MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Agriculture (DA)is ready for the El Niño phenomenon.
This was the assurance given by DA Secretary Proceso Alcala on Wednesday, May 7. He said the department in April began preparing the country’s agricultural sector for the intense drought expected to begin in June and peak at the end of the year.
Measures – such as intensified cloud-seeding operations, distribution of drought-tolerant crop varieties, water-saving technologies and improvement of irrigation systems – are being pursued.
The local government units identified as “highly vulnerable” to El Niño are the following:
- Ilocos Sur
- Ilocos Norte
- La Union
- Nueva Ecija
- Occidental Mindoro
- Negros Occidental
- Zamboanga City
- Misamis Oriental
- South Cotabato
So far, the DA has conducted 15 cloud seeding operations in Cagayan Valley. Cloud seeding is the process of spreading dry ice or silver iodide aerosols into the upper parts of clouds to simulate the precipitation process and thus form rain.
The operations saved 4,155 hectares of corn farms from drying up, said the DA. More cloud seeding operations will be conducted over the next few months.
Steps have been taken particularly to protect rice, the country’s number one agricultural product and a crop especially vulnerable to El Niño because of its high water requirement.
Drought-tolerant rice varieties are being distributed, although the agency did not specify the amount given out so far.
Among those being distributed is the rice variety PSB Rc14, commonly known as “Rio Grande.” This type of rice matures faster than traditional varieties and promises high yield even when water is scarce, according to a University of the Philippines Los Baños research database.
Farmers need to diversify income
Rice farmers are also being encouraged to diversify their sources of income so as to provide them with buffer income in case rice production takes a bad hit. They can plant other crops or raise livestock instead of focusing solely on rice.
Crops likely to survive prolonged droughts include sweet pepper, ubi, alugbati, mungbean, cassava, and sweet potato.
The National Irrigation Authority, an agency under the DA, is coordinating with irrigation associations nationwide to improve the efficiency of irrigation systems so vital to keeping crops healthy.
A new task force has been created specifically to prepare for the impending El Niño. It is headed by Undersecretary for Field Operations Emerson Palad and includes the heads of bureaus and organizations in charge of rice, corn, livestock, fisheries, and high-value crops.
An action plan and budget is now being drafted for the approval of Secretary Alcala. – Rappler.com