• PH keeps agri growth target despite El Niño

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    The Philippines is keeping this year’s agriculture output growth target of 3.2-4.2 percent even with the threat of a prolonged dry spell, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said on Monday as it announced cloud seeding operations in Bulacan, Nueva Vizcaya, and Isabela to increase the water level in the Angat and Magat dams.

    “We are confident that we can hit our target of 3.2-4.2 percent for this year,” Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said during a media briefing.

    According to Alcala, his department has proactively responded to the threat of a long dry spell even before the announcement by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) that the El Niño phenomenon may start affecting the Philippines in June and peak by end of the year.

    The DA chief said the impact of El Niño on the farm sector would be felt more in the fourth quarter of 2014 to the first quarter of 2015.

    He noted that modern farming and fishery technologies are now being introduced as part of the government’s mitigation and adaptation measures to cushion the impact of the prolonged dry spell.

    “We are putting in place policy initiatives, water management and conservation measures, as well as modern and innovative farming and fishery technologies to somehow soften the effects of this dry spell,” he said.

    Alcala said government interventions include the introduction of drought tolerant varieties like the “green super rice” and planting of other crops such as sorghum, cassava and sweet potato, along with the use of water saving technology in rice production such as controlled irrigation or alternative wetting and drying.

    For these interventions, the DA will need an initial budget of P1.61 billion, of which P764.3 million is readily available while the remaining P842.6 million is still being raised.

    “More than a third of the financial requirement or P583.3 million has been proposed for the provision of seeds, planting materials and other production inputs to affected farmers,” Alcala said

    The second biggest allocation, at P339.83 million, has been proposed for the establishment of small-scale irrigation facilities including water impounding projects, solar pumps and shallow tube well units, he added.

    As of May 13, damage and losses to crops as a result of moisture stress already reached P823.28 million, covering 34,057 hectares in four regions—including the Cordillera Administration Region (CAR) and Regions II (Cagayan Valley), IV-B (MIMAROPA), and V (Bicol Region).

    In the rice sector, the prolonged dry spell has already affected some 5,710 hectares or about 59,139 metric tons of palay worth P221.28 million. Of the affected areas, over 26,402 hectares still have chances of a recovery.

    “The damage in the rice sector is negligible as it represents only 0.31 percent of the 4.002 million metric ton (MT) production target for April-June 2014,” Alcala said.

    Meanwhile, corn losses have so far amounted to P583.6 million, with 28,105 hectares affected by the drought. Crop damage reached 45,729 MT, or 3.79 percent of the 1.207 million MT production target for the second quarter of 2014.

    Damage to vegetable crops amounted to P18.4 million, or 242 hectares hit by the dry spell.

    To avoid further losses, the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Soils and Water Management is beefing up its cloud seeding operations to induce rainfall in major watersheds and farming communities.

    “This ensures water reserves across the nation, specifically in agricultural areas and provinces. In fact, all major dams in the rice producing provinces, except Angat dam, are still above critical levels,” Alcala said.

    Other defense strategies include the buffer stocking of seeds and early planting of crops. The DA is providing farmers access to early maturing seeds of hybrid corn and various vegetables, Alcala said.

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