Inquirer Headlines: Nation

A World with Extreme Poverty is a World of Insecurity.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

'Irrigate more rice lands for self-sufficiency'

From ABS-CBN News Online, May 5, 2008

A former agriculture secretary said the government needs to irrigate at least five million hectares of rice lands to achieve its self-sufficiency goal for the Philippines after President Arroyo's term ends.

Sorsogon Rep. Salvador Escudero, former president Ferdinand Marcos's agriculture chief, said the government should be able to do what Vietnam and Thailand did: irrigate five to eight million hectares of rice fields.

"When we left [the agriculture department] in 1998, there [were] only 1.44 million hectares of irrigated land and I don't know if this number was maintained," Escudero said.

He said the government should immediately release funds for developing irrigated lands. He said the development of these lands will ensure the country's rice self-sufficiency for the next three to four years.

Mrs. Arroyo has announced the government's plan to release up to P43 billion funds for agricultural development starting this year up to 2010. Part of the plan is to develop more irrigated lands in rice-producing provinces, particularly in Luzon regions.

Billions poured into food program

The President announced a "wide array" of agriculture initiatives she dubbed as FIELDS (fertilizers, infrastructure and irrigation, extension and education, loans, drying and other post-harvest facilities, and seeds) during a food summit in Pampanga on April 4.

At least P43.7 billion funds for agriculture were allotted by Mrs. Arroyo during the food summit. The funds include:

* P500 million for fertilizer support and production.
* P6 billion per year for large and small irrigation systems.
* P6 billion per year for farm-to-market roads and Roll-On-Roll-Off ports.
* P5 billion for research and development, capacity building, and improving educational efforts for the agriculture and fisheries sector.
* P2 billion for hybrid seeds (for the remaining five planting seasons, up to 2010).
* P6 billion for certified seeds (also up to 2010).
* P2 billion for dryers and other post-harvest facilities.
* P15 billion for agricultural loans to farmers, most of which will be coursed through Landbank.

The Philippines has been tagged as the biggest rice importing country in the world, despite having vast agricultural land.

The government has been banking on imported rice from Vietnam, Thailand and United States to sustain its needs during the lean months of July until September.

The agricultural department said 1.7 million metric tons of imported rice are expected to be shipped into the country to augment the National Food Authority's depleted rice stock.