Promoting rice and white corn combination as a staple for Filipinos

Rice is a major staple food in the Philippines. But while the Philippines is one of the biggest rice producers in the world, it continues to import rice as the million metric tons of palay produced by the country cannot keep up with actual demand and consumption.

To ease dependence on imported rice, the government is implementing measures to increase domestic rice production. But researchers from the University of the Philippines Los Baños believe that these supply strategies should be complemented by remedies from the demand side to achieve rice self-sufficiency. One solution is promoting the consumption of alternative staples that will help reduce rice intake. A relatively cheap and nutritious alternative is white corn grits. But because it is an option that a majority of Filipinos, being much accustomed to rice, may find difficult to consider, the researchers are looking at rice-corn grits mix as a healthier and more acceptable alternative.

The study found a general willingness among rice farmers to try rice-corn mixture, but most of them will consider taste, price, aroma and texture. Interestingly, the younger the farmers, the more willing they are to try rice-corn mixture. Education also plays a crucial part in the farmer’s decision making as it can influence the management practices and the technologies to be adopted in the farms.

Joint to issues on rice sufficiency are health problems associated with rice consumption. The prevalence and incidence of type 2 diabetes are increasing at alarming rates in the country due, among others, to the traditional diet of white rice (Tan, 2016). In 2016, the Philippine Society of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism even branded the Philippines a “diabetes hotspot” with over 3.5 million Filipinos with diagnosed cases.

Rice-corn mixture is a good substitute to white rice. Corn has a low glycemic index and so making it part of a standard diet can help address the rising incidence of diabetes in the country. In studying the effects of rice and corn mix consumption on three- to five- year old malnourished Filipino children, researchers also saw that improvements in mean body weight were highest among children who were given a 50:50 rice-QPM corn mix as opposed to those treated solely with rice or with a 70:30 rice-corn mixture. QPM stands for quality protein maize, a variety of white corn with high levels of essential amino acids that other corn varieties, even rice, do not have.

Harvested IPB Var 6 white quality protein maize (Photo credit: Josefina Dizon et al.)

Cooked 70:30 rice and white corn combination (Photo credit: Josefina Dizon et al.)

Finally, the introduction of the rice-corn mix as a staple has economic benefits. For several years, the average yield of white corn in the Philippines stagnated due to a limited market, in contrast to yellow corn which has a big demand as feeds for hogs and poultry. With the increased market for white corn as food, it is expected that demand for high yielding and quality open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) and hybrids will also follow. Instead of depending on available low yielding traditional varieties, farmers can shift to the more productive OPVs or hybrids. This should translate to a better economic situation of farmers in the Philippines.

(“Promoting rice and white corn combination as food staple for Filipinos” is an Emerging Interdisciplinary Research project supported by the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs. This article was written jointly with the research team led by Dr. Josefina Dizon.)