Thursday, May 26, 2016

Exploring water-saving technology for the Philippines' national irrigation system

LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA, Philippines—The head of the Philippines' food security and agricultural modernization agency is considering using a water-saving technology developed at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for the country’s national irrigation. 

Edel Guiza, secretary of the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, visited IRRI on 19 May to study measures that will help the government assist rice farmers affected by the El Niño-induced drought in the southern Philippines.

Guiza, along with officials of the National Irrigation Administration and the National Food Authority, were briefed on the water-saving technology called alternate wetting and drying (AWD) by Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general for communication and partnerships; and James Quilty and Jun Correa, head and field operations manager, respectively, of the Zeigler Experiment Station. 

AWD helps farmers reduce the amount of water they use by eliminating the traditional method of keeping their rice fields continuously flooded. Instead, the water level is allowed to drop to 10–15 cm below the soil surface before reflooding the field. A perforated water tube, which could be made from PVC pipes or bamboo, is used for farmers to monitor the water level below the soil. 

AWD is regarded as one of the more important rice cultivation methods that can dramatically save freshwater irrigation in the coming decades. It not only conserves water but also mitigates greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining rice yields. But in some countries, its adoption by farmers remains limited. 

"From our experience, the key to getting the AWD system adopted is that it has to be done on a large scale and there has to be incentives for irrigation," explained Quilty. "Most irrigation systems in the Philippines currently charge farmers a flat rate, regardless of the actual amount of water they use. But, if the farmers are saving water then the cost should be reduced.”

Guiza noted that the success of AWD largely depends on the kind of irrigation system involved. For example, national irrigation systems have irrigation service fees, which can directly benefit from reduced costs through AWD. But, in communal irrigation systems, the farmers collect the water fees themselves, which are then collected by the national system, making the situation a bit more complicated for AWD adoption. 

"We want to revisit the irrigation service fees,” Guiza said. “Then there is the irrigation management process, which has five irrigation models. That means it's not easy to shift right away because there are policy implications." 

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