IN ORDER to increase agricultural productivity in the country, particularly rice, the Department of Agriculture (DA) would need at least P44-billion in the remaining three years under the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.
According to DA Secretary Manny Piñol, the said amount could fund the construction of some 6,200 units of Solar Powered Irrigation System (SPIS) with an average coverage area of 80 hectares per system to irrigate 502,000 hectares.
Introduced to the local agriculture as a production innovation, the SPIS program was launched by President Duterte in M’lang, North Cotabato in March 2017.
However, Piñol said the program was not given enough funding in the 2018 and 2019 budget as it is considered a new concept.
It can be noted that solar irrigation has long been used in several areas like Southern California, Israel, India, and Pakistan.
But despite the limited funding, a total of 169 units of the SPIS have either been completed or under construction in the different parts of the country since it was launched.
For the first few units which are now operational, rice yields increased from 4-metric tons to 6-metric tons per hectare, and farmers are also able harvest twice a year.
It can be recalled that the “first and biggest” solar-powered irrigation system in Luzon was completed in Llanera, Nueva Ecija last year.
The DA implemented the Caridad Norte and Sur SPIS, which is a pilot project of the DA Regional Field Office 3, to enhance and sustain rice production in the highland rainfed areas of the municipality.
The SPIS in Llanera was completed “on time” by Bacolod City-based R.U. Foundry and Machine Shop Corporation (RUFMSC).
This means that by irrigating 500,000 hectares, the annual rice production in the country could increase by 4-million metric tons of palay or 2.6-million metric tons of milled rice, says Piñol.
The country’s rice production is recorded at 93 percent of the national consumption and about 1.5-million metric tons of rice has to be imported.
The total area planted to rice in the country is 3.9-million hectares with only 1.2-million hectares effectively irrigated where farmers could harvest twice a year.
The remaining 2.7-million hectares depend on the rain and the average yield is about 3-metric tons because of water issues.
The use of the Solar Powered Irrigation System has been preferred by farmers over diesel engine powered water pumps because of the high cost of fuel.
In rainfed areas, solar-powered irrigation facilities are increasingly and continuously in demand in order to provide a cost-effective and practical solution to boost agricultural productivity.
Access to irrigation water is the key for small-scale farmers in order to sustain their livelihoods and attain food security.
It can be noted that renewable energy options, particularly solar power, is a very promising solution to help attain sustainable agriculture in the countryside.
Providing water to locations that do not have any existing infrastructure is practically improving food security and helping the rural farmers to generate substantial income for their families and their respective communities. ([email protected]/PN)