SOLAR-POWERED irrigation systems have the potential to transform underserved upland farms, two former agriculture secretaries said.

In a joint statement issued by the Federation of Free Farmers, former agriculture secretaries Emmanuel F. Piñol and Leonardo Q. Montemayor urged the administration to roll out a solar-powered irrigation program nationwide.

They said that about 200,000 hectares of farm areas are inadequately served by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).

“These areas, which are located at the tail end of NIA’s dam-sourced irrigation distribution system, get minimal or no water especially during the dry season cropping period,” they added.

Mr. Piñol and Mr. Montemayor said that about 1.5 million hectares of rain-fed uplands could be potential areas for planting rice or high-value crops like soybean and vegetables during the dry season.

“The beauty of solar-based irrigation is that it is free (coming from the sun), renewable, environmentally sound. It reduces farmers’ irrigation expenses since it does not require increasingly costly diesel fuel,” they added.

About 300 solar irrigation projects have been established by the Departments of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, as well as local government units, according to Mr. Montemayor.

Mr. Piñol said that under the previous administration a P40 billion soft loan was offered by the government of Israel to develop over 6,000 solar irrigation units covering almost 500,000 hectares.

“[It] had been unacted upon by the economic team of the previous administration,” he added.

Mr. Montemayor added that earlier this year a proposal was submitted to develop a similar project, “Malacañang’s response is still being awaited.”

“These and future development plans need to be coordinated and scaled up to achieve rice and food security goals at the soonest time possible,” he said. — Adrian H. Halili