South Cotabato

South Cotabato’s approach vs rat infestation: Hunt, kill, eat, collect rice prizes

Rommel Rebollido

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South Cotabato’s approach vs rat infestation: Hunt, kill, eat, collect rice prizes
An ongoing campaign to eliminate rodents from South Cotabato's farmlands has motivated farmers to become rat hunters

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – Swarms of rodents are devastating farmlands in South Cotabato. In response, local officials and farmers have devised an approach to exterminate the field rats without resorting to chemicals: hunt, kill, eat, and collect rice rewards.

The local agriculture office said that in many farming communities, the edible dagang bukid (rice-field rats) is considered a delicacy and can be cooked and served in various ways, including frying, adobo, caldereta, afritada, or grilling. Some farmers in South Cotabato even turn them into pulutan (appetizers) during drinking binges.

Unlike their urban counterparts dwelling in sewers, field rats predominantly inhabit cultivated areas like rice paddies and grasslands and rely on plantations for sustenance, while seeking refuge inside logs, the soil, or under rocks.

In Tboli town, there are farmers who venture into the fields at night equipped with flashlights, bows, and arrows to hunt rats, which they said are a good source of protein.

Ronald Pacol, South Cotabato’s coordinator for integrated pest management control, told reporters during a May 11 forum that an ongoing campaign to eliminate rodents from farmlands has motivated farmers to hunt rats. 

Local officials have encouraged them to save the rodent tails, which are dried and exchanged for rice.

“They can eat the meat and dry the tails. Ten dried tails can be exchanged for a kilo of rice,” he said. 

The provincial government initially set aside P1 million for rice purchases to support the campaign.

Pacol said almost all towns, including South Cotabato’s capital Koronadal City, were infested with rodents.

He said there has been significant crop damage in at least four towns: Lake Sebu, Tboli, Tantangan, and Surallah, municipalities that have been heavily affected by rodent attacks in previous years.

Pacol recalled that a series of rat infestations from 2018 to 2022 resulted in crop damage that reached at least P69 million.

The current infestation in the province has exacerbated the challenges faced by the province’s farmers as they prepare for an impending long dry spell due to the looming El Nino phenomenon. South Cotabato is among the 20 provinces being closely monitored due to forecasts of severe El Nino impact.

“This time, the rat eradication campaign will be more focused, with farmers manually hunting the field rats to ensure they are killed and consumed,” he said.

Johnary Orella of the Tboli Municipal Information Office said farmers in his municipality alone have so far turned in approximately 2,300 dried rat tails just a few days after the start of the campaign on May 9. 

The Municipal Agriculture Office in Tboli increased the rewards by providing the equivalent volume of rice to farmers in exchange for the dried rat tails, which were eventually incinerated, according to Orella.

Thousands more were presented by farmers in Lake Sebu and Surallah towns to collect the rice rewards.

“We are dealing with an intelligent animal and we need to be careful in outwitting it,” said Pacol.

He said the use of rodenticide has become nearly impractical as the rats appear to have developed immunity to it. He cited instances when the field rats consumed the rodenticide at their demonstration farm and were unaffected by it..

Local officials said the manual method of hunting rats is a more effective approach to reduce, if not eliminate, the rodent population in the province.

Pacol said a pair of mature rodents can produce up to 512 offspring, pointing out the  potential devastation thousands of pairs could inflict on farmlands. 

He said there was a need for the aggressive campaign to be launched  to eradicate the rats before their September breeding season.

Pacol also said that rodents normally begin attacking rice, corn, vegetables, and high-value crops during the dry season due to the loss of their natural habitat. 

With fewer forests and trees available for foraging, they are forced to seek food in farmlands, he said. –

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