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Northern Mindanao suffers agriculture damage due to El Niño

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – The effect of El Niño is already felt here in Northern Mindanao, with the Department of Agriculture (DA) Region 10 reporting damage to crops and aftermath on farmers and farm workers since January.

El Niño is "the warm phase of ENSO" or El Niño Southern Oscillation, which the Philippine Atmospheric Geographical, Astronomical Services Administraton (PAGASA) defines as "a naturally occurring phenomenon of the climate system resulting from the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific."

According to PAGASA, it occurs every 2 to 7 years and lasts 8 to 12 months. PAGASA earlier said weak El Niño conditions are already present in the tropical Pacific.

DA Region 10 Director Carlene Collado said that based on reports from Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental, both province suffered the following losses: P8.075 million for rice, P279.69 million for corn, and P4.450 million for vegetables.

At least 2,577 hectares of rice-planted land, 5,979 hectares of corn-planted land, and 29 hectares of vegetable-planted land were affected. 

Northern Mindanao covers Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Lanao del Norte, and Camiguin provinces. There are no reports yet for damages from the 3 other provinces in the region.

State weather bureau PAGASA said the El Niño this year is quite weak as compared to the El Niño in 2015, which was the harshest ever recorded.

PAGASA Mindanao Station Officer-in-Charge Joseph Lucero said that the country is experiencing way below normal rainfall, but it is forecasted that by May 2019, it will be downgraded to near normal status.

"Northern Mindanao will continue to experience way below normal rainfall status up until May 2019 with near normal status," Lucero said, noting that Mindanao has a potential to enter dry conditions by end of March 2019.

Lucero added that El Niño will continue to persist until August this year.

Effect on farmers

Collado said they will meet with provincial agriculturists in the region to assess the impact of El Niño in the coming months.

Landless farmers like Jack Lawas, a resident from Libona town in Bukidnon, have not experienced rain since January. They expect farm work to be scarce in the coming months.

"No more work in the coming months as landowners have stop planting corn and other plants because of the absence of rain," Lawas said.

It will be a double whammy for Lawas and his family of 6 as they are highly dependent on rainwater for their daily use.

The waterworks in their barangay is still at work and have reached only few residents in Barangay Kinawe. Though pipelines are in the works, it will be still a long way for farmers like Lawas to have access to drinking water.

A 200-liter drum could cost him P150 to fill, but at that cost, Lawas would rather choose buying white corn, as it is their staple food.

Lawas and his family would wash and take a bath at the Bunawan River, some 2 kilometers away through steep downhill walk.

For now, all Lawas and his fellow farmers can do is weather the effect of El Niño – a long wait just to feel the rain on the face of the lands they tilt. – Rappler.com