CARMEN, Bohol--What a difference irrigation can make in the lives of rice farmers like Exequiel Bahalla.
Bahalla of Barangay Katipunan in this town famous for its Chocolate Hills says in an interview that since a small water impounding system was put into operation in 1996 near his farm, he was able to squeeze one more crop out of his 7-hectare plot, thus doubling his income.
It costs about P150,000 and as little as six months to build a SWIS, which involves catching rainwater or the water coming from the mountains and streams in a designated area of about 2,500 square meters.
Through gravity and a series of pipes and canals, water is distributed to as much as 10 hectares of farmland.
SWIS can not be built just anywhere, however, as factors as topography, flow of water and natural rainfall pattern are taken into consideration, which explains why it takes about a year of study before the SWIS sites are identified.
Such efforts pay off handsomely in the end, however, as seen in the increased yield and incomes of the small farmers in Bohol.
What's more, farmers benefiting from the SWIS have learned to work together since they were formed into an irrigators association to maintain the impounding system and the pipe network.
Farmers pay a maintenance fee of one sack of rice a hectare of irrigated land after every harvest.
The irrigators' association then sells the produce and the money is used to keep the SWIS in good running condition.
Bahalla relates that when he solely depended on rain to water his crop, he was only able to harvest 50 to 60 cavans of palay a hectare once a year.
And since he could not predict when and how much rain would come down, his farm sometimes either had too little or too much of it. There was no way of regulating the flow.
With the SWIS, he is no longer as vulnerable and his yield has never been better.
Bahalla adds that with the water problem solved, he is now toying with the idea of embracing organic agriculture practices so he does not have to pay so much anymore for chemical fertilizers and see if his farm would produce even more rice.
Realizing the social and economic benefits of the SWIS, the Philippine Business for Social Progress has made the technology an integral part of its Area Resource Management program in Bohol.
The goal of the Bohol ARM is to help 10,283 poor households in 40 villages from eight municipalities to increase their productivity and income.
The PBSP project envisions that by the end of next year, organized farmers would be able to develop and manage their own organizations and projects to address their own issues.
There are now 56 SWIS in operation and were bankrolled by the United States Agency for International Development, A. King foundation, German Agro Action and Team Energy Foundation.
PBSP director for operations Leo Hilado hopes that more funds would be raised to put up even more SWIS in the province of Bohol, a major source of rice in the Visayas region. He said he was looking at adding another 30 within the next two years.
"The SWIS technology has actually been around for a long time, but it has never been maximized until now," Hilado said.
Hilado said PBSP would tap its corporate members to invest in the SWIS technology since it is affordable and has been proven to be effective in raising rice output. This becomes more important these days when increasing rice production has become top priority.
"Right now, we are consolidating data in the three municipalities where we have SWIS to see if we can expand the old SWIS and where we can put up new ones," Hilado said. "We are also looking at possibly putting up SWIS in the rice lands of Negros and Samar."