THE Department of Agriculture (DA) is encouraging more firms to submit proposals to provide Solar-Powered Irrigation Systems (SPIS).

“They endorsed the proposal… but we are not saying that only LR Group can do that. If another company will make a presentation and offer the same arrangement we will consider,” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol told reporters on Tuesday.

Ang kailangan nating i-irrigate [The area we need to irrigate] is still 2.9 million hectares. This package will only irrigate 500,00 hectares. If there’s another group that could make a similar offer and cover another 500,000 hectares so much the better,” he noted.

In February, Israeli agro-industrial firm LR Group submitted a P44-billion proposal to the government to fund the deployment of the 6,200-Solar-powered Irrigation Systems. President Rodrigo R. Duterte gave the green light for initial negotiations involving the Philippines and the group’s subsidiary Innovative Agro Industry Ltd.

The offer includes a 10-year loan which can supply water to 500,000 hectares of rice and high-value crops over the next three years.

Another Israeli company expressing interest, is Netafim, which makes irrigation equipment. “Netafim has shown interest pero wala sila nung [but they don’t have the] package na may dala silang sarili nilang pera [that they will fund the project]. ’Yung LR Group kasi may proposal sila, may pera silang dala [LR Group has a proposal indicating that tells they will fund],” Mr. Piñol noted.

He said: “With irrigation, you will not really mind if there is El Niño or not kasi [because] it is better to plant during the dry months kasi walang [because there is no] interference ’yung ulan sa [from the rain],” he said.

Crops being considered for the SPIS deployment are lowland rice, upland rice, sugarcane, corn, coffee, cacao, coconuts, and other fruit-bearing trees. Currently, there is an SPIS facility in Llanera, Nueva Ecija, valued at P7.2 million and powered by 140 solar modules which can generate 30 to 50 horsepower (hp). Mr. Piñol said that this is supplying water to about 80 hectares of land. This facility was turned over by the DA to the Caridad Norte and Sur Irrigators’ Association last month.

If ever the company wins status as original proponent, the project will undergo a Swiss challenge.

“Hopefully the NEDA-ICC [National Economic and Development Authority- Investment Coordination Council] will start looking into this and it is our hope that before the end of the year things will start moving because I actually warned our fellow cabinet officials… that we have to move fast because the El Niño phenomenon is occurring with greater frequency now. It used to be about every five years. It became every three years. Now, it’s every two years, so kapag hindi natin ginawa ’yan, every two years… magre-repair, magre-rehabilitate [if we did not do that, every two years… we will repair, we will rehabilitate], which is an expensive exercise,” he said. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang