The government will need to spend about P19.2 billion to mitigate the negative economic impact of the El Nino weather phenomenon, a Cabinet official said on Tuesday.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan told reporters that President Benigno Aquino 3rd would likely be briefed this week about an El Nino roadmap that would include increased imports of agricultural commodities, particularly rice.
“The indicative amounts that we have discussed with the agencies involved are amounting already to something like P19.2 billion, covering both the remaining months of this year next year,” Balisacan said.
“Some of these [funds]are already within the existing budgets of the agencies, some will need to be identified, but I would like to stress that this [the P19.2 billion]is indicative and needs to be validated,” he added.
Balisacan noted that the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration expects the El Nino dry spell to last until June of next year.
“The readings … on the areas covered and on the expected intensity of El Nino is that this is likely going to be as bad as the 1997 to 1998 [dry spell]in terms of intensity, and if we go back to that period agricultural production shrunk quite significantly,” he said.
The NEDA chief said 66 provinces would be hit by severe drought, with seven already suffering the condition: Quirino, Aurora, Quezon, Bohol, Siquijor, Camiguin and Misamis Oriental.
Through an El Nino task force, agencies are proposing to undertake mitigation activities that will include imports of agricultural commodities.
“We have to ensure that we have adequate supply. That means we’ll have to have a timely importation of rice and possibly other basic agricultural commodities to make sure that we don’t get price spikes, as we had in 2013, when we had a shortage of rice,” he said.
For rice, Balisacan said the country had already imported a total of 1.9 million metric tons (MT) this year. For 2016, a provision of 500,000 MT for the first quarter has been approved.
“Based on our analysis of the current data, we might need to increase imports by another 1 million MT for 2016 to maintain a 45-day buffer,” Balisacan said.
The NEDA chief said the additional importation is going to be discussed by the National Food Authority council and approved by the President.
“[W]hat we want to avoid is domestic prices are shooting up while world prices are relatively stable. We want to make sure that supply is there when we need it most,” he said.
Another mitigating activity would be cash for work programs in severely affected areas that will provide additional sources of income for farmers, Balisacan said.
He said the task force had identified about P2.9-billion worth of projects under the Public Works, Labor, Trade and Social Welfare departments, the National Irrigation Authority and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority for implementation this year and requiring another P7.3 billion next year.
Water management projects for farms will require P1.75 billion this year and P2 billion for the first half of 2016, he added.
Balisacan said the task force was also planning to introduce food stamps in El Nino-affected urban areas.
“If there are very vulnerable groups, households who are not producers and who may not be in a position to work due to certain circumstances and location … food stamps might be the appropriate intervention for them,” he said.
“That would be need about P1.3 billion for 2015 and P1.9 billion for 2016.”