BAGUIO CITY — The huge backhoe rumbled as its wide claw dug into the ground, taking the hardened mud away. The digging started on Nov. 9, over a week after Typhoon Rosita battered the province of Kalinga and deluged hectares of rice farms, even burying the farms’ 1.3-kilometer communal irrigation as if it never existed.
Rice farmer Ernesto Gayyad, 52, of Tabuk City, Kalinga owns the backhoe and does the digging himself. He said it might take a week or two to finish the task, so the irrigation facility would resurface and water the rice farms again. As of Friday (Nov. 16), the work was about three-fourths done, Gayyad told the Philippine News Agency (PNA).
The rice farms span the five barangays of Tabuk City—San Juan, Laya, Appas, Magsaysay, and Dagupan Weste.
Eighty-seven hectares in all, these farms produce rice that sustains the locals, as a household staple and source of income as well.
Gayyad is doing it all for free, not expecting anything in return. He just wants the farms to be ready for the next planting season, he said.
“I offered to help as a contribution to ease the burden of my fellow farmers, who are also victims of Typhoon Rosita,” he told the PNA in the Ilocano dialect.
He has offered the use of his backhoe, which he, himself, would operate to remove the silt at the Agpas section of the eight-kilometer Lapug-Laya Extention irrigation canal. This canal provides the water for the city’s rice farms. The Lapug-Laya extension of the communal irrigation system measures one and a half square meters.
“I expressed my intention to Congressman (Allen Jesse Mangaoang) because there is an urgent need to clear the lateral irrigation system, so the water will flow again,” Gayyad said in the vernacular. “I am offering my services including the use of my backhoe for free. It’s the only thing I can do to help other farmers, so they can start planting again.”
Digging the irrigation canal with a shovel, he said, would surely take lot more time, delaying the planting season some more and affecting the rice production of the province.
The ravaging typhoon left the irrigation canal filled with soil and mud, blocking the water that is supposed to flow to the rice farms. “You cannot see that it is there,” Gayyad said. “There is no sign that there is an irrigation there, as the farms on both sides of the canal eroded and soil from the farms covered the irrigation.”
The farmer expressed the urgency of putting the facility back as soon as possible.
“As long as there is water, the farmers will plant. We need to bring the water to them immediately,” he said.
According to Gayyad, farmers in Tabuk usually start to prepare their lots toward the end of October, ready to be planted by November and December.
Harvest time comes after three to four months, he said, with the rice supplied to the different parts of the country.
The province of Kalinga has been tagged as the rice granary of the Cordillera region.
In 2017, the province produced 173,292 metric tons of rice, almost triple or 269 percent of what its people need.
The province accounted for 38.9 percent of the total rice production of the whole region of Cordillera last year of 445,006 metric tons.
Meanwhile, Kalinga’s capital, Tabuk City, is also the province’s major rice producer. The city grows rice in 11,247 hectares of land, about 37 percent of the total production area of the province of 20,471.74 hectares.
Kalinga has two planting seasons.
“We are still on time, but we need to clear the irrigation quick,” Gayyad noted.
He said, good thing the farmers in Kalinga were able to harvest some of their crops before Typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut) hit northern Luzon in mid-September.
More rice was harvested again from the plants that escaped Ompong’s wrath before another strong typhoon, “Rosita” (Yutu) came toward the end of October.
Thus, rice supply in Tabuk was enough until “Rosita” came.
Some of the farmers now use the income they got from the previous harvests to fix their farms. The only thing needed now is the irrigation for the next planting season.
As of Nov. 9, 2018, “Rosita’s” agricultural damage to Cordillera, according to the Cordillera Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (CDRRMC), was recorded at PHP276.28 million in rice, the bulk of which was in Kalinga province, worth PHP270.122 million. PNA-northboundasia.com