MARCH 27, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo has ordered that P500 million be released monthly starting this month until March 2008 for the construction and repair of small irrigation projects to boost agricultural production, Malacañang said yesterday.

Secretary Cerge Remonde, Presidential Management Staff director general and Infrastructure Monitoring Task Force head, said the allocation is part of the P27.5 billion irrigation projects which the government is undertaking this year through 2013.

"Of the amount, P200 million will go to North Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle (NLAQ), P200 million to Mindanao and P100 million to the rest of the country," he said.

On the other hand, Marcelino Tugaoen, National Irrigation Administration officer-in-charge, said the releases should have begun in September last year, but that the amount was released only last month.

However, a total of P2.626 billion was remitted to the NIA to compensate for the delay, he added.

More than 900 small or "communal irrigation projects" nationwide will be funded by the monthly releases, Tugaoen said.

Remonde said four major irrigation projects account for P21.49 billion and several small irrigation projects cost P6 billion.

"Irrigation allows more intensive farming and multi-cropping, resulting in reduced seasonal harvesting, increased income for farmers, jobs, and ultimately help improve the living standards especially of poor agricultural communities," he said.

"(The irrigation projects) will also ensure food security as they contribute towards maximizing the agribusiness potentials of the country’s super regions, like the NLAQ, Luzon Urban Beltway, Central Philippines and Mindanao."

Remonde said a total increase in rice production by 859,053 metric tons (MT) a year is expected with the completion of the four major irrigation projects and the small irrigation projects.

"The increase in rice production, coupled with efforts to promote farm-to-market access and maintain stable cost of basic goods, could help mitigate hunger," he said.

Per NIA’s estimate, by 2013, with several irrigation projects completed, the country’s projected 12.5 million MT rice production would have increased to 13.4 million MT.

This projection does not include the small irrigation projects that will be implemented from 2008-2010.

Based on estimates of the NIA, the government’s four major and several other small irrigation projects nationwide are expected to double farmer incomes from the current average of P24,218 per hectare annually to P53,650.

In particular, the income of farmer beneficiaries will increase by 119 percent or P31,559 per hectare annually, from P26,391 to P57,950; while the income of farmers whose lands are watered by small irrigation projects will increase by 124 percent or P27,306 per hectare per year, from P22,045 to P49,351.

Three of these four major irrigation projects are being implemented in the NLAQ and one in the Mindanao super region.

These are the Agno River Integrated Irrigation Project, the Banaoang Pump Irrigation Project, and the Casecnan Multi-Purpose Irrigation Project in NLAQ, and the Kabulnan Irrigation Project Phase II in Mindanao.

These irrigation projects are expected to benefit some 92,464 farm families and increase palay production by 552,478 metric tons (MT) per year or 359,111 MT of rice annually.

The Banaoang and the Casecnan projects are slated for completion in 2008. The Agno River and the Kabulnan projects will be completed in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

From September 2006 to August 2007, small irrigation projects will service 122,086 hectares of land nationwide.

This will benefit 108,439 farm families and increase annual rice production by 499,942 MT. In North Luzon, annual rice production will increase by 250,336 MT, with 61,132 hectares covered. In Mindanao, the expected increase will be by 158,215 MT, with 22,318 hectares covered.

The major irrigation projects are closely being monitored by the Infrastructure Monitoring Task Force and the National Competitiveness Council. The IMTF, in particular, helps facilitate resolution of project implementation issues and keeps the President informed of their status.

GMA creates anti-hunger task force By Paolo Romero The Philippine Star 03/27/2007

President Arroyo has created an anti-hunger task force headed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, even as officials raised the possibility of conducting an internal survey to validate private polls showing that hunger in the country remained at record highs.

Duque and Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap vowed yesterday that there will be full transparency in the government’s Food-for-School Program (FSP), which will be implemented in cooperation with church groups.

During the National Nutrition Council (NNC) board meeting held in Malacañang last week, Mrs. Arroyo said she wants the hunger mitigation program (HMP) to be accelerated and turned into a six-month program with Duque overseeing its implementation.

Among the tasks Duque has to fast-track and improve on are the existing components of the HMP, including the FSP, the food-for-work program and various feeding programs by non-government and religious organizations.

Under the FSP, rice and other foodstuff like noodles and vegetable packs are given to schoolchildren as an incentive for attending classes.

The food-for-work program involves hiring poor and unemployed individuals to render community service, like street sweeping, in exchange for a stipend with which they can purchase food.

Duque will coordinate with other agencies constituting the NNC to monitor the agencies’ individual anti-hunger programs, such as the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Gulayan ng Masa and Barangay Food Terminal projects.

During the meeting, Mrs. Arroyo also issued a number of policy statements and instructions.

The Department of Education (DepEd), in coordination with the other FSP implementing agencies such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), is to maintain the FSP target beneficiaries of gradeschool pupils.

The NNC is to revise its estimate of the FSP fund requirement for 2007 to only cover the cost of rice distribution.

The report on increasing food production, a component of the HMP Framework, should include major food items such as livestock and rice – specifically the volume of rice produced and delivered to Metro Manila – and marine regeneration covering mangroves and coastal fishery development.

Duque said the task force includes Yap, DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral, National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Jessup Navarro, Labor Secretary Arturo Brion and the heads of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).

"Our goal is to ensure that all the targets of every implementing agency is met," Duque said at a televised forum at the Palace.

He said the work of the task force will be assessed in the next 90 to 120 days, which also corresponds to the period of surveys on hunger conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS).

He also said some of the questions in the SWS survey were ambiguous, which may lead to some inaccurate results: "So far that (SWS survey) is the only system of feedback that we have (to determine) whether our programs are effective or not… that’s why we, Secretary Yap and Secretary Cabral, think that it may be time to have our own survey to validate (other polls)."

He said the government will improve its HMP if the succeeding surveys do not produce better results.

Yap and Duque vowed transparency in the disbursement of the P1 billion Mrs. Arroyo ordered released for the FSP, which is expected to benefit 698,000 schoolchildren and their families or a total of about three million people.

The officials said the FSP’s implementation will be coordinated with the religious sector to ensure the provision of food to intended beneficiaries: "To those who remain suspicious, this is what we wish to say to you: We will implement this with full transparency and accountability. We will keep close watch so that these (food) will reach families who need them and not to politicians who want to use the program to win in the elections."

He said the implementation of the FSP will also be open to public scrutiny and will still be implemented even during the summer vacation in a system that will ensure that the families of schoolchildren receive the foodstuffs allotted to them.

Duque said the amount allocated for the FSP may be increased due to the huge number of hungry families. No politics in hunger Meanwhile, Malacañang called on the opposition to spare the government’s anti-hunger programs from partisan politics, as there should be no questions about the President’s intentions on this matter.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said it was unfortunate that the opposition criticized the President’s efforts to feed the hungry and questioned her intentions in addressing the problem.

"The President’s task ahead is clear. She will pursue this program and make sure that all the systems are in place to efficiently bring down the cost of food in strategic areas," Bunye said.

He said efforts to grow the economy, improve incomes and ensure that no Filipino will go hungry is a very complex task and that there is no single solution to this problem.

Instead of criticizing and politicizing the anti-hunger program, Bunye said, the opposition should work with the administration to address the problem: "For those who are still very hungry to take over the government, please spare this program from your brickbats and let the President care for our citizens." – With Marvin Sy, Aurea Calica, Delon Porcalla and Christina Mendez

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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