Nationalist Peoples Coalition (NPC) Congressman Win Gatchalian is in favor of removing all irrigation fees for poor farmers and this will be one of his priority legislation should he win a Senate seat in the coming May 9 elections.
Gatchalian said the country’s 11 million farmers, many of which are small landholders tilling an average of 2.5 hectares, are expected to benefit from the free irrigation services under the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).
“Its about time that our small farmers be given full subsidy in terms of irrigation services as this will enable them increase their income. The NIA, meanwhile, should increase the coverage and improve the quality of public irrigation services as this will better prepare farmers for El Nino,” explained Gatchalian.
The Research think tank IBON Foundation earlier revealed that farmers in Mindanao are being charged P1,000 per hectare per cropping for the services of private irrigation systems, cooperatives, and as well as those under the management of NIA.
The IBON Foundation report indicated that the charges are even higher in Bukidnon, where they have to shell out P1,700 during rainy days and P2,500 during the dry season.
“It is really saddening to know that El Nino-affected farmers in Mindanao are being charged for access to irrigation. Yan ang problem sa gobyernong manhid at walang puso,” said Gatchalian, an exclusive senatorial bet to the Partido Galing at Puso (PGP) of presidential bet Grace Poe and running mate Chiz Escudero.
Gatchalian maintained that a portion of the funding for the NIA should be allocated for actual irrigation services for farmers. “Irrigation services should constitute a direct subsidy to farmers,” he said.
A 2014 report by the Philippine Statistics Authority indicated that NIA’s targeted irrigation fee collections stood at P3.19 billion but actual irrigation fee collections stood at P1.92 billion.
Gatchalian pointed out that these numbers imply an implicit subsidy to farmers of P1.27 billion and an actual subsidy of P3.19 billion which is approximately 10% of the actual 2015 budget of NIA.
The militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas indicated that farmers pay 4,500 per hectare per year in irrigation fees. Farmers with 4 hectares would save 18,000 per year or 1,500 a month under a full irrigation service fee subsidy, which Gatchalian will be pushing in the Senate.
Gatchalian said the NIA should work for increasing the coverage of public irrigation services given the 2013 NIA data, of the 10,300,000 hectares of agricultural land, only 16.30 percent are irrigated or 1,678,595 hectares while the remaining 83.70 percent or 8,621,405 hectares do not have irrigation.
In 2014, NIA indicated that the estimated irrigable area stood at 3,019,609 hectares. Given that 1,708,063 hectares are irrigated, 1,311,546 hectares of irrigable land remain non-irrigated or 43.44 percent.
“These numbers indicate tremendous untapped agricultural potential and this means that the government must invest more heavily and strategically in irrigation. There is no question that NIA could and should take on a bigger role in providing irrigation services,” said Gatchalian.
Gatchalian said he fully agrees with the IBON report which found it ironic that for a country like the Philippines with more than 400 rivers, 10 major lakes and abundant groundwater sources, irrigation is a problem to many farmers who are forced to avail the services of NIA and private irrigation firms.
“The private sector and the World Bank for instance build the infrastructure, while the government through the NIA as collecting agent imposes service fees on the farmers. Only in the Philippines among agricultural countries one can find such irrigation fees being collected from farmers,” said the IBON report.