Gov’t privatization of irrigation, calamity unpreparedness amid El Nino hit

April 3, 2016

by IBON Foundation

In the aftermath of the State-sponsored violence and continued harassment of protesting drought-stricken farmers in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, research group IBON criticized the Aquino government’s unpreparedness for El Nino and indicative neglect of agriculture in general, said the group.

Department of Agriculture (DA) data shows that the damage caused by El Nino has already reached Php5.2 billion since February last year. Of this, Php1.9 billion of damage was recorded over the last two months. An estimated 237,000 hectares of agriculture areas and 121,490 farmers have been affected. According to IBON, these numbers could even be underestimated as the DA downplays the impact of El Nino on agriculture by deeming it “minimal”. At least six provinces in Mindanao have reportedly declared state of calamity due to El Nino.

IBON said that government has not ensured sufficient irrigation despite the drought’s periodic onslaught. Latest data reveal that 44% of 3.02 million hectares of irrigable land are not irrigated and are therefore exposed to prolonged droughts. The irrigated lands on the other hand are either in the hands of the national or communal irrigation systems – both are increasingly being privatized by the government. The Aquino government has escalated the privatization of irrigation services through the public-private partnership (PPP) program and facilitated by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The private sector and the World Bank for instance build the infrastructure, while the government through the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) as collecting agent imposes user fees on the farmers. Only in the Philippines among agricultural countries one can find such irrigation fees being collected from farmers, IBON said.

Farmers’ groups in Mindanao lament that they could hardly afford irrigation service fees charged by private irrigation systems, cooperatives, and the NIA. Based on IBON’s field research, they typically pay Php1,000 per hectare per cropping. In Bukidon where the abundant Pulangui river flows, farmers have to pay Php1,700 per hectare per cropping on rainy days and Php2,500 during the dry season. This is ironic for a country with more than 400 rivers, 10 major lakes and abundant groundwater sources, said IBON.

Government has reportedly ensured cloud-seeding, distributed training manuals advising farmers to plant drought hardy crops instead of rice, and provided cash-for-work programs to farmers to prepare for El Nino. These however proved to be short-sighted solutions to farmers’ poverty-related incapacity to withstand extreme weather conditions.

IBON said that government should immediately channel its resources including up to Php64.7 billion in disaster risk reduction management/ calamity funds to the direct benefit of farmers through irrigation, agricultural support and infrastructure to raise local production and increase farmers’ incomes. More importantly, it should stop and reverse the privatization of irrigation systems and water resources in order to build genuine climate resilience.