President Benigno Aquino 3rd the other day rebuked Administrator Antonio Nangel of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) for his failure to meet his agency’s target.
Mr. Aquino was guest speaker in the agency’s 50th founding anniversary celebration. As it turned out, there was nothing to celebrate, if the statistics are any guide.
NIA is a government owned and controlled corporation (GOCC). Its mandate is to build and manage irrigation systems all over the country.
According to the President, NIA failed to do its job year after year. In one egregious example, NIA was scheduled to irrigate 22,639 hectares of farmlands. Only 40 percent of the target was met.
This is a disturbing trend. If not reversed on time, it could derail the government’s food self-sufficiency program and put the whole nation at risk.
A report from the Department of Agriculture shows that the land area under irrigation increased to 1.57 million hectares last year, from 1.54 million the previous year, up by a minuscule 1.9 percent. It also states that only about half of all irrigable land in the country is actually getting the water supply it needs.
The same report adds that potential irrigable land area is close to another 1.5 million hectares. At the rate things are moving it would take us 200 years to irrigate the whole country.
Although it does not rate a Cabinet portfolio, NIA is very important in the scheme of things. Its ability to expand the coverage of irrigation system will have an impact on the country’s prosperity.
Two years ago, Mr. Nangel announced that NIA had been able to put 35,000 hectares of farmlands under irrigation. The veracity of that claim is now in doubt.
Could it be that Mr. Nangel and his team were inflating the figure?
The President in his address said he has promised to extend the benefits of irrigation to as wide an area as possible, but a good part of his own district in Tarlac, and the rest of the province, still suffer from a lack of irrigation.
He lamented that the Balog-Balog Multipurpose Dam, conceived 21 years ago, remains a dream. It is meant to irrigate close to 40,000 hectares of rice land in the province, but not a spade of earth has been moved, and yet the plans are drawn and funding is available.
If Tarlac, the President’s home province, is being neglected, you can be sure the situation is worse in the rest of the country, all because the NIA administrator is not doing his job.
The government is subsidizing the cost of hand tractors and other farm implements, fertilizers, and pesticides. It is also embarking on an ambitious program to build farm-to-market roads, establish rice and corn drying facilities, and similar other projects.
Obviously, all these things are useless and a waste of taxpayers’ money if water is not flowing into the farmlands to make the crops grow.
The least Mr. Nangel can do is to keep in step with the government as it executes its agricultural master plan, if indeed there is such a master plan.
The President cannot afford deadwoods. If anybody in his government fails to deliver, he should fire that erring official. So much is at stake that mere dressing down just won’t do.