Building a Dam and Irrigation System to Help Farmers in Isabela, the Philippines, Adapt to Climate Change, 2011–18

Introduction

Farmers in Isabela, a province in the Philippines, have long suffered from natural disasters such as flooding and drought. In recent years, climate change has made life even more difficult for farmers in the area. Droughts lasted longer, typhoons became more frequent, and the timing of seasons varied unexpectedly, making it difficult for farmers to predict rainfall. Most farmers in the region depended solely on rainfall to cultivate crops, which meant they could harvest only once a year. As a consequence, farms had low productivity, and many farmers struggled to get by.

In 2009, the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the Republic of Korea’s international aid organization, launched the East Asia Climate Partnership (EACP), and the Philippines became a partner country of the EACP. In 2010, the government of the Philippines requested EACP support for areas in the Philippines suffering the effects of climate change. The government wanted to build irrigation structures and better manage watersheds, areas of land that drain or “shed” water into rivers and lakes, to prevent flooding and provide farmers with a more consistent water supply. The irrigation structures would impound and store excess water to be used for agriculture or domestic purposes.

The governments of Korea and the Philippines together selected Isabela as the site where they would build a dam and irrigation canals. The province was the second largest rice and corn production region in the Philippines, and irrigation systems could help farmers in Isabela increase crop yields and improve the area’s resilience to climate change.

Development Challenge

Farmers in the Philippines regularly suffer the effects of typhoons, which bring flooding, and the global phenomenon El Niño, which is associated with droughts. Climate change has made these weather events both more frequent and more intense, and farms are sometimes affected by both droughts and floods during the same season (REECS). Unpredictable and extreme weather negatively affects crop yields, which can threaten farmers’ livelihoods.

Intervention

In 2011, the government of the Philippines launched the Pasa Dam project. The project consisted of four activities: 1) construction of access roads, 2) construction of dam and irrigation canals, 3) introduction of better management practices in the watershed, and 4) training of Philippine government officials and farmers (KOICA 2018). The project team from Korea was in charge of construction and training, and the Philippine government implemented the watershed management activities (KOICA 2018).

KOICA contracted the Korea Rural Community Corporation (KRC) and Gumgwang, a Korean construction company, to construct the roads, dam, and irrigation canals. The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) of the Philippines was KOICA’s key local counterpart (KOICA 2018).

Delivery Challenges

  • Coordination between Stakeholders
  • Organizational Capacity
  • Natural Disasters: Heavy Rains and Typhoons
  • Lack of Awareness of the Drivers of Flooding

Lessons Learned

  • Importance of Watershed Management
  • Synergies between Climate Adaptation and Economic Development
  • Consistent Leadership