Bukidnon town increases rice farmlands due to conversion

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY–The National Irrigation Administration in Region 10 (NIA-10) said the Bukidnon town of Baungon has seen an expansion of rice farmlands in the last five years.

Engr. Kienzel Glenn Carrillo, officer-in-charge of NIA-10’s Bubunawan River Irrigation System (RIS) office based in Baungon, said that land devoted to rice production in Baungon has gone up from 132 hectares in 2013 to 212 hectares in 2018.

Baungon has a total land area of 32,834 hectares.

Carrillo attributed the expansion to land conversion, with farmers switching from other crops to rice.

NIA-10 released the data amid allegations that the town has suffered decreased rice production because of the giant bulk water supplier that competes with farmers for the town’s water supply.

Lawyer Ernie Palanan alleged that Rio Verde Water Consortium Inc.’s tapping of water from NIA-10’s irrigation canal in Baungon has caused the drop in rice production in said town.

Palanan has represented himself as the spokesperson of a group of farmers claiming to be affected by NIA-10’s sale of irrigation water to Rio Verde. Under the deal, he said NIA-10 sold about 40,000 cubic meters of water to Rio Verde at 13 centavos per cubic meter.

Carrillo said that while Baungon has experienced decreased rice production in the past years, the trend showed that the municipality has been expanding its rice lands.

He noted that in 2014, rice lands went up by 159 hectares, and have remained the same the following year. Land used for rice production declined again to 151 hectares in 2016 but rose in 2017 by 194 hectares.

Per data from NIA-10, the Bubunawan RIS that serves at least six Baungon villages, the town has a total irrigated area of 194.56 hectares for rice, 53 hectares for annual crops, and four hectares for other crops.

In a statement, Rio Verde said it buys only 1,667 cubic meters of water per hour, or 40,000 per day, from NIA-10 at 17 centavos per cubic meter. The volume of water flowing in the Bubunawan river is 79,200 cubic meters per hour.

The firm said it is only “extracting two percent of the available water flowing along the Bubunawan river.”

In his Jan. 23, 2018 letter to NIA-10 regional irrigation manager Ali Satol, the agency’s Bukidnon satellite office head, Raul Montebon, assured that despite the sale of water to Rio Verde, there is still enough supply for the municipality’s farmers.

Engr. Ulysses Bracero, Rio Verde acting plant manager, said the company did not renew its five-year contract with NIA-10 after it was terminated in January this year.

In fact, Bracero said, Rio Verde has sealed off its pipeline that connected to an irrigation canal in Barangay Imbatug, Baungon.

Meanwhile, Baungon Mayor Pedro Alvarez said any decrease in the town’s rice production can be attributed to farmers switching to other crops such as cassava and corn. The other reason, he said, is that some farmers are just content with leasing their lands to multinational corporations that plant cash crops.

Alvarez is the son of Jose Alvarez, the governor of Palawan and chairman of Rio Verde Water Corp., which owns Rio Verde Water Consortium Inc. and Cebu Bulk Water Consortium Inc.

Although he is related to the elder Alvarez, the mayor made it clear he is not involved in the business aspect of Rio Verde.-PNA

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