Domoguen: Solar powered irrigation for highland agriculture

LEONARDO da Vinci, Italian Renaissance polymath was credited for saying that “water is the driving force of all nature.”

Similarly, Hungarian biochemist and Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine in 1937 Albert Szent-Gyorgy (September 16, 1893 – October 22, 1986), declared that “water is life's matter and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.”

The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) of the Philippines may have been influenced by these thoughts when it adopted the slogan, “Water is Life,” to promotes its irrigation programs and projects.

In agriculture, water supplies two essential elements: hydrogen and oxygen to the crops. Water, through irrigation, is necessary for the absorption of mineral nutrients by the plants from the soil.

It is essential for the growth of the roots of the crop plants that absorbs nutrients from the soil for the plant.

Irrigation is the method in which a controlled amount of water is supplied to plants at regular intervals for agriculture. It is when people supply water to plants to help them grow when there is not enough rain.

Irrigation water can be pumped from rivers, lakes and wells or allowed to flow to the fields by the force of gravity along pipes or open canals.

The methods in agriculture are Surface, Sprinkler, Drip, Center pivot and manual irrigation.

Irrigation development for agriculture in the Philippines continues to be transformed in a country where too much and too little of this precious resource continue to affect the productivity of the nation’s farms.

Irrigation maintains moisture in the soil. Moisture is necessary for the germination of seeds. Generally, too much or too little of irrigation is not good for farming.

In advanced countries, irrigation is managed under controlled agricultural environments. Enough moisture is mixed with nutrients and distributed to the plants aerially as mists or through feeding pipes to the roots of the plants.

In most agricultural areas in the countryside of the country, the availability of irrigation water depends mostly on monsoon rains, if not provided through diesel-operated water pumps.

In the Cordillera, most irrigation systems established by the DA operate through gravity. Few farmers use engine pumps to operate their irrigation system. Water is piped or channeled through irrigation canals from very far distances. Today, however, problems like siltation, erosion, and seepage make the maintenance of open source irrigation systems very expensive.

According to Engineer Marvin Ladilad, of the DA-CAR Regional Agricultural Engineering Division (RAED), the DA is investing some P50 million for the repair and construction of gravity irrigation systems in the region like small farm reservoirs (SFR), small water impounding projects (SWIP), diversion dam (DD), spring development, among others. He estimated that the agency has been spending the same amount annually on these types of projects in the last decade.

Siltation also affects the NIA’s National Irrigation System (NIS). The NIA suspends the operation of its systems and spends huge amounts of funds just to de-silt dams and NIS canals.

When irrigation water cannot be tapped from the NIA’s NIS or communal irrigation systems developed by the DA’s regional offices and Bureau of Soils and water Management (BSWM) in cooperation with the local government units (LGUs) and farmer beneficiaries, the production cycle will necessarily be disrupted. In some instances, the whole cropping cycle is abandoned until the next cropping season.

Those who use diesel-powered engines to directly pumped water to their farms from open sources also encounter several disadvantages particularly costs of machines, repairs, replacement for destroyed or defective machine parts, and increases in prices of fuel which directly affects the economic success of the farmers.

In light of the above misgivings, the news on the first and biggest solar-powered irrigation system in Luzon excited me no end.

Its construction and completion in Llanera, Nueva Ecija was successfully tested by officials of the DA Regional Field Office (DA-RFO 3) earlier this month.

Known as the Caridad Norte and Sur Solar-Powered Irrigation System (SPIS), this pilot project of the DA-RFO 3 is seen to enhance and sustain rice production in the highland rain-fed areas of Llanera town.

I recall that during the first Byaheng Bukid visit of DA Secretary Emmanuel Piñol to the Cordillera, he promoted the use of solar powered irrigation to the region’s local chief executives and DA officials.

I am certain the good Secretary also talked about solar powered irrigation with the local officials in Central Luzon.

DA Central Luzon Executive Director Roy Abaya and Crispulo Bautista, Jr., Assistant Regional Director for Operations & Extension saw an opportunity to immediately help the highland farmers with this technology. The solar-powered irrigation facility that they set-up in Llanera will irrigate 50-70 hectares of rain-fed rice lands cultivated by 125 rice farmers, who are members of the Caridad Norte and Sur Irrigators Association (CNSIA).

Solar-powered irrigation facilities provide a cost-effective and practical solution to boost agricultural productivity in rain-fed agricultural lands by making irrigation water accessible to small farmers who needed it the most, to sustain their livelihoods and help them attain food security.

I am informed by Engineer Marvin Ladilad of the DA-RFO-CAR RAED that the agency, in partnership with the local government units (LGUs) and farmer-associations, has already proposed for the construction of 12 pilot solar powered irrigation projects in the Cordillera.

He said the projects will be established in the rice and corn growing areas of Abra, Ifugao, and Kalinga provinces at a cost of P6 million for each unit or system.

In the Cordillera, Ladilad estimated that one solar power irrigation system has a capacity of irrigating 10 hectares of agricultural land.


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