For a province which produces almost 1-million metric tons of paddy rice every year and holds the national production record of 16-metro tons per hectare, Iloilo rice farmers have not been given the needed support they have been dreaming of over generations.
Over 70 years since my grandfather, Jose Cordero Piñol, and his only brother, Silvestre, decided to pack up their farm gears and left Iloilo with their families to look for better fortune in the Land of Promise that is Mindanao, Iloilo’s farmers are still asking for the same services that my grandfathers dreamed of when they were tilling the rice farms in Pundacion, Pototan, Iloilo.
Irrigation water, dryers and post harvest facilities were among the problems presented to me by Iloilo Rice Farmers during the Biyaheng Bukid Open Forum on March 9 in the Western Visayas Integrated Agricultural Research Center (WESVIARC) in Iloilo City.
Unlike in the days of my grandparents when their cries either fell into deaf ears or were simply not responded to by government which did not have the resources at that time, the Iloilo farmers’ pleas and cries were listened to when I met with them last Thursday.
Iloilo, with 877,070 metric tons of rice in 2015 and an average yield of 3.23 MT per hectare ranks fifth in rice production in the Philippines, after Nueva Ecija (1,580,620 MT), Isabela (1,256,390 MT), Pangasinan (1,081,157 MT) and Cagayan (884,334 MT).
Iloilo has a rice sufficiency rate of 141% based on the food requirements of its population.
The province has 135,964 hectares of rice lands but only 48,860 hectares of irrigated rice lands which could be planted to rice at a rate of 1.7 times every year. It has 85,779 hectares of rain-fed rice farms, and 1,325 upland devoted to rice.
Of the 135,964 hectares tilled by 110,000 rice farmers, only bout 10,000 hectares are planted with hybrid rice which posted the highest production record in the country of 16-metric tons per harvest per hectare.
Iloilo could produce more given the skills of its rice farmers but the provision of irrigation water has been an age-old problem.
Adding to the problem is the bleak prospect on the immediate construction and completion of the Jalaur Multi-Purpose Irrigation Project which is over 60 years and is still in the process of resolving the conflict between two South Korean contractors who are contesting the results of the bidding conducted by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).
On Thursday, I promised the rice farmers of Iloilo who filled up the WESVIARC compound led by Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor and several mayors that Iloilo will receive the support of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in the construction of Solar-Powered Irrigation Services (SPIS).
The farmers will also be organised into farm equipment service providers and trained on how to operate the equipment to support the mechanisation program.
Given the needed support which my grandparents did not receive in their days, I believe that Iloilo could contribute greatly to the country’s rice sufficiency program.
By providing them with the Solar-Powered Irrigation System, farmers in the rain-fed areas of 85,779 will be able to plant twice a year and increasing the use of Hybrid Seeds from less than 10% of the total area to at least half the 136,000 hectares will effectively double the production of Iloilo Province.
Iloilo rice farmers, along with the Ilocanos and Novo Ecijanos of Luzon and Mindanao, are among the best rice farmers in the country.
All that they need is the support of government in irrigation, mechanisation, post harvest facilities and easy access financing.
On Thursday, as the farmers of Iloilo rejoiced over the commitments I made to improve their lives, I could not help but imagine how my grandparents would have felt that these blessings from government came to them in those days.
But maybe, God made things happen the way they did, otherwise my grandparents would not have ventured to Mindanao and I would not have been Governor and now Secretary of Agriculture.
Maybe, just maybe, God made it that way to make sure that the dreams which eluded my grandparents would now be realised by their grandson who has been named by President Rody Duterte as his Agriculture Secretary.
Last Thursday, the dreams of my forefathers came full circle and I was overjoyed.
#Changeishere! #DuterteDelivers! #PresRodyCares! #DreamsDoComeTrue! #AbanteIloilo!
(Photo shows the activities of Biyaheng Bukid in Iloilo were taken by the staff of Asec Hansel Didulo.)