NIA’s 'pro-farmer' plan to lead PH toward rice self-sufficiency

A four-point agenda will guide NIA in strengthening the government’s irrigation program.

The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) said it has set a four-point agenda that will guide the agency in strengthening the government’s irrigation program. NIA Chief Peter Tiu Laviña enumerated the four-point agenda as follows: 1) the implementation of the election promise of President Rodrigo Duterte of a free irrigation service fee (ISF) 2) expansion of irrigated lands, 3) harnessing of water resources through the creation of hydro-electric power, and 4) reviewing of the agency for a ten-year road map.

Laviña said that on January 1, 2017, NIA has officially implemented the free irrigation service fee among farmers, with the hope that they can produce more palay to make the country rice self-sufficient. R.A. 3601 authorized the NIA to collect irrigation service fees from farmers and farmers' associations. Laviña, however, hopes that while free irrigation is now being implemented, farmers and farmer irrigators associations would share responsibility in system’s maintenance and operations.

Laviña added that through the President’s political will, the free irrigation service fee pushed through despite some challenges. Laviña shared that NIA, together with the Department of Agriculture, has requested about P4-billion during the budget deliberations in 2016, yet only P2.3-billion subsidy was approved. The additional funding requested is supposed to cover the ISF to allow NIA to stop depending on collections for the salaries of its officials and employees and for its operations. With this, the said P2-billion fund would be enough to cover the anticipated profit loss following the implementation of the no irrigation fee program.  

The NIA Chief also noted that to achieve food sufficiency, it is necessary for farmers to replant rice twice a year, therefore prompting the agency to create more irrigation projects for the country’s existing non-irrigable farmlands. Currently, 57 percent of the Philippines’ farmlands are irrigated and 43 percent are unirrigated. Under the Duterte administration, NIA will be putting up more irrigation projects in order to prevent land conversion caused by rapid urbanization. Currently, about 200,000 hectares of the country’s farmlands have already been converted for industrial and commercial businesses.

Meanwhile, NIA’s 10-year master plan, which includes restoration, rehabilitation and opening of new arable lands would require a budget of P370-billion. By the end of the Duterte administration in 2022, about 70 percent would be the projected irrigation development in the country. However, Laviña is confident that the target could be increased to 75 percent after other countries and multilateral agencies have expressed intention to provide financial aid for the country’s irrigation system. The Chinese government has already pledged a P42.6-billion financing for six flagship irrigation projects that will be completed before the end of Duterte’s term. Other possible assistance may come from Japan, Korea, Asian Development Bank and World Bank, among others.

Photo courtesy of NIA Website