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Out-of-action irrigation may cut crop yields

Thousands of hectares of farmland are expected to be affected by a lack of irrigation this dry season as provinces are suffering funding shortages for the repair of irrigation systems.

This year there are as many as 453 irrigation systems that require repair with the total cost estimated at about 142.5 billion kip, according to the Irrigation Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

Head of the department's Irrigation Management Division, Mr Amphay Phannoulak, told Vientiane Times yesterday the department had submitted a repair proposal to the government via the ministry to seek funding.

Higher authorities have said financing will be channelled directly to the provinces so they can repair the irrigation systems under their responsibility, Mr Amphay said.

But local departments are expected to experience particularly slow approval of funding since administrative changes came into effect this year. These include the fact that the government moved the start of the fiscal year from October to January, which means budget approval will be made later.

In addition, budget approval needs to be passed by provincial councils, a departure from previous practice.

Head of the Vientiane Irrigation Division, Mr Saykham Phengkhammy, told Vientiane Times that his division had not yet received any budget to repair irrigation systems because the Vientiane People's Council was still in session, even though dry season planting had already begun.

“What we can do is to encourage farm operators and farmers to contribute to the repair work,” he said, adding that it was beyond their capacity to repair large-scale irrigation systems.

In light of the problem, Mr Saykham said Vientiane might be unable to meet its target to plant dry season rice and other crops on 19,000 hectares.

“We might only be able to plant out 17,000 hectares. If funding was available and irrigation systems running at full capacity, we might be able to achieve this ambitious target,” he said.

Director of the Agriculture and Forestry Department in Champassak province, Mr Padith Vatnalatsamy, said his department had also not yet received the budget for 2017, which included irrigation repair.

He added that crop growing would inevitably be affected by a lack of irrigated water.

With the planting season already underway, the director said his department had encouraged farmers who were able to plant their crops to do so, in order to minimise any potential impact.

Many provinces are now holding their People's Council meetings, while some have just finished.

But agriculture officials say it is already too late to repair broken irrigation systems in time for rice planting as the planting season has already begun. Instead they will encourage affected farmers to grow other crops.

Head of the Irrigation Management Division, Mr Amphay Phannoulak, said as many as 14,000 hectares of rice and other crops nationwide will be affected if the proposed 453 irrigation systems are not repaired.

He said most irrigation systems were partially damaged or broken and could not operate at full capacity. The ministry suffered from having no emergency budget to carry out repairs in the event that regular budget approval was slow.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has set a target to irrigate 145,000 hectares of rice and other crops nationwide this dry season.

By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
(Latest Update
January 17,
2017)


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