MORE than 60,000 hectares of farmland have already been affected by the El Niño drought in Mindanao and caused the loss of P450 million in crops since January, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said after visiting stricken areas in Central Mindanao and adjoining Moro provinces.
Alcala said the affected area includes the four provinces of North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Sarangani and local officials are worried that thousands of families might not earn enough to for the school expenses of their children in June if the dry spell will continue until May.
“I heard that some of the badly affected-areas have been placed under the state of calamity due to the dry spell and fighting that forced poor families to abandon their farms,” Alcala said on Saturday.
The drought developed while the military clashed with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters at the end of February, but farmers who evacuated because of the fighting have opted to remain in evacuation sites in seven Maguindanao towns because of the dry spell.
Last March 11, the state weather bureau announced the onset of El Niño, the Pacific Ocean phenomenon that causes reduced rainfall and higher temperatures in some parts of the country.
Although Alcala said the “dry spell” is very light compared to previous years, the North Cotabato towns of M’lang and Kabacan have already been placed under a state of calamity after respectively losing P40 million and P21 million in crops.
Rice and corn fields in M’lang have dried up, forcing farmers to shift to heat resistant crops but these will take time to grow while rubber and banana, the town’s next most important products, have also been severely affected.
In Kabacan, Mayor Herlo Guzman Jr. said the town was placed under a state of calamity after farmland planted to rice, corn, banana and rubber plantation dried up even as grass fires threatened the crops that are still salvageable.
North Cotabato provincial agriculturist Dr. Eliseo Mangliwan said the province has already lost P230 million worth of crops and recommended cloud seeding operations in the province which has not had rain since January and that is expected to last until June.
“The extent of damages to crops could even go higher and we don’t have any immediate solution yet in sight,” Mangliwan said.
But the Department of Agriculture regional office said cloud seeding cannot be carried out right away because there are no “seedable clouds.”
Thick clouds have been rare in the province, even over the country’s highest peak and North Cotabato’s rain forest, Mangliwan said.
Mangliwan said the irrigation system of North Cotabato was also affected by the three-month dry spell and the National Irrigation Administration confirmed that the water level of all irrigation systems in the province have been cut by about 50 percent.
But the DA cannot just seed clouds, said Alcala, because the measure could destroy other standing crops such as mangoes that are about to bear fruit.
Alcala advised farmers of corn crops that if there is already no chance to save their crops, they better harvest it and then sell it as feeds or food for farm animals.
Officials of neighboring South Cotabato are also studying to declare a state of calamity after the province sustained crop damage amounting to about P78.8 million as of April 9.
South Cotabato agriculturist Justina Navarrete said almost all the 10 towns have suffered heavy losses of agricultural products.
“You can see our forests, corn and rice fields and even plantations have turned from green to color brown,” Navarrete said.
She said corn products have suffered the biggest loss with an estimated P67 million worth while palay losses have amounted to P11 million.
Navarette said the drought has dried up 1,379 hectares of corn fields in 31 villages and affected more than 930 farmers.
Polomolok, situated at the foot of Mt. Matutum, was the hardest hit with 880 hectares affected followed by Tantangan which has 280 hectares in 20 villages affected.
Navarette said the amount of damages could even go higher as there is no rain in sight in the next few weeks.
The agriculture officer said her office has recommended to South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance Fuentes to place the province under state of calamity to help farmers cope up with the calamity and allow the use of calamity fund by the provincial government.
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