMI members. They make those ready-in-two minutes and instant noodles, pancit canton, mami, soups, etc.

Now, where is my pandesal? Either it is shrinking or taking new shapes, or both. There are various versions of pandesal, with different product presentation and prices. That is why pandesal can not be standardized, and much more, socialized. How could it be a poor man’s breakfast? Where is the control button?

In the seventies wheat importation was in the hands of the National Grains Authority. It was decreed under PD 4 by the president, then President Ferdinand Marcos.

PAFMI and PAFMIL members received their allocations from NGA to mill and sell the products. The revenues were used to build warehouses and other post harvest facilities. NGA generated its own corporate funds, mainly from wheat importation, which was used to subsidize the small rice and corn farmers, and in carrying out the country's food self-sufficiency program. We soon became self-suffiency in rice and corn, and eventually the Philippines became a net rice exporter starting in 1975 and continued on to the early eighties. This was the golden era of the grain industry in the country.

The scenario has changed since the transfer of wheat importation into the hands of the private sector, principally PAFMI and PAFMIL. (Only rice was kept exclusively under direct government importation and control.) The wheat grain goes to the giant bins and mill complexes of the PAFMI/L members concentrated in Metro Manila, others in Cebu and Mindanao. It is safe to estimate that the total value of wheat and corn imported annually is between $10 to $20 billion, increasing at least 5 percent each year. One can imagine the staggering figure if we include feed wheat and pollard, fish meal and soyabean meal which are also important feed ingredients.

Let's take pork and beans as an example for analysis. At one time, white bean was tried in Mindanao. It did not grow true to type, because it is a temperate crop. So we continued to import the white bean, one hundred percent.

How about the tiny pork? It is produced locally but the corn used as feed came from Thailand. Comparatively it is cheaper to import corn than to cultivate it here. The tin can and label are also imported.

Analogously, it is cheaper to import rice than to grow it here. No wonder the government imported on the average one million metric tons of rice yearly under the three previous administrations - and is likely that the present is going to do the same. And to think that the sources are Vietnam, a war-torn country, and Thailand which used to send its scientists and students to study rice production in UP and IRRI at Los BaƱos.

Now where is the pandesal? At one time before the EDSA Revolution, our farmers had started planting local wheat varieties developed by the Institute of Plant Breeding at UPLB. The variety Trigo 2 was for cakes and pastries, while Trigo 1 was for pandesal. Farmer cooperators in the Ilocos region, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, and also in the Visayas and Mindanao planted wheat on their ricefield as second crop under a packaged program initiated by DA, NFA, PCARRD and UPLB and other state universities.

But all these ended up after the Edsa Revolution.

Yes, we can grow wheat successfully in the Philippines. A further proof is that during the Spanish period, farmers in Cagayan down to Batangas were growing a wheat known as Cagayan wheat. The local wheat was even shipped through the Galleon Trade. Cagayan wheat was mentioned in an autobiography of a Frenchmen, de Gironierre, “Half a Century in the Philippines.”

Wheat production and consumption scenarios

As wheat farmer he gets a good average yield, as high as 3.11MT per hectare, higher than world’s average - comparatively profitable with other cash crops after rice. He uses the same farm (second crop after the rice season), same tools and equipment like irrigation, same techniques like fertilization, and post harvest processes. With the government support he is assured of both market and price of his produce. He produces also wheat bran and hay for his livestock, which are better than those of rice. With these he can raise poultry and livestock.

To the average consumer, locally grown wheat can be made into arroz caldo, poridge, wheat cakes - other than the conventional pandesal, pandebara, pandelemon padecoco, cakes and pastries. Now he can eat more than the average per capita level (10.3 to 12 kg per year), because local wheat becomes more affordable, especially so that wheat comes in various preparations, including rice-wheat mix.

In this case he gets more protein - as high as 12 percent for whole wheat, 8 to 9 percent for regular flour. Rice has barely half protein level. He gets 75 percent starch, so with rice. But he gets gluten, the substance that makes wheat, and only wheat, naturally leavening. He gets also high crude fiber, oil, minerals and vitamins.

Wheat adapts to our fertile soil and under our beautiful sky with the loving, faithful toiling hands of our farmers. Wheat can be part of our dining table, of our children’s baon, of our farm animals feed, of our fiesta’s merriment, and not only in hamburger and pandesal. We can call pandesal under a bona fide Pilipino name.~

Triticale - a cross between wheat (Triticum) and rye (Secale) - was successfully grown on the Benguet in the seventies.

As a rule, triticale combines the high yield potential and good grain quality of wheat with the disease and environmental tolerance (including soil conditions) of rye. It is grown mostly for forage or fodder although some triticale-based foods can be purchased at health food stores or are to be found in some breakfast cereals, bread and other food products such as cookies, pasta, and pizza dough. The protein content is higher than that of wheat although the glutenin fraction is less. The grain has also been stated to have higher levels of lysine than wheat. As a feed grain, triticale is already well established and of high economic importance. (Internet)


The Edge of the Forest, AVR 2011

3 comments:

ais said...

i remember being awe-stricken when my father used to tell me of our previous capacity to export rice during his time..

Honeylyn Beltran said...

I wonder why the government hasn’t pursued such opportunity (again) if it was profitable and highly beneficial. It probably is because of the lack of knowledge most of our countrymen have regarding this matter. I, honestly, am very amazed with this. I love pandesal and if there is a chance that I can enjoy it more often at a more affordable price, I would love it even more. If this knowledge about wheat production in the Philippines would be known, I believe that it can significantly help our economy.

The Department of Agriculture should hold this information with utmost importance and impart this knowledge to everyone especially the farmers. Since the Philippines is naturally an agricultural country, farmers of the countryside would benefit a lot. They’d have new crops that would guarantee them of a good profit.

Bez said...

The pan de sal, or the so called “salt bread”, is one of the most sought after breads here in the Philippines. Whether you live in Luzon, Visayas, or Mindanao, you ought to find those tiny, hole in the wall bakeries which sell this delectable delicacy. It can be eaten during the day as breakfast to go with that perfect cup of coffee, or in the late afternoon for “merienda” with that nice warm plate of pancit.

With the help of the University of the Philippines Los Banos branch, it enables the farmers to be able to cultivate our own wheat to make our own pastries, without making them poorer as the wheat now produced is now cheaper to cultivate. It is a sad thought though, that some bakeries, make the pan de sal they make smaller, to increase their income, when in fact it should be those old, big, regular sized ones that make it a hearty meal in itself. Never the less, the pan del sal is truly a Filipino delicacy and will continue to grace the tables of the generations to come.