(STAR) BIZLINKS By Rey Gamboa - It seems that the new agriculture chief Arthur Yap will have an easier time tending to his new job, if only his mind and heart would truly be for the welfare of the millions of Filipino farmers who have become used, abused and discarded for other priorities.

Yap will be able to rely on the many good deeds that former Agriculture Secretary Domingo F. Panganiban started and followed through in his relatively short stint in the department. It must be remembered that Panganiban successfully revived government’s interest in restoring critical infrastructure that has hampered real development in the neglected agriculture sector.

Panganiban in his 14 months as agriculture chief was able to convince the Department of Budget and Management to set aside money to rehabilitate the country’s critical national and communal irrigation systems, and releasing money when it is needed — which is at planting time, not during the rainy season when it’s just too late. Now that’s really putting money where your mouth is.

One of Yap’s first pronouncements when the President announced his return to the agriculture department was the discontinuation of all fertilizer and hybrid seed subsidies to farmers. Good, it was programmed anyway.

More infrastructure needed

The other important task he promised to do, which was already also in the pipeline, was to allocate more money for agriculture infrastructure support. Farmers — who for so long have screamed and ranted about the lack of irrigation facilities, farm-to-market roads, post-harvest, cold storage and agro-processing facilities, market access and cheap transportation system to bring their produce to the market — may finally get what they are asking for.

It would do Yap a lot of good if he continues with the ambitious P25-billion program started by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) this year (largely through Panganiban’s prodding) to rehabilitate the country’s major national and communal irrigation systems, thereby supporting the government’s goal of achieving self-sufficiency in rice by 2009.

(The national irrigation system under the jurisdiction of the NIA is capable of servicing more than 1,000 hectares of rice lands while those in the communal irrigation system’s capacities cover areas below 1,000 hectares.)

A study done by NIA concluded that if most of the country’s critical national and communal irrigation systems were to properly function, the government’s targeted rice self-sufficiency by 2009 would not be too far-fetched.

Critical condition of irrigation canals

It has been acknowledged, but not acted upon until this year, that a big factor in the previous years’ failures to produce enough rice to meet the country’s growing consumption is that more than half of the country’s existing irrigation system cannot be used during the planting season. So many of them have deteriorated due to lack of money for operation and maintenance, especially after the maintenance of communal irrigation systems were devolved to the local government units.

NIA, a government-owned and controlled entity, does not receive any subsidy from the government for its operations. It uses internally generated income such as irrigation service and management fees. Its other sources of income include equipment rentals, pump amortizations, including the sale of fixed assets. Only its national irrigation system projects are allocated a budget through the general appropriations act. And even that is obviously not enough.

NIA data show that of the total 3.1 million hectares of rice lands nationwide, only about 45 percent or 1.4 million hectares have functioning irrigation systems while about 1.7 million hectares have either defective irrigation systems or rely primarily on rainwater for their rice planting activities.

To revive these critical waterworks, NIA would need a funding requirement of some P2.2 billion for 2006, P3.7 billion in 2007 and P3.8 billion in 2008. For the three-year period, NIA will be able to restore the flow of irrigation water to an estimated 618,730 hectares.

On the other hand, the communal irrigation systems — while already the responsibility of local government units — will also be funded through the NIA program. By the time the rehabilitation program is completed, the communal waterways would restore irrigation to 239,000 hectares of rice lands.

Lack of funds

The pathetic condition of existing irrigation systems is caused by the lack of funds for operations and maintenance. The government only provides P1,126 per hectare to operate and maintain these critical waterways, whereas the required ideal budget is P2,400 per hectare.

Panganiban, who was credited in the early 1970s for the Masagana 99 self-sufficiency rice program that even enabled the country to export rice, understood that if properly implemented, NIA’s rehabilitation program for irrigation systems would be the most practical and short-term response to increase productivity in rice farms.

If Yap would really seriously work towards achieving rice self-sufficiency, he would need to push hard to ensure that the DBM does not renege on its obligation to release the funds on time. It would be absolutely futile for the agriculture department to be targeting an increase in land productivity devoted to hybrid rice planting if the water were not there.

Unless, of course, Mr. Yap has other priorities….

Poker players on holiday win PPT seats

The trip to Tagaytay City was doubly worthwhile for poker aficionados who were on their weekend holiday last Saturday. More so for those who came all the way from Baguio City. For these poker enthusiasts, the satellite tournament at Casino Filipino Tagaytay for the Philippine Poker Tour (PPT) Million-Peso Championship was an added highlight to their weekend break.

Five players, namely, John Paul Rivera, Alfred Gonzales, Ray Deona, Norman Grande and Martin Guiang won seats for the grand finals to be held on 16th to 17th December at Casino Filipino Pavilion, Manila. Rivera and Gonzales were part of a group that drove all the way from Baguio City for a weekend change of scenery and to join the satellite competition.

The Poker Tour resumes its series of satellites in the Visayas and Mindanao with a tournament scheduled at Casino Filipino Mactan Cebu on Nov. 11 and Casino Filipino Davao on Nov. 25, 2006.

Details about the venues and schedules of other qualifying/satellite tournaments are posted in the Philippine Poker Tour (PPT) official web site at <>. Those interested to join these satellite/qualifying tournaments and win seats to the Grand Finals on 16th to 17th December 2006 may also call the PPT secretariat (c/o Cindy) at 817-9092 or 812-0153.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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