By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The Department of Agriculture (DA) is looking to close a better funding deal for a massive irrigation project that Agriculture Secretary William Dar inherited from his predecessor Emmanuel Piñol.
Dar said that Innovative Agro Industry Ltd. (IAI), an affiliate of LR Group, a leading project development company in Israel, is looking to meet with the officials of the Department of Finance (DOF) next week to present a loan proposal worth US$200 million or ₱10.2 billion, which will be used to fund the development of solar-powered irrigation system (SPIS) units across the countries.
The DA’s plan to develop SPIS units – which aims to provide water to at least 500,000 hectares of farms over the remaining years of the Duterte administration – was first announced by Piñol last year.
But it faced financial setbacks when he failed to get his desired budget for DA in 2019, which would have been partly allotted to this venture. He also failed to get the country’s economic managers approval to proceed with a ₱44-billion loan IAI was initially offering.
Fast forward to the present, the massive SPIS project is still there – with the same Israeli government-backed proponents, but with better loan deals involving a smaller amount of money to be borrowed, according to Dar.
“What they’ll do is discuss this with the DOF next week. There is a group that can support them [LR Group] in terms of bringing $200 million investment and they will give it at 1 percent loan interest,” Dar said on the sidelines of the 2019 National Food Security Summit.
Though Dar first said he forgot the name of the “group” that will support LR, it was later on confirmed by his staff that it is also IAI.
The meeting, according to him, will be held on November 5, Tuesday.
In August, Dar told Israel Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael Harpaz that he is willing to continue the DA’s existing partnership with Israel, particularly on water irrigation.
At that time, he said that the SPIS project of the previous DA administration is a good development “but needs to be diligently and properly implemented”.
“If the Philippine infrastructure (sector) has Build, Build, Build program, why not a Build, Build, Build for agriculture,” Dar further said.
Dar replaced Piñol, who is now the chairperson of Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), three months ago.
Before the SPIS project could actually take off, LR Group, in partnership with DA, already built two models of the irrigation system in the country, which is now particularly benefiting the farmers of Barangay Wawa Ibayo in Lumban, Laguna.