Pioneering SouthCot farmer honored for contributions to rice industry, organic farming

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 30 May) – The Department of Agriculture (DA) posthumously honored a pioneering farmer-rice scientist based in nearby South Cotabato province for his contribution to the development of the country’s rice industry and the organic farming sector.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala personally bestowed a special citation on Wednesday to the late Perfecto “Ka Pecs” Ruiz Vicente, who succumbed last Monday to a lingering illnesses at the age of 80 at his home in Barangay San Vicente in Sto. Niño town in South Cotabato.

“His commitment and dedication to his work has been an inspiration to all of us. We lost a great man, a friend, a dedicated farmer and scientist. For me, this is the second time that I lost a father,” an emotional Alcala said at Vicente’s wake.

The official credited Vicente, who will be laid to rest on Friday, for his long years of work in promoting sustainable agriculture and organic farming as well as in assisting small rice farmers in the countryside.

He said the late scientist is considered as among the pillars of the country’s rice industry and was among the brains behind the crafting of Republic Act 10068 or the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010, which Alcala authored while representing the 2nd District of Quezon province in the 14th Congress.

Alcala said Vicente was among those who inspired him and other DA officials in pursuing its flagship initiative Food Staples Sufficiency Program, which mainly aims to provide sufficient, safe and nutritious food for every family and eventually end the country’s dependency to rice importation.

Peasant parents

Vicente was born in Manila on May 5, 1933 to peasant parents from Pangasinan province.

A consistent scholar, he eventually graduated with a degree in agriculture at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Los Banos.

Vicente took a job for several years as a researcher and faculty member at then UP College of Agriculture and later joined farmer-scientist network and think tank Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-Unlad ng Agrikultura Inc. (MASIPAG).

His work with MASIPAG brought him to Quezon province, Bicol and Davao regions and eventually in South Cotabato to conduct extensive research focusing on the preservation, propagation and breeding of indigenous rice varieties.

For his works, Vicente was awarded by DA with a special citation as outstanding farmer-scientist during the 7th National Organic Agriculture Conference held in Lucena City in Quezon province on November 16, 2010.

He was also a recipient of MASIPAG’s Lifetime Service Award and several other national and local awards and citations.

Alcala said he first met Vicente several years ago when he was pursuing the passage of the Organic Agriculture Act at the House of Representatives.

During his visits to the scientist’s home cum rice laboratory in Barangay San Vicente in Sto. Niño town, where the latter had settled for the last eight years, Alcala said he was awed by Vicente’s simplicity and drive to continue with his work despite his advanced age then.

“Talking to him, I saw that he was a pure person. He was really happy and satisfied with the kind of life that he pursued,” he said.

Vicente, who was exposed for many years among the poorest of the poor farmers in the country, had once lost his trust in the government and national leaders, Alcala said.

He said through their series of interactions, he was able to bring back the latter’s trust to the government and he later on convinced him to help DA in training its farm technicians, agriculture extension workers and small rice farmers in the area.

“He was practical and direct as a person. The first time that I visited him, I brought a soil tester as a gift. He expressed dismay over it, believing it was made in China, and was only relieved when I showed him that it came from Japan. But then he asked me: ‘Congressman, ito ba ay bigay o lagay (is this a gift or a bribe)?’ I only managed a smile and we became good friends after that,” he said.

Black rice

Alcala said among Vicente’s “greatest treasure and achievement” was his collection of over 500 traditional and indigenous rice varieties coming from various parts of the country.

Among these is the black rice, which DA earlier introduced through the traditional or organic farming method in some parts of the country and is now exported abroad.

“In one of my visits here about two years ago, he gave me two spoonfuls of black rice seeds. I initially introduced them to a group of farmers in Quezon province and now they’re starting to export their produce,” he said.

To further give due honor and recognition to Vicente’s work and achievements, Alcala said he will lead the establishment of a foundation in the latter’s name.

The planned foundation will champion the scientist’s lifetime commitment to mainstream sustainable agriculture and organic farming in the country, he said.

“His work will continue through this foundation. We will make sure that his vision to pass on these indigenous rice treasures to the later generations will be fulfilled,” he added.