THE solar-powered irrigation system and circular fish and vegetable tanks are set to be operational by December in Barangay New Janiuay, M'lang, North Cotabato.

This was disclosed by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol in an interview with Davao reporters early this month at the sidelines of the Southern Mindanao Integrated Agricultural Laboratory in Tugbok District, Davao City.

Piñol said the innovative system designed by a group of Filipino and American engineers will mark the start of a revolutionary method of providing water to rice fields, raising tilapia and growing vegetables using solar power.

Piñol explained the Solar-Powered Irrigation System will source its power from the sun to run a Grundfos water pump costing only P5 million with virtually no maintenance cost for the next five to 10 years.

In his Facebook post last November 17, Piñol further explained that the system “could pump out 300 gallons of water every minute to irrigate 100 hectares of rice fields in about 15 days using PVC pipes in the water distribution rather than open canals.”

The agriculture chief said that with sufficient irrigation water, the average rice production could increase from only four metric tons to eight metric tons if the farmer uses hybrid rice seeds and sufficient fertilizer.

Piñol added that beside the solar panels are two circular tanks dubbed as "Circles of Life" measuring 30 feet in diameter.

Each is needed to be filled with water of about three-feet deep. For the first tank, will serve for growing water cress or kangkong and other vegetables planted in pails hanging by the side of the tank half submerged in water using a modified Aquaponics system of planting vegetables.

The second tank will contain about 3,000 Tilapia fingerlings. He said these "tilapias" could be grown for about four months, just in time when the farmer harvests his rice after planting.

“The two tanks will be linked by small plastic pipes which, powered by a small electric motor, will pump water from the fish tank containing Tilapia wastes to the vegetable tank where it will be filtered by the Kangkong and pumped back as fresh water into the fish tank,” Piñol said.

He also said the movement of the water from one tank to another will create an aeration system “which would allow intensive growing of Tilapia to be fed by pelletised ground Kangkong leaves added with rice bran, powdered oyster shell and a little oil as binder.”

After four months, one farmer could harvest about one ton of medium-sized tilapia which when sold at P100 per kilo could earn the farmer an additional P100,000.

The system, Piñol said, was already operational in Coachella Valley in Southern California designed and built by Tilapia farmer Rocky French, a Filipino-American, co-owner of the Aquafarm Tech which operates a fishpond in the middle of the Southern California Desert.

Piñol admitted that he personally approached and asked French to design the system.

At present, a team of engineers led by American Moses Khuu and assisted by former journalist-turned-farmer Winchell Campos is working double time to realize the project long-dreamed by the farmers.

Piñol said that he will be inviting President Rodrigo Duterte “to witness the actual demonstration of this project believed to be not only to contribute to greater food production but also address poverty and malnutrition in the countryside.”