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Farmers decry loss of water to mine

Kristine L. Alave, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 28 May 2012 - Farmers and irrigators’ associations in Davao del Sur and Davao City have asked the government to stop the $6-billion open-pit mine project of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (CMI), saying that it would destroy the watershed that irrigates 13,000 hectares of farmland, mostly planted to rice, in the region.

A battle over water between farmers and a mining company is looming in the lush, mineral-rich province of Davao del Sur.

Farmers and irrigators’ associations in Davao del Sur and Davao City have asked the government to stop the $6-billion open-pit mine project of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (CMI), saying that it would destroy the watershed that irrigates 13,000 hectares of farmland, mostly planted to rice, in the region.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said the farmers had asked him to stop the copper and gold mine project in Tampakan, Davao del Sur.

“Farmers are against the Tampakan project,” Alcala said in a recent talk with reporters. “I think they will not let this push through.”

In a resolution submitted to the Department of Agriculture and the Office of the President, the Davao del Sur and Davao City Federation of Irrigators’ Associations said the open-pit mine and the support facilities that would be built for it posed the  threat of “environmental destruction” to the national and communal irrigation system of the province.

But Sagittarius Mines said the project posed no threat to agricultural lands in the area.

John Arnaldo, a spokesperson for SMI, said, “SMI confirms and guarantees that no mining activities are proposed to be undertaken in any prime agricultural lands.”

If the project is approved, Arnaldo said, SMI will build a freshwater dam to mitigate any impact the project will have on irrigation.

The dam will be used to store rain water, which will be collected during the rainy season, Arnaldo said.

The impounded water will be used to irrigate the farms during the dry season, he said.

The system will lead to increases in rice production and farmers’ incomes, Arnaldo added.

It will also be an opportunity for a more equitable distribution of irrigation water in the area, he said.

But the irrigators’ federation insists the SMI project threatens rice production in Davao del Sur.

The federation’s resolution said that more than 13,000 farmers were dependent on river water for irrigation.

Rice self-sufficiency

If the watershed is damaged by mining, the Mal river will die, there will be no water for the farms, and the Aquino administration will fail to achieve its goal of rice self-sufficiency by 2016.

The federation’s president, Nestor Rama, said tailings and chemicals used in the processing of minerals could contaminate the water in the Mal River.

Farmer Leogene Bangahon said the location of the mining area and the open-pit method could wipe out the watershed above the rice farms.

“Once you destroy a mountain, it’s gone,” Bangahon said. “If the source of our water is gone, we will not be able to plant,” he added.

The Sagittarius Mines project is a joint venture among Xstrata Copper, Indophil Resourcs NL and the Tampakan Group of Companies. The consortium’s $5.9-billion investment in the Tampakan mine is considered the largest single foreign direct investment in the Philippines.

The mining site straddles 10,000 hectares of agricultural land located between the towns of Tampakan, South Cotabato, and Kiblawan, Davao del Sur.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has yet to issue an environmental clearance certificate (ECC) for the project because the provincial government of South Cotabato prohibits open-pit mining.

P250-M irrigation system

Agriculture officials have confirmed that the area where the mine project is located has irrigation. Antonio Nangel, National Irrigation Administration (NIA) chief, said the government has spent P250 million to build an irrigation system in the Mal River.

Alcala said complaints from farmers and irrigators in other mining areas had led to a provision in the new mining regulations being drafted. “There should be no mining in areas where there are established agricultural facilities,” Alcala said. “Prime agricultural land should also be exempt.”

Davao del Sur is part of Region XI, a highly mineralized area of  southern Mindanao. The region is home to large-scale and small-scale mining operations, as well as vast rice, banana and pineapple plantations.

Over the years, the region’s rice production has declined. According to information from the NIA, Region XI produced 427,184 metric tons of rice in 2007. In 2010, paddy yield dropped to 402,111 metric tons.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer

Source: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/201693/farmers-decry-loss-of-water-to-mine

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