Rice shortfall feared to hit Mindanao with looming irrigation rehab works

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/12 January)—A rice supply shortfall is feared to hit parts of Mindanao in the next few months with the looming multimillion peso rehabilitation of a major irrigation system in South Cotabato that would affect some 9,000 hectares of farmlands, officials today warned.

Ramon Bugacia, National Irrigation Administration manager for South Cotabato, said the allocation this year for the province and neighboring Sarangani for the rehabilitation of irrigation systems reached P472 million.

“We will start the rehabilitation works in May…and we will shut down two dams in the Allah River Irrigation System,” he said in a press conference here.

The Allah River Irrigation system rehabilitation would cost at least P138 million, he added.

“This is the biggest annual budget that we have gotten so far since previously we were only getting P30 million to P40 million a year, and this is because of the target of the Aquino government for food self-sufficiency and to stop rice importation by 2013,” Bugacia noted.

Major repair works for the dams are expected to last for three months or until August.

Bugacia said the dams have deteriorated since they have not undergone major rehabilitation works since they were commissioned in the early 1970s.

Reynaldo Legaste, South Cotabato chief agriculture officer, said the closure of the dams would affect an estimated 7,000 hectares of rice farms in the province and another 2,000 hectares in neighboring Sultan Kudarat.

“The rice production period that will be affected would be from May until December 2012,” he said in the same conference.

For the estimated 7,000 ha of palay farms in South Cotabato that would be hit by the irrigation repair works, the yield would be equivalent to 28,000 tons or 28 million kilograms, Legaste said.

“That is enough to feed the population of South Cotabato for three months,” he stressed.

Based on the 2007 census, South Cotabato has a population of nearly 770,000 people.

The estimated rice production loss in the province is equivalent to 30%, which normally is the surplus per cropping cycle that is brought to other neighboring regions like Davao.

Legaste said this may lead to an artificial shortage in neighboring regions that would lead to price increases, as the demand would overwhelm the supply.

He failed to state though the possible price adjustment in the looming rice shortage projected to hit the area.

In 2008, prices of commercial rice almost reached P50 per kilo in Mindanao due to scarce global rice supply, sending people to long queues in stores selling cheaper rice from the National Food Authority at a controlled volume.

Today’s prices of premium commercial rice in South Cotabato range from P30 to P35 per kilo.

Legaste said that farmers affected by the shutdown of the irrigation system would get subsidies if they resort to other crops.

Also, they would still have an income since they would be hired as laborers in the irrigation system’s rehabilitation works, he said.

As a measure to ensure sufficient rice supply in South Cotabato due to the irrigation system repairs, Legaste said his office would propose to the provincial NFA to maintain a 90-day buffer stock.

Where the province will source the buffer stock, Legaste said, will still be discussed, considering the Agriculture department’s policy reportedly not to import rice since late last year.

Roger Amantoy, NFA-South Cotabato economist, said it would be difficult to source locally a 90-day rice buffer stock for the province.

He said the NFA provincial office had never done stocking such huge buffer, noting that last year they even failed to meet their target procurement. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)