LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – The country’s top experts in water resources management met here recently for their annual conference and crafted strategies and appropriate technologies to enhance the country’s irrigation sector performance.
The Annual Rice Forum organized by the Asia Rice Foundation (ARF)-Philippines drew about 70 scientists, research administrators, academics, and representatives of the agriculture sector.
ARF is a regional nonprofit organization that works for “an Asia that can feed itself, treasures the rich heritage of its rice culture, cares about the well-being of its rice consumers and producers, and values its rice-growing land as a precious commodity to be shared with future generations.”
The foundation’s Philippine office is based in the government-hosted Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) in the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
With “Water in Agriculture: Status, Challenges, and Opportunities” as its theme, the science forum was supported by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development.
The speakers and participants were from PCAARRD, UPLB, SEARCA, Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM), DA-Philippine Rice Research Institute, International Rice Research Institute, National Academy of Science and Technology, National Water Resources Board, Department of Environment and Natural Resources-River Basin Control Office, UP Diliman, De La Salle University, and CALABARZON Irrigators’ Association Foundation.
The forum assessed the irrigation sector performance and identified technology and governance needs from the viewpoints of a multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholders’ sector. Its outputs will serve as inputs in strategic irrigation development plans of the government, particularly the National Irrigation Administration, BSWM, and local government units.
The forum noted that the Philippines’ potential irrigable area is three million hectares, but the actual service area is only 1.7 million hectares (6 percent). The average increase in irrigation area is 33,626 ha/year, but the rate of deterioration is high (71,000 ha/yr).
Agriculture uses 70-85 percent of the country’s water. The rest is for power, domestic and industrial uses.
The forum participants thus underscored the need for technologies that use less water, among them short-duration rice varieties, alternative wet-dry (AWD) system and “aerobic” rice culture.
For instance, Bureau of Agricultural Research director Nicomedes Eleazar reported, DA is now promoting the AWD technology and “aerobic” rice culture for areas with scarce water supply.
The AWD, he explained, can reduce the number of irrigation significantly compared with the farmers’ practice, reducing fuel consumption for pumping water by 30 liters per hectare.
“The AWD not only conserves water but also mitigates greenhouse gas emission,” Eleazar added.
He further said that growing rice aerobically saves water by eliminating continued seepage and percolation, reducing evaporation, and eliminating wetland preparation.
Rainwater harvesting is another technology that needs further attention.
As PhilRice stressed in a separate report obtained by The STAR, “Low-cost and small-scale options in water harvesting are necessary for small rural communities that rely heavily on manual and animal power for water.”
It added: “The (harvesting) technique usually found in Asia and Africa arose from the practices employed by ancient civilizations within these regions and still serves as a major source of drinking water supply in rural areas.”