age-old farm problems
Cartoon by Roni Santiago

It is heart-warming to note that the Philippine government is finally addressing age-old agriculture problems that have made the country an importer of rice.

The Philippine News Agency (PNA) reported that Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol is pushing for the adoption of the solar-powered irrigation system (SPIS), which, he said, is much cheaper, faster to set up, allows more rice croppings and makes rice sufficiency attainable.

Pinol noted that the conventional system of the National Irrigation Administration does not meet the country’s farm irrigation needs.

“We have land, but the issue is providing water there. So, we must think out of the box,” Piñol said at a recent event in the Bureau of Soils and Water Management.

Department of Agriculture (DA) data showed that of the 3.9 million hectares of rice farms nationwide, only 1.2 million hectares are irrigated. The remaining 2.7 million hectares depend on rain, and the farmers can plant only once a year.

Piñol said there is a need to irrigate 80,000 hectares annually, but NIA can provide water for only about 30,000 hectares, resulting in a deficit of 50,000 hectares.

“It’s impossible to catch up if we just rely on the conventional way of irrigation,” he said.

SPIS can be set up within months. The equipment consists of solar panels that absorb sunlight to generate electricity for the system, pump and its operating device, water storage facility, and pipes for conveying water to a farm.

Piñol estimated the development cost of SPIS at about P105,000 per hectare. In contrast, NIA’s conventional irrigation system needs as much as P400,000 per hectare to build.

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In March last year, the government built an SPIS prototype in North Cotabato. This facility now irrigates 40 hectares of previously rain-fed rice farms, Piñol said.

Piñol aims to build a total of 117 SPIS all over the country this year to irrigate nearly 5,000 hectares or rice farms.

A former journalist, Pinol knows a lot about agriculture because he is a former governor of North Cotabato, an agricultural province in Mindanao.

We agree with the secretary that the lack of irrigation systems is the No. 1 problem in many provinces, and this is the reason these places are unable to produce enough rice or corn for the people. And this, in turn, compels the government to import rice from neighboring countries, particularly Vietnam and Thailand.

In Vietnam, rice planting is done three times a year because some 75 percent of its farms are irrigated. Its irrigation systems were built by the French when they colonized that country. This makes Vietnam a rice exporter.

The Duterte administration is on the right track towards self-sufficiency in rice. With Pinol at the helm of the DA, prospects are bright for the Philippines to be able to produce its rice needs soon.