There is an initiative to instill in the minds of the young the value and culture of rice, the country’s main food commodity.

By Rudy A. Fernandez

The campaign has gained momentum over the past years since government and private
institutions parrtnered to undertake information dissemination activities with the theme, “Rice is Life.”

In 2006, the Asia Rice Foundation (ARF), along with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Alpha Phi Omega Service Sorority (APOSS) launched a nationwide short story writing competition revolving around the “Rice is Life” theme.

The ARF is a regional nonprofit organization established to support research, educational, cultural, and advocacy efforts that promote awareness and public appreciation of the role of rice within the diverse cultures of Asia. It is headquartered in the Los Baños-based, Philippine government-hosted Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), an agency involved in the rice information dissemination program.

Aside from ARF, DepEd, SEARCA, and APOSS, other participants in the program are the Department of Agriculture Region IV-A (DA Region IV-A), Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR), DA-Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), Ilaw ng Tahanan Publishing, Inc., and Liwayway Magazine.

Books by Children, for Children

The winning entry in the literary writing contest’s Filipino category, titled “Kulay at Butil ng Pangarap,” was co-authored by Elicia Margaret Umali, Elix Vincent Madrigal, and John Willy Dalay, all students of the Linga National High School in Pila, Laguna. Co-published by ARF, SEARCA, DA-BAR, and NAST, it was subsequently publicized by the nationally circulated Liwayway Magazine.

The winner in the English category, titled “The Adventures of Gabby Ghas,” was co-authored by Virna Karla Sebastian, Erika Thea Ajes, and Aya Arce, all from the Calamba Institute in Calamba City, Laguna. With the sponsorship of DA-PhilRice and IRRI and the help of noted illustrator Eisen Bernard Bernardo, ARF and Ilaw ng Tahanan published “The Adventures of Gabby Ghas.”

The illustrated book creatively describes how rice is produced and processed before it reaches consumers. Dr. Santiago R. Obien, former PhilRice executive director and now ARF board chair, said, “Gabby Ghas is a rice grain who wants to know his place in the world. (He) journeys through the rice field in search of his life’s purpose. Along the way, he encounters weeds, predatory insects and birds, and pesticide officers whose job is to protect the everprecious rice plants from harm—all of these help to make Gabby realize just how special he is.”

“The book is an excellent means of making young people learn more about rice and (better) appreciate…the role of rice farmers,” said Dr. Carmen Paule, chair of the short story writing committee, whose members were ARF executive director Dr. Kwanchai Gomez, Dr. Benito Vergara, Dr. Rossana Marie Amongo, and Rhoda Lantin.

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SEARCA Director Gil C. Saguiguit, Jr. described the picture book “as a way of introducing to our young the value and culture of eating rice,” and said it would lead to their learning to appreciate agriculture. “It is good to start them young in terms of their understanding of the importance of this commodity to their family and community’s wellbeing.”

He added, “Rice is what makes the world go round, at least in the Southeast Asia context. The rice crisis some years ago can attest to this. It has triggered the obsession of some countries in the region, the Philippines included, to be rice self-sufficient. It has become a political commodity
on which agriculture-based economics focus their utmost attention.”

Ilaw ng Tahanan launched “The Adventures of Gabby Ghas” at the Manila International Book Fair in 2009. DA-PhilRice also launched the book with a reading session at Megamall in Mandaluyong City. Reading sessions were subsequently held in Los Baños and Calamba City, and at the Museo Pambata and Virlanie Foundation in Manila. IRRI has also hosted reading sessions in elementary schools in Los Baños and neighboring Bay town.

Through the initiative of Education Secretary Armin Luistro, DepEd distributed 6,661 copies of the book for its Library Hub project. 300 copies of the book were distributed by the office of Governor Joey Salceda to public schools in the province, and the APOSS Alumanae Association distributed 60 copies of the book to public schools in Ligao, Albay.

In early 2011, Foundation University (in Dumaguete City) president Dr. Mira Sinco underscored the need for a Visayan version of “The Adventures of Gabby Ghas” to reach pupils and students in Central Philippines. In the translation contest that followed, “Ang mga Sugilanon ug ang Panimpalad ni Gabo Ghas” by Chris Wilson Tacalan, Kendrick Kitane, Rizza Mae Cabato, Jaeram Kirit, and Jeff Jerette Tayrus was adjudged the winner. The young translators were from Siaton Elementary School in Siaton, Negros Oriental.

Co-published by ARF, SEARCA, DA-PhilRice, and DABAR, the Visayan version was launched in 2012 in Pasig City with Secretary Luistro as guest speaker. In his message, the Education official lauded the project, and suggested having the book translated into other major Philippine dialects.

It was not long before three other versions—Tagalog, Iluko, and Bicol—rolled off the presses. The Tagalog translation, “Ang mga Pagsasapalaran ni Gabby Ghas (Palay-Bigas-Kanin),” was done by Dr. Emil Q. Javier, former UP president and UP Los Baños chancellor.

The Iluko version, “Dagiti Namaris a Padas ni Gabby Ghas (Pagay-Bagas-Inapuy),” was the result of the collective efforts of Alma Campano-Aguinaldo and Maribel Alupay, both of PhilRice-Batac City (Ilocos Norte); Reynaldo Andres of the Mariano Marcos State University; and Dr. Santiago R. Obien of the DA National Rice Program.

The Bicol version, “An Makangalas-ngalas na Agi-agi ni Gabby Ghas (Paroy-Bagas-Maloto),” was by Diana Velarde of the DA-Regional Field Unit-5. A Kapampangan translation is in the pipeline, ARF reported.

For more information, visit Asia Rice Foundation (ARF)

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s May 2015 issue.