(Written by Lovella P. Guarin)

Barangay Malawag in Nabua, Camarines Sur is an upland area and farmers usually wait for the onset of rain to plant rice. But with the continuous operation of the Aguik-ican Malawag Solar Powered Irrigation System (SPIS), farmers are now able to plant rice in three cropping seasons.

“Dati, isang cropping lang ang kaya namin. Ngayon ay nakaka- tatlong cropping na kami sa isang taon,” said Casiano Cendon, Jr, member of the Aguik-Ican East Farmers Association (AEFA), the recipient of the SPIS.

                “Hindi na rin nakakapagod ang pagsasaka dahil pag nagbukas na kami ng SPIS, tuloy tuloy na ang daloy ng tubig at hindi na kailangan bantayan,” added Cendon.

The said SPIS is one of the 14 SPIS installed by the DA in the Bicol region.

Climate Smart Technology

                Established in 2018 in the western part of Nabua,  this PhP 6 million SPIS is equipped with 60 solar or photovoltaic panels and inverter which converts energy from sunlight to electricity to run the subsurface pump. The SPIS has the capacity to pump an average volume of 1,000 cubic meters in 6-8 hours. It is also equipped with pump motor, housed in a 2 meter x 2 meter pump house, and 100 meter pipe for water distribution. It has 11.54 meter x 9.44 meter x 2.02 meter water tank with a capacity of 220 cubic meters water. 

                The pump, connected to a creek,  can discharge 35.42 liters per second, while the supply pipe can discharge 20.62 liters per second. Maximum tank volume could be achieved in 1.73 hours when the supply pipe is closed and 4.13 hours when the supply pipe is open.

                According to Edgardo Ruin, president of the Aguik-Ican East Farmers Association, their SPIS has been able to irrigate 35 hectares of upland rice areas which used to be rainfed areas being cultivated by the association’s 42 rice farmer members. The SPIS has been in operation for a year.

                “Noon, wala pa sa 20 ektarya ang natataniman namin dito sa Malawag dahil umaasa lang kami sa ulan. Ngayon, 35 ektarya na ang napapatubigan namin sa tulong ng Solar Powered Irrigation System, ” said Ruin. “Halos lahat ng 42 myembro ng AEFA ay nakikinabang sa SPIS,” added Ruin.

                The SPIS is also not expensive to maintain as it is not dependent on fuel or electricity. It is also environment-friendly as it uses renewable energy from the sun using solar panels instead of burning fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases. With proper maintenance, the benefits of SPIS can last over a long period. Studies show that SPIS can last for 30 years or more with minimum maintenance cost.

Increased Income

                In the past, the rice farmers in barangay Malawag used Shallow Tube Wells  to pump water from the nearby Aguik-Ican creek directly  to the rice fields. More or less 180 liters of diesel is consumed in a hectare of ricefield in one cropping if a farmer irrigates his field 15 times  using 12 liters of diesel per day. At P42.00/liter, a farmer spends P7,560/hectare on fuel every cropping.  

                With the establishment of the SPIS, the Malawag farmers do not have to spend a centavo on diesel. Collectively, the Malawag farmers, cultivating the 35 hectares covered by the SPIS, were able to save P226,800 in one cropping and P453,600 in two croppings. From the third cropping, which they were able to achieve lately with their SPIS, the farmers collectively earned P487,500.

                The average recorded increase in yield was 500 kilos per hectare per cropping. But there were some who got 1,000 kilos increase per hectare.  Rice buffer stocks generated by the Aguik-ican Malawag SPIS in three croppings based on the increase in harvest per hectare could be 52,500 kilos of palay (525 cavans rice) for every 500 kilos increase; and 105,000 kilos of palay (1,050 cavans rice) for every 1,000 kilos increase.

                If all the 14 Solar Powered Irrigations Systems established by the DA RFO 5 will reach the same productivity level, these SPIS serviced sites will collectively generate an additional 1,102,500 kilos of palay or 11,025 cavans rice.

 Another benefit of SPIS is that water could be accessed anytime even during summer – when there is more need of irrigation water – due to abundance of sunlight which powered the solar panels.

                “Noon, pag walang pera ay hindi kami makapagtanim ng palay dahil walang pambili ng diesel para sa pagpapatubig. Ngayon, kahit wala akong pera ay nakaka-ani pa rin dahil may Solar Powered Irrigation na kami,” said 73-year old farmer Jose Rebolado. “At tumaas din ang aming ani ng mahigit sa 20 kaban (1,000 kilos) sa isang ektarya,” he enthused. He used to get 30 cavans in his 1 hectare area, but now he can attain 50 cavans in the same area.  

                Engr. Nilda Albano, chief of the Regional Agriculture Engineering Division (RAED) said the SPIS provides adequate water throughout the rice growing season resulting to higher yields. The farmers were also able to plan their planting and harvesting to avoid adverse weather conditions. More farmers were also encouraged to plant as they now have reliable source of irrigation water, resulting to increase in area planted to rice.

                The establishment of SPIS in Bicol Region which started in 2017 is being implemented by the RAED. Big ticket projects such as construction of SPIS which is part of the Small Scale Irrigation Project (SSIPs) are among the top priorities of the Department of Agriculture to boost rice productivity and farmers income, hence the DA battle cry Masaganang Ani at Mataas na Kita.

                Edgardo Ruin admitted that when he submitted their request to the DA Regional Office in 2017, he only wished for a Shallow Tube Well (STW). He was very happy when aside from the STW, the DA regional office also identified his association as a qualified recipient of the Solar Powered Irrigation.

                The AEFA only needs a 120 square meter lot area and  source of irrigation water as their counterpart. Luckily, a woman member, the 80 year-old Milagros Balatong has an idle land  adjacent to the Panganiban creek. All the barangay officials led by barangay captain Virgilio Nilo, together with the AEFA officers, persuaded her to donate a portion of her land. Convinced of the huge benefits of the SPIS, Aling Milagros executed a deed of donation for the 120 square meter portion of her lot where the SPIS now sits.

To contribute to the daily operation and maintenance of the SPIS, the AEFA members voluntarily give one cavan for every 10 cavans of their harvest.

Clamor for more SPIS

                Nabua Municipal Agriculturist Jesse Arnel P. Duran said that he is still scouting for farmers’ associations that can qualify for the SPIS. “There are over 40 active farmers’ associations in Nabua. The LGU is very dependent on the DA banner programs – Rice, Corn, High Value Crops, Livestock and Poultry and Organic Agriculture. But rice is the most dominant crop in Nabua as 3,600 hectares are irrigated areas, 600 hectares are rainfed and 26 hectares are upland areas.  In his project proposal submitted to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), MA Duran cited the 210 hectares potential irrigable areas which are possible sites of SPIS. 

                “With the diminishing agricultural areas, farmers need to embrace farm mechanization if they want to increase their income and if we want to achieve food security,” said Duran.

                The municipality of Nabua is very lucky to be included in the beneficiaries of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Program (RCEP). As of January 2020, a total of 4,250 bags of certified rice seeds (RC 10, RC 18, RC 222) funded under the RCEP were distributed to the farmers in Nabua. “In my whole life as municipal agriculturist, I never had the opportunity to distribute over 4,000 bags of seeds. But with the RCEP, this is only the beginning,” MA Duran happily shares.

                Duran’s sentiment is also being shared by the members of the AEFA. “Nasa Department of Agriculture na ang lahat ng pangangailan naming mga magsasaka – seeds, fertilizers, teknolohiya at makinarya, pestisidyo na lang ang kulang. Ang kailangan na lang namin ay magsipag,” said 73 year old rice farmer Abdon Zuniga.

                The AEFA has full of hopes and aspirations for their further success. President Ruin has clear vision for his association which includes shifting to farm mechanization, addition of solar or mechanical dryers to accommodate the increasing harvest, and use of 4 wheel drive tractor to hasten land preparation of their growing rice areas. (photo credits: E. Collantes, H. Privaldos/ sources: RAED data)