MAGUINDANAO – Three weeks after the declaration of state of calamity in Maguindanao due to the longstanding dry spell, senatorial re-electionist Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Friday called for the creation of a separate calamity fund for the agriculture sector to provide immediate relief to affected farmers.
“Ang mga pinsalang dala ng El Niño sa Mindanao ay kahila-hilakbot. Hindi natin kayang ipikit ang mga mata sa mga ito dahil ang ating mga magsasaka ay siyang naghihirap (The damage brought by El Niño in Mindanao is terrible. We cannot turn a blind eye on this because our famers are the ones suffering),” Pangilinan said.
“Having a ready fund specifically for agriculture in times of need would ensure our food security. Our farmers would immediately be given the assistance they need to be able to get back on their feet faster, and our food supply would not be threatened,” he added.
According to agriculture officials, the damage to agriculture has risen to about P133 million. Currently, 31 municipalities in the province are still affected by drought, including Sultan Mastura which is the hardest hit by the El Niño.
Rivers and irrigation canals have all dried up resulting in no harvest of some crops like rice, corn, and assorted vegetables. Crops that survived either have stunted growth or are inedible. Even livestock are dying because there are no more edible foraging areas.
In total there are about 21,890 hectares of affected lands, 24,546 farmers affected, and 51,363 metric tons of damaged crops which translates to a total of P133,848,421 production damage.
Once elected to a third non-consecutive term in the Senate, Pangilinan said that the Agriculture and Fisheries Calamity Fund Act will be one of his priority bills.
He said the Department of Agriculture and the El Nino-affected local governments need to provide an alternative livelihood for the farmers whose potential harvests were destroyed by the El Nino-induced dry spell in Mindanao.
“Ginagawa na po ito sa mga tinatayong mga patubig ng National Irrigation Administration. Nagbibigay na ng alternatibong pagkakakitaan ang ating mga magsasaka sa pamamagitan ng pagkuha sa kanila upang gumawa ng mga nasabing patubig (This is already being done in the construction of irrigation by NIA. We are already giving our farmers alternative sources of livelihood by taking them in to work on the said irrigation systems),” he said.
“Napakahalaga nito para sa ating mga magsasakang walang aanihin. May kapalit na silang kita (This is extremely important for our farmers who won’t harvest much. They would have a replacement income),” Pangilinan added.
He said government should be pro-active when it comes to programs involving farmers and their well-being.
At the same time, the former Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization said he has also asked President Aquino and the Office of the Executive Secretary to consider the possible national declaration of a state of calamity in Regions 9, 10, 11, and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
A national declaration, he said, will bring national attention and funding crucial for the survival of the affected farmers.
“Kailangan nang tugunan ang araw-araw na pangangailangan ng ating mga magsasaka (The everyday needs of our farmers must be addressed),” Pangilinan said.
El Nino is an irregularly occurring climatic phenomenon characterized by unusually warm temperature and dry season in the Pacific region.