UNLESS the government gives more priority to irrigation projects, the Philippines is unlikely to achieve rice self-sufficiency even after the term of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, according to Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
In an interview after the hearing of the Senate committee on public works on Tuesday afternoon, Marcos said a huge part of the country still lacks irrigation systems crucial to improving rice production.
National Irrigation Authority (NIA) data shows that of about 3.1 million hectares of irrigable lands in the country, only 1.7 million hectares had been irrigated.
However, the number could be less because some of the existing irrigation systems have been damaged by calamities that hit the country last year and there are also some that have to be rehabilitated.
Efren Roqueza, NIA manager for operation told the Senate panel that of the 1.7- million hectares of irrigated lands, about 500,000 hectares need rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructures.
For this year, he said, the government has allotted P21 billion for the construction of new irrigation systems covering 41 hectares, however there was no allocation for the rehabilitation of irrigation structures in disrepair.
“The problem is that there are not enough funds for repair and rehabilitation of irrigation systems for 2014. Although it is good to have available funds for new irrigation structures we still need to repair those that have been damaged,” Marcos explained.
Marcos said that with absence of irrigation systems to water the rice fields, the country would not be able to achieve rice self-sufficiency because farmers can’t increase their production.
“Irrigation should be given priority by the government because it is the lifeblood of our rice farmers, without it there will be no increase in rice production,” the senator pointed out.
Furthermore it is important for the country to improve its rice production in preparation for the 2015 Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA) wherein the Philippines would be competing with other countries in the region—rice is one of the commodities that will be included in the free trade.
Philippines, Marcos said, may not be ready by 2015 if the NIA and the Department of Agriculture would stick with their irrigation plan.
NIA estimates that if the national government allots P30 billion for the construction and rehabilitation of irrigation structures, it would take NIA 25 years to complete the job.
“So if you ask me, if we are ready to compete, not yet, there are still a lot of things that should be done for us to be ready next year,” he said.
Marcos filed Senate Bill 14, which seeks to give NIA the mandate to implement and expedite a massive national irrigation program with the goal of providing water to 95 percent of irrigable lands all over the country within three years from the affectivity of the law.