I WAS given a half sack full, about 25 kilos of red unoy rice, that is good for the health, by Jerome Estino, a farmer in Tabuk City, earlier this year after a visit to their community and its rice fields.
Surprisingly, he was eager to take me to the source of their irrigation, passing through the irrigation dikes. I was simply grateful for this gesture.
We talked about their farming and his concerns when we reached the water source where I saw for the first time, this part of the City of Tabuk, that yet resembles in my mind, what the place really was, as the rice granary of the Cordillera. All that you can see and smell is rice and rice fields, not the vapor of sewer or industrial fumes.
Coming to this place through the irrigation dike, I can see that it is being used by the community for washing dishes, clothes, and for swimming. It is not only people that take a bath in the dike but also beasts, particularly carabaos and ducks.
The irrigation source is a lake upstream. Its overflow was diverted into the village and on to the rice fields by the villagers with help from the local government unit (LGU), Department of Agriculture (DA), and National Irrigation Administration (NIA).
At the top of the hill overlooking the lake, their village, and rice fields, Mr. Estino expressed his gratitude to all who helped them construct the retaining wall of the dam so it can store more water, especially during the rainy season. He also said that the construction of the irrigation canal is important to their farming livelihood.
“As you can see, fresh and clean water means so much to us as farmers as a precious resource.”
With sufficient water, we are able to plant two regular crops, sometimes three. We increased production with more cropping and more hectares of land now being cultivated.
The members of the association have continuously increased their harvest from 60-80 cavans per hectare to 120-140 cavans per hectare.
On top of the direct benefits of this shared community resource are the indirect and equally important benefits. The potential blessings we can realize from improving and conserving the lake into an improved impounding dam has kept us united into an association that helps each other in improving our livelihood, according to Mr. Estino.
Estino organized the Tanggal SWIP Small Impounding Dam Association, Inc. in 1999 and has since been its president until now because the members insisted that he stays on as their leader. To date, the group has 64 strong members.
As an association, we have requested help from the DA and LGU to help us in maintaining and upgrading our seeds, in updating our production technologies and in empowering our members through training, he said.
Estino added that they have been “developing their farms together for sustainable agriculture and even for eco-tourism. We do that for the nation with our highest regards to our partners.”
During the course of our talk about the community’s water irrigation needs, we know that water is becoming a precious commodity by the hour even in places where lack should not be a problem.
In the Cordillera, there use to be many small lakes in our mountains fed by underground rivers and/or creeks. These lakes have either dried up or diminished in size now, their capacity for irrigation purposes is limited to a few patches of land with the drying up of the sources of water.
The US Geological Survey's (USGS) Water Science School has established that only 2.5 percent of Earth's water is fresh water. Only a little more than 1.2 percent of all freshwater is surface water, which is used for potable, irrigation and industrial needs.
“Most surface freshwater is locked up in ice while 20.9 percent is found in lakes. Rivers make up 0.49 percent of surface freshwater. Although rivers account for only a small amount of freshwater, this is where humans get a large portion of their water from,” according to the USGS.
For us Cordillerans, think about that water, where it comes from. It allows little room to be wasteful or to take what is happening to our water sources for granted.
If it is rainwater, it still has to pass through the soil to be of any good use for drinking water, or irrigation, or water for industrial purposes.
The water, and the soil, in this regard, are critical to the cycle of
making or sustaining the availability of fresh water.
That fresh water can only be fresh, clean, and safe depending on the soils we have these days.
Unfortunately, our soils now are continuously eroding as we have cleared so much of our mountains of their forest cover. With the disappearance of the forest, so also are our soils that hold water, disappearing. Without the soil, nothing will hold the rain water. It would only mean a shortage of water, after the rains.
Let us save the soil, keep it safe from pollutants of all kinds, a role Cordillerans must learn to perform for their own sake and those of their neighbors downstream.
That was what Mr. Estino and his group are asking from all of us to help them do their roles to keep our soils healthy, that makes us and the nation healthy in return.
Let us rehabilitate and keep our forest and watersheds intact where they are today.