Rice sufficiency within reach-A A +A
By JM Agreda
Thursday, January 17, 2013
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – Abundant water supply remains a contributing factor to the growth of the agriculture sector in 2013.
This is the challenge which the National Irrigation Administration faces head-on this year to achieve the Department of Agriculture’s rice self-sufficiency goal and highlighted recently in its Food Staple Sufficiency Program.
NIA Administrator Antonio Nangel, in an interview by Sun.Star Baguio, said the country is well on its way to reaching self-sufficiency with the additional coverage of 170,000 hectares of new irrigated lands this year.
Out of the 3,124,000 hectares in potential area, the agency has now covered 1,615,000 hectares of farm lands particularly those which are producing food staples such as rice and corn.
Nangel said the country will only need some 200,000 hectares to be covered by irrigation facilities, which NIA started developing in 2011 and is already nearing completion this year with the coverage of some additional 60,000 hectares of farmlands.
He also added that they are developing more than enough irrigation facilities to dampen formerly far-flung dry and rain-fed farm lands with a buffer of some 110,000 hectares of irrigation coverage this year.
P22 billion for 2013
But he stressed the agency is still far-off from covering the entire potential area in the Philippines but is optimistic this will be reached through continuous coordination with irrigators associations in the country.
He believes the P22 billion funding allocated by the country’s legislators in the national budget is enough for the country to reach rice self-sufficiency, a feat hard to reach by the Agri department, which was previously accused of allowing the importation of millions in cavans of rice from other countries during the previous administration.
But he said with a renewed directive, they were able to lower rice importation and focus more on improving yield and irrigating farm lands to increase the cropping intensity of palay producers.
In the Cordillera alone, of the 60,000 hectares in irrigated land, some 60 percent of these agricultural production areas or some 48,000 hectares are serviced even during the dry season.
Barring any strong typhoon this year and drastic effects of climate change such as prolonged El Niño, he said they are well on their way to reaching the rice self-sufficiency target bannered by DA Secretary Proceso Alcala.
Among the realization of this vision, he said, is the completion of Farmer’s Training Centers all over the country. In La Trinidad, a town focusing on the cultivation of semi-temperate vegetables, NIA is constructing a P24 million three-storey training center which Nangel inaugurated this month and expected to be completed this year.
He said this will provide trainings on good agricultural practices to increase yield and most importantly produce quality highland vegetables.
This was backed by Benguet Governor Nestor Fongwan who stressed the province has to continually improve produce and strategize producing enough supply not only to the usual wet markets like Balintawak and Divisoria in Metro Manila but also high-end markets.
For the governor, this is the only way to combat the impending agricultural crisis looming with the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement implementation in 2016.
He also believes with reliable facilities such as irrigation, food will no longer be scarce in the future with the country also exporting its vegetables as well as rice in other countries due to its competitiveness.
The NIA Administrator, meanwhile, said they are addressing results of climate change through constant training of farmer-members of irrigators associations on good agricultural practices, new technologies and modern methods of propagating rice varieties resilient to the changing and unpredictable weather.
In a region characterized by rugged and steep terrain, Nangel said it remains as a challenge to reach far-flung farm lands.
However, he stressed they have been harnessing new technologies to reach areas in the Cordillera mountain ranges by acquiring ram pumps, which are able to self-generate continuous water supply by through force ensuring incessant irrigation supply in highland farms.
The NIA administrator said this ram pump technology benchmarked by NIA-CAR director John Socalo in the Visayas will be replicated here.
Although not a rice-producing region, the Cordillera has been a stable source of heirloom rice like Unoy in Kalinga, Tinawon in Ifugao and Kintoman in parts of Benguet which remain as a commodity in high-end and organic markets, Assistant Secretary and Nation Agripinoy Rice Coordinator Dante Delima said.
This is apart from the high-yielding varieties already cultivated in palay producing provinces of Kalinga and Abra.
Delima, who also initiated programs for the restoration of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ifugao Rice Terraces, particularly in Batad and Banaue, said they are relying on irrigation to make rice lands viable, especially during dry season.
This will be answered by new irrigation systems to be developed in 2013 with some P667,261,000 in budget allocation both for rehabilitation and developing of irrigation systems in the Cordillera.
NIA regional manager John Socalo said they are concentrating efforts in areas such as Apayao, with the highest allocation among provinces this year with P187 million.
Other provinces also get their allocation for rehabilitation and developing of irrigation. Among these are Kalinga, the region’s rice granary, with P131.5 million; Mt. Province with P111 million; Ifugao with P108 million, Benguet with P61 million and Abra with P59 million.
The last two provinces were recipients of irrigation funding in previous years.
With this refocusing on irrigating farmlands, both agricultural officials agree rice self-sufficiency is within reach and well on its way to the boost of the sector which have been placed in the sidelines for decades and now enjoying a resurgence in the Aquino Administration.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on January 17, 2013.