A ricefield in the Philippines. Image Credit: Youtube screengrab

Manila: Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol said solar-powered irrigation pumps could hold the key to making the Philippines self-sufficient in rice production.

Pinol said with current rice production, the Philippines needs to import about 600,000 to 800,000 metric tonnes of the commodity. But things could turn around by 2022 when hundreds of solar-powered irrigation pumps are installed across the country.

The Solar-Powered Irrigation System (SPIS), which has been adopted by the Department of Agriculture as one of its Flagship Projects, could ensure the country get a sufficient rice supply for the next 20 years.

The first SPIS in Matalam, North Cotabato, was commissioned last week and now irrigates 40-hectares of previously rain-fed rice farms.

“President Rodrigo Duterte will lead the commissioning of the second fully-operational SPIS in Central Luzon in June to signify his support for the Flagship Programme of the Department of Agriculture which could irrigate up to 500,000 hectares in the remaining four years of his administration,” Pinol said. `

As in most Asian countries, rice is a staple food in the country and more often, retail prices of the vital commodity are unstable prompting the government to import from other countries to stabilise local prices.

And while the Philippines is not short of land that could be used for farms, not all of these are irrigated year round. In most cases, the fields can only yield one crop a year when rain is sufficient. Through the use of SPIS, farmers could plant twice a year, said Pinol.

“With the target of 500,000 hectares over the next four years, an estimated four million metric tonnes of paddy will be added to the current production of 19-million metric tonnes.

The added production volume of two million metric tonnes of milled rice will make the country not just self-sufficient in rice, but could also lead to the country exporting the cereal.

“The agriculture department has shown the long-dreamed rice sufficiency is achievable and it has the road map. The only thing that is needed now to realise it is the budget,” for the solar irrigation pumps.

If successful, similar other solar irrigation pumps could be installed in other Asian countries facing similar irrigation concerns as the Philippines.