Farmers want audit of irrigation projects:
Robert JA Basilio, InterAksyon.com
1 June 2012
MANILA, Philippines – Farmers' groups are asking government to create an independent body to check how irrigation funds have been and are currently being used, saying project spending has not increased rice production.
Funds for irrigation programs have reached P24.4 billion for 2012, the highest on record ever received by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), farmer-representatives said on Friday.
However, they have expressed doubts whether these funds will help the Department of Agriculture (DA) to produce enough rice to meet local demand by next year. The department earlier announced that the Philippines will become self-sufficient in rice production by 2013.
The National Rice Farmers Council (NRFC), the Pambasang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK), the National Confederation of Irrigators Association (NCIA), and the Rice Watch Action Network (R1) have all pointed out that fund increases for irrigation have not led to higher rice yields.
Despite larger budgets for the last four years, the NIA has been unable to “significantly” expand production of the Filipino staple, the groups said, citing data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS).
In 2008, the NIA was given P10.9 billion to provide irrigation facilities and clean up and/or dredge canals to ensure that water from dams reach rice paddies.
Rice production for that same year only reached 16.8 million metric tons (MTs), prompting authorities to import an additional 2.7 million MTs to meet local demand.
In 2009, despite an increased budget of P17.5 billion, rice yields fell to 16.6 million MTs and imports reached 1.775 million MTs.
The NIA’s budget was cut to P16.4 billion in 2010 and production fell to 15.77 million MTs.
For 2011, funds for irrigation projects reached P10.9 billion. Although rice yields went up to 16.6 million MTs, the hike in production was owed to increase amounts of rainfall, the groups said in a statement, citing government data.
“Mahalagang malaman ng mga mamamayan na ang pagtaas na ito sa produksyon at sa panahon ng wet season kung kailan hindi talaga kailangan ng irigasyon dahil tag-ulan (It is important for the public to know that increased rice yields last year were owed to the wet season.)," the statement said.
Rice output not boosted
The groups also pointed out that since more than 691,000 hectares of the country’s 1.5 million hectares of rice lands were rehabilitated and restored from 2009 to 2011, these paddies should have helped boost the country’s rice output further.
But they haven’t.
This is because of, among others, poor program design, according to Benjamin Villanueva, executive vice president of the NCIA, which has 700,000 farmer-members.
While the government has put up small water catchments and dredged irrigation canals to ensure water distribution to rice paddies, water supplies remain insufficient, Villanueva told InterAksyon.com.
“Medyo bara-bara ang pag gastos sa projects,” he said. (Spending for irrigation projects has been imprudent.)
Without water, the irrigation facilities are useless, Villanueva said.
Maria Concepcion de los Santos, PKKK president agreed.
Irrigation canals in her community are clogged with trash, blocking water flow to her four-hectare farm, Concepcion said.
Besides ensuring that canals are trash-free, the NIA should ensure that these have concrete linings at the bottom to ensure lesser water wastage, Villanueva said.
About 25 percent of water are absorbed by the soil in canals that have no concrete linings, he added.
Both Villanueva and De los Santos said that the government has spent for the upkeep and construction of old and new irrigation facilities; the problem is that some of these funds may have not been spent prudently since many projects still have no water sources at all.
This is why they have joined other groups to seek an investigation into irrigation projects undertaken from 2007 to 2010.
For its part, the NIA has welcomed the groups’ proposal.
“We welcome it and we are ready with the data needed to show that the funds have been spent properly,” Pilipina Bermudez, NIA’s public information officer, told InterAksyon.com.
|Rice Watch and Action Network|