With agricultural losses due to El Nino now at Php5.3 billion, former Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization (PAFSAM) Secretary Francis Pangilinan on Monday reiterated his call for President Aquino to declare a national state of calamity in areas ravaged by the abnormal weather pattern, particularly the 21 provinces in Mindanao.
And especially following the violent Kidapawan dispersal last week, Pangilinan also asked the local government units, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Department of Agriculture (DA), and other agencies to fast-track extending help to the El Nino-affected farmers.
“There is no shortage of food. We have sufficient supply because we prepared for this El Nino. That is why prices of staple food are stable. Kailangan lang bilisan ng ating mga ahensya (Our agencies only need to work double time),” Pangilinan said.
He also urged the National Irrigation Administration, with the help of the LGUs, to hire farmers who are unable to cultivate their land in the ongoing repair and rehabilitation of the irrigation systems so that they have supplementary income while they cannot work on their land.
Pangilinan said the state of calamity should be declared in the country’s 33 provinces (8 in Luzon, 3 in Visayas, and 21 in Mindanao) affected by El Nino, an abnormal weather pattern caused by the warming of the Pacific Ocean near the equator that occurs every 3 to 7 years, has brought insufficient rainfall for crops.
In its outlook for April, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said the effects of El Nino are expected to continue to be felt in the following provinces:
* Dry spell, or three consecutive months of below normal (21% to 60% reduction from average) rainfall conditions or two consecutive months of way below normal (more than 60 percent reduction): Benguet, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Zambales, Rizal, Occidental Mindoro, Bohol, Camiguin, Misamis Oriental, Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, and Agusan del Sur.
* Drought, or three consecutive months of way below normal or five consecutive months of below normal: Palawan, Negros Oriental, Siquijor, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, Basilan, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, and Tawi-tawi.
Pangilinan said that a declaration of state of calamity puts a price freeze and price ceiling on basic necessities and prime commodities, including medicines and petroleum products; frees up no-interest loans, and allows the release of calamity funds, among others.
EL NINO EFFECTS ON AGRI
Data from the Department of Agriculture showed that as of March 11, 2016, damage caused by El Niño to the agriculture sector has affected a total of 237,000 hectares of agricultural lands with an estimated production loss of 358,800 metric tons since February last year.
Of the P5.32 billion, around P1.9 billion worth of damage were recorded over the first two months of 2016. Affected commodities are rice, corn, high value crops, and livestock.
Among these, rice was one of the most affected crops with P2.38 billion worth of losses, next to corn, which suffered losses of as much as P2.9 billion.
HIRE FARMERS FOR IRRIGRATION INFRA, OTHER SOLUTIONS
Pangilinan said there are various ways to mitigate the effects of El Nino. He said there’s cash-for-work, increased crop insurance, and an agriculture and fisheries calamity fund separate from the general calamity fund.
“Dahil tuyong-tuyo ang lupa at hindi makapagbungkal ang ating mga magsasaka, hinihikayat ko ang ating NIA na kunin silang manggagawa para magkaroon naman sila ng kita (As the land is so dry and our farmers cannot till their land, I urge NIA to hire them as workers so that they can earn some money),” he said.
“Dapat ang ating mga nasasalantang magsasaka ang inuuna sa mga ganitong infrastructure projects (Our affected farmers should be given priority in these infrastructure projects),” he said, adding that the farmers for this temporary employment program are easily identifiable.
Even in the long term, particularly with climate change, this cash-for-work initiative and other measures that focus on the affected poor should be par for the course.
“Sabi nga ng ating mga NDRRMC officials, ang mga pinakamahirap ay siya pang pinaka napipinsala tuwing may kalamidad (the poorest are the most affected by the destruction brought by typhoons),” he said, referring to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Highlighting that most of the poor are farmers and fisher folk in the rural areas, Pangilinan said, “We should be able to immediately respond. Our target is to have the farmer and the fisherman gainfully earning soon after disaster struck.”