Wednesday, February 3, 2010
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Samar, the country’s third largest island, has 25 major rivers but its rice fields are thirsting for irrigation water.
Most of these rivers have never been tapped to irrigate rice fields, reason why rice productivity in the three Samar provinces – Samar, Northern Samar and Eastern Samar – has remained very low.
Compared to other provinces in Eastern Visayas — Leyte, Southern Leyte and Biliran — where 76 percent of irrigable lands already have irrigation facilities, only 21 percent of irrigable lands in Samar Island are irrigated.
Tito Asistol, 62, farmer and village chief of Barangay Patong, Calbiga, Samar, lamented that water from the Calbiga River just go to waste because it flows directly into the sea without being used for irrigation. Ironically, the river is just less than a 100 meters away from his rice fields.
According to Asistol, his around five hectares of rice field only yield from 10 cavans to 60 cavans per hectare. He added that the harvest could have been more than doubled if their village, located about three kilometers away from the Calbiga town proper, has an irrigation system.
Hundreds of hectares of rain-fed rice fields could be found in Barangay Patong and its nearby villages. In the absence of irrigation systems, these rice fields all depend on rainfall to be productive.
Calbiga Mayor Melchor Nacario said he had been pushing for years the installation of an irrigation system in his town. In fact, he added, there is already a feasibility study made years ago on the proposed irrigation project in Calbiga.
Nacario, president of the Samar chapter of the League of Municipalities, recalled that two years ago, while he was with a group traveling with the President to Shanghai, he had shown Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap the feasibility study.
“(Sec. Yap) made a note on the cover of the feasibility study to the National Irrigation Administration “to expedite the implementation of the project,” the mayor remembered.
Included in the feasibility study were 1,000 hectares of rice lands to be irrigated in Calbiga town and the nearby town of San Sebastian, Nacario said, adding that this project could also be expanded to the other nearby towns of Pinabacdao and Villareal.
He said the source of the irrigation system is the rapids along upstream Calbiga River. There would be no need for pumps because water would flow into the canals by gravity, he added.
Nacario said he had followed up the proposed project and that he was eventually assured last year by Sec. Yap that fund for the project would be included in the 2009 budget. But when the 2009 budget came out, he found out that fund for the proposed Calbiga irrigation project was not included, he added.
A national policy on irrigation projects implemented last year in the wake of a rice shortage had scuttled the hope of Calbiga farmers to have an irrigation system is year.
“The policy that President Arroyo has adopted is the recommendation of the IRRI (International Rice Research Institute), for us to be able to address the (rice) shortfall that we experienced last year,” said Mel Senen Sarmiento, chair of the Regional Development Council for Eastern Visayas, said in a recent interview.
Sarmiento, who is the incumbent mayor of Calbayog City, said that the recommendation was for government to prioritize the restoration or rehabilitation of existing irrigation systems.
“The President has acceded to the recommendation of the IRRI, to first prioritize the rehab of existing systems to increase our (rice) production,” Sarmiento said, adding that “the plan is, by 2010 onwards the new construction will follow.”
The RDC chair, however, said the irrigated rice lands in Samar Island would greatly help in the country’s rice production.
“In our study, if Samar would only be irrigated we can increase our (rice) production by an additional 1.6 million metric tons. (The country’s) shortfall last year was only 1.8 million MT. This means that if Samar (Island) would totally be irrigated the shortage would almost be addressed,” he said.
Meanwhile, NIA Regional Director Romeo Quiza said that although Calbiga did not receive funding for its irrigation project, some P500,000 has been earmarked this year for the detailed engineering survey and preparation of plans of the proposed Calbiga irrigation project, which the NIA would undertake.
Quiza also explained why many existing irrigation systems are found in Leyte while only a few are in Samar.
“Compared to Leyte, it is more expensive to develop an irrigation project in Samar,” he said, adding that quality sand and gravel had to be hauled from nearby Leyte because these construction materials are not available in Samar.
Another reason is that irrigation dams in Samar are usually constructed upstream, about 15 kilometers or more, thereby longer canals have to be built from the water source to the farms. “Because the rivers are navigable and deep there is salt intrusion into the river and we cannot use salty water for irrigation,” he explained.
Quiza said an irrigation project in Samar costs twice than in Leyte, where shallow rivers are used as irrigation water source.
According to Quiza, the repair or rehabilitation of existing irrigation systems would cost about P60,000 per hectare while the construction of a new one would cost from less than P100,000 (for pump irrigation type which also becomes expensive because of fuel cost) to P800,000 (for water impounding type of irrigation).
But despite the government’s policy on irrigation and the high cost of developing an irrigation system in Samar, the government has initially released P350 million this year for the Basey irrigation project in Basey, Samar.
The Basey project, which has been in the pipeline for about a decade now, covers a total of 3,600 hectares out of the potential 6,000 hectares in that town alone.
But what puzzled Mayor Nacario is that irrigation projects in Leyte are easily provided with funds by the government, even in areas without water.
“I find it ironic that here (in Eastern Visayas) there are irrigation systems that were funded with huge amounts, almost a billion pesos, but there was no water available. One example is Tanauan (town in Leyte) which has a good irrigation structure but no water. That’s what I am surprised,” the mayor of Calbiga said.
Leyte does not only produce more rice than Samar, its farmers are also better off than those in Samar where, because of poverty, some farmers still practice a crude farming method called “payatak.”
Irrigation is known for its significant poverty reducing impacts, but despite Samar Island’s potential as rice growing area its poor farmers have long been deprived of irrigation systems.
By Leyte Samar Daily Express
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