[Publisher / Editor’s note: Monday, Wednesday and Friday thereafter, we publish this column by veteran journalist Dong A. de los Reyes. He will be writing pieces favorable to presidential candidate Grace Poe Llamanzares. We in the management are simply making sure that The Manila Times continues to be a fair and balanced newspaper, given that ALL the current Times columnists have turned out to be critical of Ms. Poe.]
DROUGHTS eat up at least P5 billion in yearly crop losses; hardest hit are rice and corn growing areas. That may mean going deeper in debt, even going without food for weeks for the farmer and his family; they may likely turn in desperation to government to plead or protest, as those Kidapawan farmers did— they were shooed away with bullets. For the policy-maker, grain production shortfalls touch off consequent grain imports from Pakistan, Vietnam, India or Thailand— sub-tropic countries that seem to be immune to withering spells brought about by El Niño-induced droughts.
The usual quick-fix measures—water pumps to tap sere waterways, shallow water wells to suck droplets off arid aquifers, and cloud seeding—are plied out to mitigate drought effects, a month or so before drought sets in, so akin to a firefighter who does the fighting as the fire is in full blaze. No policymaker ever had the foresight to address the long-pestering problem that also touches off water shortage and power outages in areas served by hydropower plants.
Foresight becomes her forte– frontrunner presidential aspirant Grace Poe whose measure, Senate Bill No. 2424 drawn in 2014 that still hangs fire in the Senate, calls for a thorough rehabilitation of the country’s watersheds. Our policymakers have yet to see the vital link between intact watershed areas, operational irrigation systems, optimum crop production, and food security.
Probably, Poe simply connected the dots. Or she had seen beyond the sorry state of the country’s 143 watershed areas—some had gone bad, most had gone bald.
These watershed areas—Mother Nature’s rainwater reservoirs– now can hardly feed 165 national irrigation systems that cover about 4,318,172 million hectares. Water from these watershed areas flowing to the country’s river systems also provides irrigation to some 483,820 hectares of rice paddies and other crop-producing farmlands. According to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) about 368,000 hectares of these crop production areas have existing facilities that need restoration and rehabilitation.
Indeed, watershed areas actually sustain production of the nation’s food— plus water and hydro power—supply. Sound stewardship of these areas safeguards food security.
Closer to this writer’s home is the watershed sustaining Angat Dam which provides 90 percent of its water to Metro Manila; 10 percent goes to irrigate farmlands in Tarlac and Bulacan towns and generating hydroelectric power at the same time.
The Angat-fed summer crop provides for a bumper rice harvest whose proceeds allow farmers’ families to pay for the schooling of two or three children in high school or college, aside from the extra money for cost of living. A dry season rice cropping yields a high 120 to 140 cavans/hectare in Angat-fed towns—unless drought creeps in.
Once enacted, Poe’s measure may likely pare down the P5-billion losses to drought, or stave off debts and starvation, maybe make a difference in the lives of farmers that comprise 70 percent of the rural population