The year started out as a harbinger of El Niño-caused farm losses but officials are optimistic that things could turn out better than initially expected even as the weather phenomenon strengthens next year.
While the outlook is still for dry weather up to the middle of next year, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala noted that storms late in the year—which added to the sector’s woes—would allow farmers to recover from setbacks earlier in 2015.
“The heavy rains brought by several typhoons have actually been beneficial for the agriculture sector, providing us with more than enough water to conduct early planting and make up . . . [for the]unrealized plantings in the second half of 2015,” Alcala noted.
Farmers, he stressed, will still have to help in water conservation efforts to ease the impact of El Niño on agriculture output—particularly in the palay, corn and sugar sectors.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) has warned that El Niño would last up to the first half of 2016.
It is projected that next year will see dry spell conditions more severe than that felt in 1997 to 1998, with the peak likely to occur in February and March 2016 when the entire country is projected to get only 20 to 30 percent of normal rainfall.
Pagasa said that global climate models suggested droughts would directly affect at least 23 provinces and another 31 provinces would be affected by the prolonged dry spell.
Drought is defined as three consecutive months of way below normal rainfall or a 60 percent reduction from average rainfall. A dry spell, meanwhile, is defined as three consecutive months of below normal rainfall or a 21-60 percent reduction from average rainfall.
The government was forced to cut its grains production forecast for this year due to the adverse effects of El Niño along with a series of typhoons.
The palay production estimate was revised to 18.30 million metric tons, down by 3.54 percent compared to the 18.97 million MT recorded in 2014, as harvest area and yields dropped by 1.58 percent and 1.99 percent, respectively.
For corn, production for this year was forecast at 7.55 million MT, 2.8 percent below the 2014 level of 7.77 million MT.
The palay sector suffered from unrealized plantings as a result of delayed water releases and inadequate irrigation supplies, the late occurrence of rains and some areas having been left fallow.
The wet season should have started mid April but was delayed to June or July.
Agriculture Assistant Secretary Edilberto de Luna, however, said typhoons and not El Niño did more damage to the crops sector.
“At present, damaged caused by the prolonged dry spell to palay sector have only reached 60,000 MT as compared to our initial estimates about 600,000 MT of rice this cropping season as El Niño intensifies by the end of the year,” De Luna said.
With typhoons filling up dams and irrigation facilities now overflowing, De Luna said they expected harvests to rebound in the first quarter of 2016.
For the first quarter of 2016, the palay sector is expected to grow by 0.31 percent to 4.38 million MT from 4.37 million MT in 2015. Full-year 2016 palay production, meanwhile, is forecast to reach 20.69 million MT.
The corn sector is also expected to bounce back in January-March 2016 as output, based on farmers’ planting intentions, has been forecast to increase by 0.48 percent to 2.38 million MT from 2.37 million MT in 2015.
To hit the targets, Secretary Alcala said the department would be fast-tracking the utilization of its P93.4-billion budget for next year.
He added that they were expecting the release of a P2.1-billion supplemental budget. Another P900 million, meanwhile, has also allocated for next year to blunt the El Niño impact.
“The budget would cover production support for rice, corn, high value crops, livestock and fisheries. It would also fund other interventions such as crop pest management, water management and information campaign,” Alcala said.
He said the Department of Agriculture was taking proactive approach in the hope of easing pressure on domestic food production.
“[W]e are reiterating our appeal to farmers to conserve water since the stress on palay production will always be there,” he said.
Overall, however, Alcala said the scenario for next year was favorable for the agriculture sector.