Group hits ADB’s water projects

MANILA, Philippines – On the third day of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) 45th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors here Friday, farmer members of the Task Force Food Sovereignty (TFFS) staged a protest action near the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), site of the gathering, condemning the Bank’s water-related projects as these “have pushed smallholder farmers to deeper poverty and indebtedness.”

“Instead of improving the lives of our poor farmers, ADB’s water and irrigation projects have destroyed our livelihood and violated people’s basic and fundamental rights to water and food,” said Nestor Diego, Secretary General of the Pambansang Kaisahan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas and a farmer from Nueva Ecija.

TFFS, a Philippines-based network of farmers and food security advocates, criticized ADB for funding water projects that resulted in non-performing irrigation systems, increased burden of poor farmers through payment of onerous irrigation fees, and pushed for wide-ranging policy reforms such as the emasculation of the National Irrigation Administration and the transfer of the operations and maintenance (O&M) of irrigation systems to cash-strapped Irrigators’ Associations (IAs).

“These farmers who already have limited access to farm subsidies and are saddled by rising costs of farm inputs and low farm gate prices, have to pay exorbitant water fees under ADB’s model of cost-recovery schemes for irrigation delivery, while government is obliged by the bank to withdraw its subsidies to poor farmers.” said Arze Glipo, TFFS lead convenor.

The group cited as example the $60-million Southern Philippines Irrigation Sector Project (SPISP) loan from ADB which started in 2000 and was completed only in December 2009. The project targeted 10,000 farm households and was supposedly to develop irrigation and drainage facilities covering about 18,000 hectares for intensive cultivation of rice and other crops in selected provinces in Visayas and Mindanao. In its website, ADB said that “the project has been physically completed on 30 June 2010 with some remaining minor works to be undertaken by the Government after the said date.” But a field investigation conducted by the TFFS in August 2010, showed that one of the “completed” projects, specifically the Gibong National Irrigation System (NIS) in Prosperidad and San Francisco towns of Agusan del Sur, was not operating. The Gibong NIS is expected to provide a regular supply of water to help farmers in the rainfed communities of San Francisco produce palay for at least two croppings per year.

“When we visited Gibong, what we saw was not ‘some remaining minor works to be undertaken’. We found out that the project is far from being complete,” stressed Diego.

Farmers of Gibong claimed that out of the 640.5 hectares target expansion at the Gibong Left Bank, only 15 hectares or 2.34 percent was done. At the Gibong Right Bank, only 47.5 hectares or 7.14 percent was completed out of the 665 hectares targeted for extension of the existing irrigation system. The farmers lamented that before SPISP, they can harvest at least 80 cavans of palay per hectare, but now their yield dropped to 30-40 cavans and they have been experiencing income losses for five consequent croppings. They blamed the poorly constructed irrigation canals for their woes, which were aggravated by the recent floodings in Agusan del Sur in January 2012 which destroyed their crops.
“Worse, despite this, farmers have to pay the irrigation associations (IAs) higher irrigation service fees,” lamented Diego.
The Asian Development Bank is financing the construction of additional irrigation systems in Agusan del Sur, under its newly approved $100 million Agusan River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) which is set to introduce privatization and market-based instruments in the delivery of water to farmers and to the population of the CARAGA provinces.

According to TFFS, ADB should immediately halt its loan programs and projects that are leading to the privatization of water resources and management. The strategy of private sector participation, public-private partnership and cost-recovery in water and irrigation should be thoroughly reviewed in the light of the massive failures of these policies to bring sufficient water to the poor population as well as to the increased burden imposed by such strategies on already indebted poor farmers.