NIA to restore 3,000 hectares of palay farms in race vs plantations, residential areas

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 20 Aug) – The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) is targeting to restore around 3,000 hectares of palay production areas in parts of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces within the next three years as it moves to offset the impact of the continuing conversion of the area’s palay farms into commercial plantations and residential subdivisions.

Ramon Bugacia, irrigation management supervisor of NIA-South Cotabato, said Tuesday they are currently fast-tracking the rehabilitation of irrigation canals and other facilities of the Allah River Irrigation System (RIS) to facilitate the restoration or reopening of more palay areas within the two provinces.

He said rehabilitation and farm restoration works cover portions of the municipalities of Isulan in Sultan Kudarat and in Surallah, Norala and Sto. Niño in South Cotabato.

“We’re presently working on the reopening of 620 hectares of palay areas before the end of the year,” he told MindaNews.

Bugacia said they are targeting to restore around 1,400 hectares next year and another 980 hectares in 2015.

In a media forum, the official said the Allah RIS, which is one of the four national irrigation systems serving the area, covers a potential palay area of around 15,000 hectares.

But he said only around 12,000 hectares are currently open or being utilized for planting due to the lack of irrigation structures and damaged facilities.

Around 10,000 hectares of these palay areas are located in South Cotabato while the remaining 2,000 hectares are in Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat, he added.

Aside from the Allah RIS, Bugacia said Banga as well as Marbel 1 and 2 RIS serves around 6,000 hectares of palay farms.

He said these areas are located in Koronadal City and in the municipalities of Banga and Tantangan in South Cotabato.

Another 20,000 hectares of palay farms in other parts of the province are served by communal irrigation systems, he said.

“By 2015, we will have around 41,000 hectares of irrigated palay areas that would be capable of making five cropping cycles within a two-year period,” Bugacia said.

He said the agency has prioritized the farm restoration works to counter the conversion of some palay areas into commercial agricultural plantations, residential subdivisions and other non-agricultural purposes.

In Isulan town, he said they recently monitored around 10 hectares of palay farms that were converted to African oil palm plantations.

In the municipalities of Polomolok and Tupi, some owners of palay farms served by communal irrigation systems have already shifted to planting high value crops, he said.

In Koronadal City, Bugacia said some palay farms were converted by their owners into residential and commercial areas.

“We can’t stop these developments because of the high migration rate in Koronadal City so we’re trying to counter this by reopening additional palay areas,” he said.

Bugacia added that they’ve been so far successful in terms of negating the impact of the land conversions as its effects on the area’s palay production remained minimal in the last five years.