DA eyes free solar-powered irrigation system

MLANG, North Cotabato (MindaNews/02 January) — Starting next year, farmers across the country can avail of solar-powered, no-inverter irrigation system for free, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol last week said.

Pinol said farmers should not worry about the cost of irrigating their farmlands because the country has rich water sources that can be tapped for free.

“The idea to build the first prototype Non-Inverter Solar-Powered Irrigation System was actually a result of the many trips I made to the countryside which I called ‘Biyaheng Bukid’,” he said.

Before he was named agriculture secretary, Pinol, a farmer at heart, had traveled all over the country to personally see the country’s agricultural situation.

The solar-powered irrigation in Barangay Janiauy, M’lang, North Cotabato. Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews

It was in a trip to Aparri, Cagayan Valley where he found out the great irony of so much water in the huge Cagayan River but rice fields just beside it were dry and unproductive during the summer months.

He recalled visiting a farm of a friend in Thermal City, Southern California. His friend used solar-powered water pumps that drew water from underground.

In June, Pinol returned to California where his friend, Rocky French, introduced him to Moses Khuu, a young American solar-power engineer.  Pinol asked Khuu to design a small solar powered system for his hometown Mlang in North Cotabato.

Khuu did and, along with his brother in law Kyu Whang, a Korean-American, built the first ever solar-powered irrigation system in Barangay Janiuay, Mlang, North Cotabato.

And just after Christmas, Pinol switched-on the first Non-Inverter Solar-Powered Irrigation System before officials of Barangay New Janiuay, led by Barangay Chair Godofredo Constantinopla and a farmer named Antonio Jugos whose rice field was used as a pilot area.

Pumping out water from a pond just beside Jugos’ 5-hectare property using a 10-horsepower water pump, the system is capable of submerging 3-4 hectares of rice fields in a day.

Pinol said it could provide water to a contiguous area of between 50-100 hectares using a pipe distribution system.

“What is amazing with the system is the speed with which it could be assembled in the field,” he said, adding that the two foreigners could build the system in two weeks if all materials are available.

He said President Duterte is invited to formally switch on the first No-Inverter Solar-Powered Irrigation System early next year, and that would signal the start of the Solar-Powered Irrigation Revolution in the country.

“These 50 solar panels are enough to power 10-horsepower water pump that can haul wate at the rate of about 600-800 gallons per minute that is enough to submerge 4 hectares a day,” Pinol told MindaNews.

The water pump, he said, will no longer use expensive batteries.

“So if we can develop this, we will be able to make sure that un-irrigated areas can have a second cropping,” he added.

Pinol said farmers will no longer worry about the cost of producing water through diesel fueled water pump.

He assured farmers that Duterte has set aside P2 billion from the 2017 Department of Agriculture budget.

He said the national rice program is funded by a P9-billion budget from which he can source around P2 billion.

The project will not only benefit rice farmers but other high value crops in upland areas in the country, he said.

Jugos, 77, said that since he started farming several decades ago, he had been relying on rains to water his farms. He harvests once a year.

“In my six decades of farming, I never thought I am still alive to see this agricultural revolution Secretary Pinol has envisioned,” he said.

When Pinol decided to make his rice fields a model, Jugos said, “Everyone in the village was happy, even farmers in our neighboring villages were elated because they too can benefit from the project.”

Constantinopla also thanked Pinol for the project. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)