At the rate government is spending for irrigation, it will take almost a half a century to bring water to all of the country's 1.3 million hectares of "irrigable land," Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said today.
Recto made this point following the Senate's approval of a bill waiving irrigation fees for small farmers, saying the bigger challenge is not in exempting farmers from paying for farm water, "it is in building more dams and canals that will bring water to them."
"But this is not to diminish the importance of this landmark social legislation," Recto said. "What we're saying is that hopefully the era of free irrigation will spur government to fund more irrigation projects."
At present, of the three million hectares of irrigable land, only 1.7 million are irrigated, leaving a backlog of 1.3 million hectares.
"That is, however, on paper, but in reality, many irrigation systems are in need of repair," Recto said.
For example, of the 836,000 hectares in the National Irrigation Administration's reported service inventory, only about 568,000 hectares were regularly reached by water in 2015.
Of the 638,000 covered community irrigation systems, only about half were regularly served.
Aggravating the low irrigation density is the slow pace of expansion, he added. "We're bringing water to farms at glacial pace."
For 2017, the National Irrigation Administration has a budget of P38.4 billion.
This will be spent to build new systems that will cover 29,000 hectares of unirrigated lands and restore or repair irrigation works in 18,000 hectares presently served by the NIA.
At this rate of appropriations, it will take us about 45 years to irrigate 1.3 million hectares, Recto said.
Blessed with adequate rainfall, the country should have no problem in storing and distributing farm water, he explained.
"Ang annual rainfall sa atin ay 7 feet, 7 inches, lampas tao. Sa Australia, 21 inches, o hanggang binti. Sa Bahrain, isang bansot na 3.8 inches, o hanggang sakong," Recto said.
"Rain is a matter of God's grace. Storing it is a matter of good governance. God has given his equity, minsan sobra pa nga, sa dami ng bagyo. It is up to us make sure that rainwater is collected for future use," he added.
Recto said he is backing Secretary Manny Pinol's call for an increase in the irrigation budget.
He noted that NIA's proposed P40.9 billion budget for 2018 "is flat. It is not the increase our farmers are hoping for. It is a drop in the bucket of needs."
According to Recto, irrigation should be a major plank in the government's "build, build, build" drive.
"Irrigation doubles farm yield. When water supply increases, food imports recede, hunger and malnutrition retreat," Recto said.
He defended the Senate's decision to waive irrigation fees for small farmers, saying the "P1.5 billion foregone is smaller than the P6.7 billion in intelligence funds, or the P17.9 billion in travel expenses of bureaucrats this year."
Source: Senate of the Philippines