DA: El Niño impact may be less than feared

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Despite the strong El Niño affecting the country since September last year, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is optimistic that only a small percentage decrease in production and yield will be felt.

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From February 2015 to March 2016 about 313,356 hectares from combined rice and corn production areas were reportedly affected, which was significantly lower than the 917,053 hectares affected during the 2009-2010 dry spell, the DA said.

“The minimal damage, according to agri-experts, may be attributed to the prompt distribution of support and assistance, as well as the dissemination of information to farmers,” Agriculture chief Proceso Alcala said, stressing that farmers knew better now and opted not to plant crops that are most susceptible to drought.

This time, Alcala said, farmers are growing drought-resistant crops including peanut, mongo, soybean and sweet potato, which reduced the chances of damage and loss.

At the onset of El Niño, the Agriculture Department through its concerned bureaus, attached agencies, and regional offices laid out adaptation strategies to cushion the impact of the season—forecast to be the driest and hottest of the year 2015-2016.

These included reinforced irrigation and water management, as well as intensified pest management and surveillance initiatives.

For fish health, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has been in full command of monitoring and management activities—keeping a close watch on all operations for both the fish capture and fish culture subsectors.

In addition to increased monitoring, the crop insurance system was also enhanced, the DA said. Through the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation (PCIC), the DA provides insurance protection to farmers against losses incurred from natural calamities, plant diseases and pest infestations.

Under PCIC’s crop insurance program for rice, for example, a farmer may get indemnity ranging from P41,000 to P65,000, which covers the cost of production per hectare.

The DA has also steadily provided seed and vaccine support to the most affected communities.

Alcala also said that cloud seeding, one of the most effective El Niño adaptation strategies, continues to bring in positive results.

In Mindanao, particularly in SOCCSKSARGEN, the DA chief called for additional hours of sorties, following a successful series of cloud seeding. In other parts of the country, cloud seeding operations have already taken-off—resulting in scattered rain showers that provided a refreshing break for the arid farmlands.

“But more than adaptation, the government continues to look for long-term and permanent solutions to the repetitive dilemma that is the El Niño. As the DA dons full battle gear to combat the effects of drought, the nation is encouraged to take action as well. After all, this is our battle,” he said.

Based on the latest Pagasa report, El Niño will reach its peak this March, with 19 provinces in Southern Philippines bearing the brunt of the drought.

These include Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Saranggani, Sultan Kudarat, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Maguindanao and Sulu. Two provinces in the Visayas (Negros Oriental and Siquijor) and one in Luzon (Palawan) will also be greatly affected.

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