Major irrigation system to shutdown for three months

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/16 April)—A major repair of an irrigation system that serves thousands of hectares of palay farms in the provinces of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat will push next month, an official said.

Ramon A. Bugacia, National Irrigation Administration manager for South Cotabato, said the Allah River Irrigation System (ARIS) will be shut down to restore the dam’s efficiency.

“From the original four months, we have reduced the repair work schedule to three months to minimize its impact on palay farmers because when their livelihood is affected, it also has effects on the [local] economy,” he told reporters recently.

The major repair works include two dams that have not undergone major rehabilitation works since they were commissioned in the early 1970s.

Some P138 million has been allocated to cover the rehabilitation of the dams and line canals.

“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 earlier said.

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

For the estimated 7,000 hectares 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 rice almost doubled to P50 per kilo in Mindanao due to scarce global rice supply, sending a long queue of people in stores buying cheaper rice from the National Food Authority at a controlled volume.

Today’s prices of premium commercial rice in South Cotabato range between P34 and P37 from between P30 and P35 per kilo a few months ago.

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. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)