Secretary Francis “Kiko”Pangilian, the President’s adviser on food security, said the government is preparing for the worst that the El Niño phenomenon could bring to the agricultural sector.
He noted that the administration is working to avoid a repeat of the 1997-1998 El Niño crisis, when 25 percent of crops were destroyed then.
Pangilinan is a member of the Cabinet-level El Niño Task Force along with officials of the National Economic and Development Administration, the Department of Public Works and Highways, National Irrigation Administration and Department of Agriculture.
“We are looking at the worst-case scenario in terms of El Niño’s effect on harvests and consequently our supply. It might be as severe as 1998,” Pangilinan said in a statement.
Pangilinan assured, however, that the government is better equipped to help farmers deal with El Niño this time unlike in 1998.
He touted government’s cloud-seeding program, the use of Doppler radars, and free distribution to farmers of rice varieties that do not require as much water as the regular variety to grow.
Besides giving out different varieties of rice that do not require much water, Pangilinan said the government plans to give farmers whose lands will be affected by El Niño an alternative source of livelihood during the repair and rehabilitation of irrigation canals.
Thus, before the El Niño could hit the country this year, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) distributed a total of 402 irrigation projects to organized irrigators all over the country, including 166 national irrigation systems (NIS) and 236 communal irrigation systems (CIS), such as dams, main and sub-lateral canals, canal structures and drainage facilities.
Both NIS and CIS will irrigate a total of 124,633.54 hectares benefiting 48,234 farmers. All 402 projects cost a total of P3.5 billion.
NIA Administrator Florencio Padernal said it was Pangilinan who emphasized the completion of the irrigation projects early to ensure the increase in palay production before the long dry spell could hit the country this year.
Four big-ticket irrigation projects worth up to P30 billion were approved by NEDA, such as the Balog Balog High Dam Project, Jalaur Multipurpose Dam Project, Umayam River Irrigation System Project, Agno River Irrigation Project, Casecnan Irrigation Project, and the Malinao Irrigation Project, Padernal added.
More than 400 irrigation facilities were turned over during Pangilinan’s term, the NIA chief said.