DA awaits P939 million budget for El Niño efforts

MANILA, Philippines – With agricultural losses due to the dry spell now at P2.19 billion, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is hoping to fast-track interventions to help farmers.

The El Niño Task Force, formed by the DA in February, is "close to securing" additional funding of P939 million ($20.9 million) for speedy interventions, said Task Force head and Undersecretary for Operations Emerson Palad on Thursday, June 4.

The funding request is now being processed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

The requested budget is broken down as follows:

 

Given that the dry spell, said to be induced by the ongoing El Niño, has already wrought damage on crops, the DA wants to focus on quick solutions, Palad told Rappler.

"We're looking at a very short period of time to implement it. The focus is really on the immediate interventions that we can provide," he said.

Thirsty crops

One such intervention is intensifying cloud seeding operations – the process of spreading dry ice or silver iodide aerosols over the upper parts of clouds to induce rain. 

Funding for cloud seeding has been increased to P50 million ($1.1 million) to enable the government to conduct more sorties, said Palad. 

The DA aims to induce rain, particularly in Mindanao, where several provinces have declared a state of calamity due to the drought.

DA figures also show that 4 out of the 5 regions that have suffered the greatest production losses so far due to the dry spell are in Mindanao.

 

Currently, the task force is making use of P15 million ($333,000) with the Bureau of Soils and Water Management to fund the operations.

Cloud seeding produces quick results, said Palad. 

May 28 operations over Bulacan and Pampanga, for instance, were said to have produced moderate to heavy rains over the Bulacan towns of San Miguel, San Ildefonso and San Rafael and Candaba in Pampanga, according to a DA report.

Rain is especially critical for rice, a crop that depends on a stable source of water to grow. It takes around 1,432 liters of water to produce one kilogram of rice from irrigated rice fields in the lowlands, according to the Philippine Rice Research Institute.

Palay is the crop most affected by the dry spell. The value of rice lost to the phenomenon has reached more than P1 billion. 

Seed bank

Another intervention to be funded is seed buffering wherein the DA stocks seeds to replace crops damaged by the dry spell. (READ: El Niño-ready rice recommended for farmers)

Aside from rice and corn seeds, the DA is also preparing seeds for high-value crops like vegetables. It will also ready seeds of crops that are not as water-dependent as rice – sweet pepper, ubi, alugbati, mungbean, cassava, and sweet potato.

Such crops can provide an alternative source of income or food for farmers whose rice and corn crops failed. 

But seed replacement will take longer to conduct because of the need to validate farmers' claims of damaged crops.

"That requires validation by our regional field offices. We can't release right away because they might claim they experienced damages when in reality they didn't even plant," explained Palad.

Once the additional funding is secured, the DA intends to begin procurement immediately to roll out the interventions quickly, said Palad.

The DA is also working with state weather bureau PAGASA to keep abreast of the El Niño phenomenon.

"We have committed to meet with PAGASA twice a month so we are updated on the progress of El Niño and we can make adjustments in our planning," he said. 

According to PAGASA, 47 provinces are experiencing a dry spell or drought. Of these, 38 provinces or 80% are likely to see conditions improve as the rainy season begins in the month of June. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

image