Gov’t must build more irrigation facilities

MANILA -- Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Thursday hailed President Rodrigo Duterte's signing of the Free Irrigation Law, saying it should "open the floodgates of an irrigation building spree to enable the country to feed its growing number of people.

Republic Act 10969, which was signed by the President, grants free irrigation to farmers owning not more than 8 hectares of land, and condones unpaid irrigation fees by farmers who till the same size of land.

Farmers with more than eight hectares of land, corporate farms, plantations, fishponds, and those drawing water for non-agricultural purposes are not covered by free irrigation.

RA 10969 affirms the State's commitment to contribute to the lowering of the cost of production through the provision of free irrigation service, and further relieve the farmers and their irrigators associations from the burden and consequence of unpaid irrigation service fees."

The law 'sets in stone' Duterte's order to freeze the collection of irrigation fees, and thus, cannot be repealed by a mere executive action in the future," Recto said.

The lawmaker from Batangas, who co-authored the bill in the Senate, said irrigation fees -- pegged at the price of two cavans of palay per hectare during the wet season, and three cavans during the dry months -- formerly paid by farmers would now be retained by them.

This would boost family income or farm production. And those three cavans could spell the difference between famine and feast," Recto noted.

In the meantime, he said that while the policy of paid farm water for small farms was now abandoned, "there is no abdication on the part of the government to expand and improve irrigation facilities.

Recto said irrigation and other farm infrastructure should also be part of the government's Build, Build, Build drive as expanding the irrigation footprint posed the greatest challenge to food production.

At present, of the three million hectares of irrigable land, only 1.7 million are irrigated, leaving a backlog of 1.3 million hectares.

The lawmaker pointed out that while the National Irrigation Administration's (NIA) 2016 budget of almost PHP 39 billion may seem impressive on paper," it was only enough to build new irrigation in 29,000 hectares of farmland and repair irrigation facilities existing in 18,000 hectares.

"At the rate we are appropriating, and compounded by the slow utilization of funds, it will take us 45 years -- almost half a century -- to wipe out the deficit. This drip-drip of funds for irrigation must end," he said.

The state of irrigation has an impact on how much food is on the table. We can only coax six tons of rice out of a hectare of unirrigated land. With irrigation, production rises to 8.6 tons per hectare. So as water supply increases, food imports recede, and hunger retreats," Recto said. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency