LEGAZPI CITY, Albay: More irrigation projects for the remaining 43 percent of non-irrigable farmlands for farmers to replant rice twice a year are necessary to attain food sufficiency in the country, according to National Irrigation Administration (NIA) Administrator Peter Lavina.
In the Bicol Region alone, 42 percent of ricelands remain waterless, preventing farmers from planting twice a year, Lavina said over the weekend.
“Nationwide, it is almost the same as only 57 percent are irrigated and 43 percent are unirrigated,” he added.
In its 10-year master plan, the NIA aims to irrigate up to 75 percent of ricelands.
Under the Duterte administration, which exits in 2022, Lavinia said the agency hopes to irrigate 70 percent or about 390,000 hectares of waterless farmlands across the country to attain food security even with climate change phenomenon.
He added that one of NIA’s objectives is to put up more irrigation projects in the country to avert land conversion resulting from rapid urbanization that swallows up the country’s remaining farmlands, affecting food production.
“Rapid urbanization has eaten our farmlands because landowners convert their farm for commercial and industrial uses rather than rice production, so we need to look into farmlands for rice production for food sufficiency,” Lavina said.
Though according to him the government could not prevent urbanization, he said under the law rice paddies could not be converted for commercial and industrial uses but landowners, according to him, are employing various tricks to convert their land.
Nationwide, about 200,000 hectares of farmlands have been converted for industrial and commercial businesses, Lavina said.
This has been aggravated as local government units have the power to allow the conversion of five to 15 percent of their farmlands.
In the past, the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite and Laguna constituted a rice granary but land conversion of vast tracts of rice fields have erased that reputation, Lavina said.
The National Irrigation Administration has a P38-billion budget this year but a big portion or P12 billion of it is allocated for debt services as irrigation users or members hardly pay their debt.
A total of P2 billion remains uncollected.
The NIA management is also facing a dilemma as irrigators and farmers refuse to pay for irrigation services after President Rodrigo Duterte announced free irrigation as part of his campaign platform.
“The free irrigation fee is a challenge to the NIA as it will lessen our income and [affect our plans]to make the irrigators associations even stronger even without incentive for them. We need stronger partnership with them for our operations and maintenance,” Lavina said.
“The free irrigation fee is a tool for discipline and organizing. If this will be removed, this will create dissension in the ranks and trigger possible fight for the delivery of water. There are instances that they [irrigators]are fighting for the delivery of water specifically today that our association will no longer control the irrigators associations [that offer]free irrigation,” he added.
Across the country, there are 8,100 irrigators’ associations with more than 1 million members.
The NIA, a government-owned and -controlled corporation or GOCC, is a losing agency, according to Lavina.
He flew to Bicol where he visited irrigation facilities in the towns of Libon, Polangui and Oas, all in the Third District of Albay, to look into damages left by Typhoon Nina.
The typhoon left P158,724,916.86 in damages to irrigation facilities here.
The provinces of Albay, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Catanduanes suffered the most, according to the agency.
In these provinces, 8,888 farmers were affected and 7,221 hectares of ricelands were destroyed.
Albay province has the highest number of farmers affected with 4,563 and the biggest area of ricelands damaged with 4,105.
Total damage to irrigation projects was P84,215,412.00.
Next to Albay was Camarines Sur with 2,765 hectares devastated and 4,126 farmers affected and total damage of P14,600,000.00.
Albay and Camarines Sur are the rice granaries of the Bicol Region.
Catanduanes reported 281 hectares ruined by Typhoon Nina and 105 farmers affected with P3,400,000.00 worth of damages.
In Camarines Norte, 70 hectares were damaged and 94 farmers were affected, with P.5 million in damages.
RHAYDZ B. BARCIA