By Genalyn Kabiling
A landmark law providing free irrigation service to small farmers in the country has been signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Under Republic Act No. 10969, farmers with landholdings of eight hectares and below are exempted from paying irrigation service fees for water derived from both national and communal irrigation systems.
The law, also known as Free Irrigation Service Act, has also condoned loans and past due accounts of these small farmers and irrigators associations to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).
“The State shall also ensure that vital support services are made available, particularly irrigation service, through the continued construction, repair and maintenance of necessary irrigation facilities, to increase production of agricultural crops, encourage productivity, and increase the incomes of farmers,” the law read.
“Towards this end, the State affirms its commitment to contribute to the lowering of the cost of production through the provision of free irrigation service, and further relieve the farmers and their irrigators associations from the burden and consequence of unpaid irrigation service fees,” it added.
RA 10969 also stated the NIA would continue to develop, operate and maintain national irrigation systems. It however may delegate the operation and maintenance of secondary and tertiary canals and farm ditches to capable irrigator groups.
The communal irrigation systems will still be operated and maintained by irrigators associations.
In lieu of the irrigation fees billed from exempt farmers, the law also mandates the national government to provide equivalent funds for the operation and maintenance of communal irrigation systems operated by irrigators associations.
The NIA has also been directed to issue guidelines on the collection and use of ISF of those not exempted from the law. Technical assistance will also be provided to irrigators associations on the operations of communal irrigation systems and farm enterprises management.
The law, signed last February 2 by the President, takes effect 15 days after publication in the Official Gazette or in two newspapers.