IRRI water-saving technology eyed for use in PHL irrigation systems

The Office of the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization (Opafsam) is eyeing the use of a water-saving technology developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for the country’s irrigation systems.

The IRRI said Opafsam chief Edel Guiza, during her recent visit to the research center, was introduced to the alternate wetting and drying (AWD) system, an alternative technology which helps farmers save water they use for irrigation. Guiza visited IRRI for the purpose of studying measures that will help the government assist rice farmers
affected by the El Niño-induced drought in Mindanao.

Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general for communication and partnerships; James Quilty and Jun Correa, head and field operations manager of the Zeigler Experiment Station, respectively, briefed Guiza on the technology.

According to the research institute, AWD reduces the amount of irrigation water used for rice farming by eliminating the traditional method of keeping rice fields continuously flooded.

“Instead, the water level is allowed to drop to 10 to 15 centimeters below the soil surface before reflooding the field. A perforated water tube, which could be made from pipes or bamboo, is used for farmers to monitor the water level below the soil,” the IRRI said.

AWD is regarded as an important rice cultivation method, which can dramatically save freshwater irrigation in the coming decades.

“It not only conserves water but also mitigates greenhouse-gas emissions while maintaining rice yields,” the IRRI said.

However, Quilty said the adoption of this technology remains to be limited in some countries.

“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,” he said.

Quilty pointed out that most irrigation systems in the Philippines charge at 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,” he said. Guiza noted that it will not be easy to shift to the AWD system right away as there will be policy implications.

“We want to revisit the irrigation service fees. Then there is the irrigation management process, which has five irrigation models,” she said.

The secretary said the success of AWD largely depends on the kind of irrigation system involved.

“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,” Guiza said.


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