MANILA, Philippines – Days after the deadly farmers’ protest in Kidapawan City, Cotabato, the Department of Agriculture defended itself against criticism that it did not do enough to help Mindanao farmers suffering from drought caused by the ongoing El Niño.
“Hindi rin po siguro nagkulang ang gobyerno, lalo na sa DA, in particular ‘yun pong Region 12 sa North Cotabato kung saan nangyari ito. We can see isa po sa pinakaaktibong regional office natin ang Region 12,” DA Undersecretary for Operations Emerson Palad told reporters on Monday, Aprill 4.
(The government, especially the DA, was not lacking in efforts, particularly in Region 12, in North Cotabato where the incident happened. We can see the DA regional office in Region 12 is among the most active.)
Palad, however, admitted they would look into what the DA can do to step up its efforts against drought in the area. The department’s regional office, headed by executive director Amalia Jayag Datukan, has committed to give more seeds to drought-affected farmers.
“Tingnan po namin din ito ulit kung saan kami nagkaroon pa ng kakulangan. In fact, sabi nga po ng regional office, magdadagdag pa sila ng seeds para pananim doon sa mga apektadong mga magsasaka,” said Palad.
(We will see where we were lacking. In fact, the regional office said it would add seeds to be given to affected farmers.)
Palad could not give the exact amount or worth of palay seeds to be given to the farmers. He only gave assurance that, in times of emergencies like drought, the DA provides subsidies by distributing free seeds and fertilizer to farmers.
But to the demand of protesting farmers for free sacks of rice, Palad said the DA cannot oblige.
“The DA is geared towards production support for farmers. That’s the extent of our assistance and the programs we have. As for giving away food, I’m sorry, but that is not our mandate,” he said.
Other groups, including volunteers, celebrities, and other local governments, have donated sacks of rice to the farmers.
Billions spent vs El Niño
But without water for irrigation, how can farmers plant the donated seeds?
Palad said the DA has allotted P90 million for more cloud-seeding operations in the coming months.
“We are really pushing for cloud-seeding. The Philippine Airforce has an additional P30 million for cloud-seeding. The central office will use commercial planes with a budget close to P60 million. So that’s a total of P90 million dedicated to cloud-seeding,” said Palad.
That amount, equivalent to around 35 sorties, will be spent nationwide. Palad did not readily have data on how much would be spent for sorties in Region 12 specifically.
Though the operations will cost millions, Palad admitted cloud-seeding has only a 64% chance of successfully bringing rain to needy areas.
Are there other ways of bringing water to thirsty farmlands?
One of the farmers interviewed by Kilab Multimedia claimed that months before the rally, firetrucks would visit drought-affected farms to provide water. But the firetrucks have stopped making these trips, driving some farmers to desperation.
Palad said the DA didn’t order these firetrucks, but that such a strategy for bringing water to farms could be considered by the agency.
“We will look into that, giving water directly through firetrucks. The problem with that, though, is where will the firetrucks get water if the source is kilometers away? We all need water,” he said.
So far, the DA has spent P3.6 billion on El Niño-related interventions nationwide, including cloud-seeding, provision of small-scale irrigation facilities, rehabilitation of irrigation facilities, and informational materials.
This amount was sourced from funds from its regular programs. Apart from that, it also used P57 million of its Quick Response Fund.
The DA has requested an additional P2.1 billion from the Department of Budget and Management to respond to the effects of the weakening El Niño. It has asked DBM to fast-track the release of P700 million of the amount.
State weather bureau PAGASA warned in January that drought would lead to ‘way below normal’ rainfall in the months of February to April. – Rappler.com