A six-year accelerated irrigation program can convert the remaining unproductive, un-irrigated but potentially irrigable lands and the under-performing irrigated lands into opportunities for both the farmers and the government in increasing productivity.
Third Distric Rep. Arthur Yap emphasized this in House Bill 5368, seeking to mandate the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) to undertake a six-year accelerated irrigation program for the construction of irrigation projects in the remaining unproductive, un-irrigated but potentially irrigable lands nationwide and the under-performing irrigated lands.
Under the proposed mandate, NIA â€œshall conduct parallel assessments of existing irrigation systems, and the identification of potential irrigation projectsâ€.
It is aimed at insulating â€œirrigation policy and investments from the vicissitudes and volatility of political considerationsâ€.
On this, a Special Irrigation Fund shall be established by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in the annual General Appropriations Act to meet intensive irrigation program costs and for the continuous implementation of this proposed measure until its 6th year completion date.
â€œThis billâ€™s objective is to provide stable and predictable policy and the regulatory and financing support to enable great strides in the agricultural development of the country and substantially decreasing rural poverty in the Philippines in the decades to come at the shortest possible time,â€ Yap said.
It is aimed at accelerating irrigation development in the country to attain food security and a sustained productivity as key strategies to raise the quality of rural life and pursue national development.
â€œIrrigation development in the Philippines is estimated to be at a low 47-50 percent. It is betel by high costs of construction, operation and maintenance. low cost recovery; inappropriate design of irrigation project; Â and lack of inter-agency cooperation. Not only is irrigation development low, but the areas that have received irrigation investments are suffering from low productivity and cropping intensity due to the absence of maintenance funds to repair damaged irrigation facilities due to calamities and regular wear and tear,â€ Yap noted.
He cited that the irrigated farmlands classified as parts of the National Irrigation Systems are in the vicinity of P800,000 hectares while communal and private systems are about 500,000 hectares.
However, it can be noted that even as these lands are irrigated, significant amount is in disrepair and funds set aside for their annual maintenance and restoration, repair and rehabilitation, remain very much lacking, Yap added.
â€œThe result of the neglect of these irrigation infrastructure is a cropping intensity ( the number of times a crop is planted per year in a given agricultural area, or the ratio of effective crop area harvested to the physical area) of about 102.09 for Philippine Palay and 100.00 for Philippine Corn according to the Philippine Food Security Information System (Updated July 22, 2014). These are dismal figures which defeat the very purpose of why we irrigate farmlands: and that is to increase the planting and harvesting intensity for each square meter of harvestable farmland,â€ according to Yap.
A 2009 report of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), however, showed that â€œbeyond cropping intensity and rehabilitation issues is the fact that a total of 3.1 million hectares of agricultural lands in the country remain irrigableâ€.
â€œA significant figure that if reached by irrigation, could greatly boost agricultural productivity and enhance the countryâ€™s food security since it is accepted, that irrigation accounts for an increase in productivity by at least 10 percent (SEARCA, 2006 Study). In fact, the average rice production in irrigated areas is about 80 percent higher than rain-fed areas. Especially with the advent of Hybrid Seeds, and certified seeds, the maximization of these production varieties cannot be achieved without sufficient irrigation,â€ Yap said.
The current national production figures shows an increase of ten percent in local production and this translates to about one million metric tons of rice or a substantial percentage of the annual rice imports.
Aside from the amount of investments, there is a need to be consistent in irrigation development policy and Yap said this policy cannot be turned on and off like a light switch without due consequences.
â€œThere is also a need to use the latest construction technologies and designs, to meet multiple objectives that can include power generation, agriculture development, sanitation, livelihood and others, that will contribute to greater economic development. A combination in investment strategies will also need to be pursued through innovative financing models undertaken by appropriate government and private entities,â€ according to Yap.