P2 billion allotted for free irrigation in 2017 budget

MANILA, Philippines – Come 2017, farmers will be eased the burden of high irrigation costs, after an additional P2 billion has been allocated for the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) to cover irrigation service fees paid by farmers.

Senator Loren Learda, chair of the Senate finance committee said Sunday, December 18, that the amount was added to the 2017 national budget through a Special Provision. This specifies that the P2 billion will be used for the operating expenses of NIA, funded by the irrigation service fees (ISFs). (READ: Senate ratifies P3.35-T national budget for 2017

"At present, they need to pay the irrigation service fee for NIA to irrigate their farms when, in fact, what we need to pursue is the lowering of production costs so we can achieve food security, encourage more citizens to engage in or go back to farming, and improve the income of our small farmers,” Legarda said.

Legarda, who co-authored the proposed Free Irrigation Reform and Restructuring Act, also promised to make free irrigation a national policy. Under the measure, ISFs will be abolished and the maintenance of the irrigation systems will be the responsibility of the farmers who will be provided professional support.

Hefty production cost

Department of Agriculture (DA) secretary Manny Piñol earlier appealed for P4 billion additional budget for the NIA to be able to fulfill President Rodrigo Duterte's promise of free irrigation.

ISFs add to farmers' production costs, which is already high at P8 per kilo of palay (unmilled rice grains). During the Commission on Appointments' hearing, Piñol said DA will work on bringing down the cost to around P6 per kilo.

Through the Masaganang Ani Project, DA will be providing soft loans and post-harvest facilities to farmers tilling over 1 million hectares of irrigated lands. Piñol said this would increase productivity among farmers, which will then lower their production cost.

Currently, the average income of farmers is only at P150 a day or around P4,500 in a month. Piñol said that the government is eyeing to boost this up to P6,000. – Rappler.com

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.

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