By: DANNY O. CALLEJA
LEGAZPI CITY, March 4 (PNA) – The regional office for Bicol of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) said most of the region’s rice farms are now ready to meet the coming dry season this year with the good number of working irrigation systems put in place over the past four years.
So far, around 318,000 hectares of rice fields in the region, which is a significant improvement from the 255,00 hectares in 2012 are already covered by irrigations, Eduardo Yu, the NIA regional spokesman based in Naga City, said in a statement reaching here Wednesday.
During the past two years alone, the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, through the Department of Agriculture (Da) and NIA, poured in to Bicol over Php2 billion in funds for the establishment of new irrigation structures and restoration/rehabilitation of the old ones covering this bigger area of rice land, according to Yu.Among the new big irrigation projects the NIA has recently established in the region are the Ibingan in Prieto Diaz, Sorsogon, covering some 700 hectares of rice fields, and the Sibagat Reservoir in Minalabac, Camarines Sur, covering a total of 262 hectares within the Bicol River Basin, Yu said.
In Camarines Norte, he said, NIA is maintaining 10 irrigation systems and assisting 35 communal irrigation facilities being run by irrigators' associations—all covering over 7,000 hectares of paddies or 38 percent of the province’s total rice area.All over Albay, especially its third congressional district which is considered as the province’s rice granary, Yu said, small and large irrigation facilities are in place and working well, owing to the efforts of Congressman Fernando Gonzalez who has been closely coordinating with NIA in the assignment of projects where they are needed most.With the dry season expected weeks away, Yu said his agency is confident it has made the region more prepared insofar as rice production is concerned, given these irrigation facilities and the good farming practices that Bicol farmers have already embraced against the impacts of climate change.
“All the farmers should do is follow the planting calendar—sowing by the start of the year and aiming to harvest by March of April then start with the next cropping season during the exit of summer in June for them to harvest by September or October,” he said.
In case of a longer summer or a dry spell, these irrigation facilities would play the role of maintaining the water supply for paddies even as Bicol farmers already know how to be flexible with their cropping schedules like moving their May-June rice planting period to July-August, in time for the onset of the rainy season and harvest by November-December. With this, the region is expected to sustain its rice self-sufficient (RSS) status first achieved in 2013 that saw a production growth rate of 5.96 percent over 2012 for a 102.19-percent RSS level based on the regional production of over one million metric tons (MT) as against the regional consumption of around 822,000 MT.
In 2014, almost the same level of RSS was achieved by the region notwithstanding the long summer and the coming of three typhoons successively between July and November, by harvesting about 1.3 million MT for an over 100-percent RSS, according to DA records.Even with those irrigation systems already established, Yu said, putting up of more facilities in the region are in progress out of the Php535 million funds allocated to the NIA regional office by the DA this year.This amount is for a total of 212 projects across the region’s six provinces like the construction of new systems, rehabilitation of existing but run-down facilities and restoration of non-operating ones, Yu said.
The total amount is divided among the region’s six provinces, with Camarines Sur getting the biggest share of Php166 million; followed by Albay, Php135 million; Sorsogon, Php110.7 million; Camarines Norte, Php57 million; Masbate, Php40.6 million; and Catanduanes, Php26 million.Camarines Sur’s allocation is for the restoration and rehabilitation works to maximize the irrigation of a total of around 911 hectares and the construction of new structures to service an additional 62 hectares of irrigable rice fields.The province has the biggest rice area with 158,348, hectares supplying 45 percent of the regional rice regional requirement, followed by Albay with 48,638 hectares; Masbate, 39,148; Sorsogon, 33,804; Camarines Norte, 20,671; and Catanduanes 12,993 hectares.
All in all, this new fund for Bicol, Yu said, covers the establishment of new irrigation structures for 378 hectares and restoration, repair and rehabilitation of paddy water services for 2,700 hectares.He said the implementation of this year’s projects in Bicol are more focused on restoration and improvement of existing irrigation systems as they could be immediately done since they no longer need feasibility studies as required by the construction of new ones.Although smaller than the previous years’ budget, he said, this new allocation for Bicol could already help maximize the region’s contribution to the vigorous pursuit of the Aquino administration of its Food Staples Sufficiency Program (FSSP) for the country. (PNA)