Agriculture needs P44 billion to sustain solar-powered irrigation

Louise Maureen Simeon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Agriculture (DA) needs at least P44 billion over the last three remaining years of the administration for the construction of solar-powered irrigation systems (SPIS) nationwide to help ensure sufficient rice supply and increase productivity in the country.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the P44 billion could fund the construction of about 6,200 units of SPIS approximately worth P7 million each unit with an average coverage area of 80 hectares per system to irrigate 502,000 hectares.

“In the first few units which are now operational, rice yields increased from four metric tons to six MT per hectare and farmers are also able to harvest twice a year,” he said.

“This means that by irrigating 500,000 hectares, the country’s annual rice production could increase by four million MT of palay or 2.6 million MT of milled rice,” Piñol said.

The SPIS program, a new concept in local agriculture, was launched in March 2017 but failed to secure additional funding for the 2018 and 2019 budget. So far, DA has provided funding for 169 units of SPIS nationwide.

The country’s rice production is at 93 percent of the national consumption and about 1.5 million MT of rice have 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 are still rain-fed and the average yield is about three MT because of water issues.

“The use of the SPIS is preferred by farmers over diesel engine powered water pumps because of the high cost of fuel,” Piñol said.

The SPIS, one of DA’s flagship programs, aims to ensure sufficient rice supply in the coming years and could even result in surplus production in the country.

It is part of the 10 priority agenda which aims to increase rice production by providing the water needed by farmers to irrigate their farms and enable them to plant and harvest at least twice a year.

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