GREEN MINDED: Thoughts on Philippine Agriculture Today

The El Nino phenomenon that we are experiencing right now scored the highest for the past 65 years. According to US scientists, the dry spell, which is expected to last until December, will leave our fields dry and risk the productivity of our poor farmers.

However, I believe the greatest drought in Philippine agriculture’s history is not because of the El Nino phenomenon, but because of the systematic corruption in our government.

During the budget hearing on the proposed 2016 national budget, a good friend of mine, Kabataan Partylist Representative Terry Ridon scored the dubious proposal to allot P13.1 B for irrigation in the National Capital Region (NCR), while allotting only P6 B for Central Luzon.

Indeed we can raise eyebrows as we know for a fact that NCR is an urban center, while Central Luzon covers vast area of agricultural lands, which we used to consider as the rice granary of this nation.

In the 2002 Census of Agriculture, Central Luzon accounts for 552,104 hectares of farm lands, while NCR only accounts for 71, 632 hectares. Simple logic and common sense would suggest that the priority for irrigation should be given to Central Luzon and not in the NCR.

It is also a glaring reality that irrigation is not the problem in the NCR, but the drainage system that favors flooding after few hours of raining.

In order to deepen our understanding on the irrigation development in the Philippines, a brief review of history and policies implemented might be helpful to us, especially to those who are in power.

Irrigation and farming are inseparable. In fact, irrigation can be considered as the lifeblood of agriculture. Irrigation is described as the application of water to soil for the purpose of supplying the moisture essential for plant growth (Hansen, 1979). In our context it is the artificial application of water through shallow tube wells and dikes, among others.

During the pre-Spanish era, around 25,000 hectares of land were under irrigation, including the Banaue rice terraces in the Mountain Province. The character of their irrigation systems can be described as small-systems and are famer-led through collectives or individuals. Good thing about this system is its sustainable character and many of these are still operating today.

During the Spanish colonization, rapid expansion on irrigation system was observed but there is a dramatic shift on its functionality, from the sustainable and farmer-led system, the expansion primarily serves the interest of the friars and landlords.

Meanwhile, the American period had a slow, but consistent expansion, as these newly constructed irrigation system focused on monoculture projects. It was also observed during this time that the bureaucratization of the irrigation system started.

Irrigation, as a vital component in the agricultural sector is not new, however, the state’s lack of sincerity in providing irrigation to our farmlands resulted to a significant setback.

The National irrigation Agency (NIA) in 2004 accounts only 30% of the total irrigable land that our irrigation system has developed. In 2005 the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) noted only  27% level of irrigation development on our rice fields.

A presentation from the University of the Philippines in Los Banos described the state of irrigation in the country as inefficient, in terms of its performance. Some of the factors that lead to these ineptness include lack of political will on strategic planning on policy; institutional inefficiency and inadequacy; and very poor subsidy and sustainability. In short, there is a mismatch on what is being implemented from what is needed, mismatch similar to that of the whimsical budget appropriations.

The expose of Rep. Ridon further proves that the bureaucrats do not have the sincerity to provide water to our farmers through functional irrigation systems, but to create a milking cow out of our irrigation budget for the upcoming elections.  It is important to take note that power-hungry politicians are in the mood to amass campaign funds for next year’s 2016 national elections.

The inconsistency in budget allotment is just a piece of the pie in the entire corrupt system that disenfranchise our agriculture sector.

As we expose this corrupt system, there is a greater need for us to be more vigilant and critical to assert for a pro-farmer society.  It is also timely to ask if the change that we aspire for can be achieved on the 2016 elections, or maybe we need radical solutions to genuinely improve our economy which is based in agriculture.

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