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PIA Press Release

El Nino task force implements measures in Ilocos Region, other vulnerable areas

By Carlo P. Canares

Laoag City, Ilocos Norte (10 February) -- The Department of Agriculture (DA) and six of its attached agencies are carrying out assorted intervention measures that include optimizing water delivery to irrigation systems and deploying mobile animal diagnostic laboratories to mitigate the impact of the El Niņo dry spell on the farm sector.

DA Undersecretary Bernie Fondevilla said these measures will involve the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) as well as irrigators' associations (IAs) in El Niņo-affected areas; the Bureaus of Soils and Water Management (SWM), of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and of Animal Industry (BAI); National Food Authority (NFA); and the Food Terminal Inc. (FTI).

El Niņo refers to the unusual warming of sea surface temperatures along the equatorial Pacific that is usually characterized by below-average rainfall, which leads to a dry spell.

Fondevilla said these mitigation measures were taken up during the latest meeting of the interagency task force that had been created by President Arroyo to work on intervention programs for this latest dry spell, which is expected to last till July.

"Although the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) foresees the El Niņo attack to be a moderate one, the weather bureau has projected that it will last longer this time until July," he said.

The DA's regional field units (RFUs) will help implement some of these measures especially those that need close supervision at the municipal level, Fondevilla said.

"Such measures include scheduling the release of irrigation diversion equipment for the Angat Maasim River Irrigation System (AMRIIS), which will be implemented by the DA and NIA, and the linking of canals from the Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation System (UPRIIS) to the Angat-Maasim Dam covering 6,000 hectares in Bulacan, to avoid delays in the planting season," he said.

He added that "the NIA will team up with IAs in optimizing water delivery and scheduling to national irrigation systems and rehabilitating existing irrigation canals through the drainage reuse system."

With the assistance of the Philippine Air Force, the BSWM is now carrying out seeding operations in critical drought areas, Fondevilla noted.

BSWM and BFAR will also install 6,000 units of shallow tube wells and pumps or engine sets for fisheries, which will cover 18,000 hectares of El Niņo-affected in 47 provinces, and establish open source wells for community food gardens producing high value commercial crops (HVCCs).

The DA's field operations service and RFUs will help farmers shift to alternative crops to limit losses.

For instance, the Department is ready to help palay farmers shift to corn by providing them hybrid corn seeds, Fondevilla said.

The DA will also provide seed subsidies in the form of drought- and saline-tolerant rice variety seeds as well as corn, vegetables and root crops, he said.

Fondevilla said these intervention measures also include the continuous field surveillance in areas during highly susceptible crop stages; providing rodenticides to local government units and mobilizing communities for massive control activities; providing the livestock and poultry subsectors with veterinary drugs and biologics; and deployment by BAI of mobile diagnostic labs.

The Department, he said, is realigning P1.7 billion from its regular budget this year to bankroll these measures.

Of this amount, the DA is carrying out P570 million-worth of intervention measures for the palay sector, Fondevilla noted.

Under its 2010 El Niņo Mitigation Program, the DA will also set aside P613.7 million to carry out intervention for the corn sector; another P411 million for the HVCC subsector; and P117.4 million more for fisheries.

As early as December last year, the DA had already created its own task force to carry out its program to raise crop production along with farmers' incomes in the face of a then-looming El Niņo" attack.

This DA task force is focusing its mitigation measures on 23 "highly vulnerable" areas and 24 "moderately vulnerable" areas in the country.

These areas considered highly vulnerable to an onslaught of El Niņo are Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, La Union, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, Cavite, Rizal, Occidental Mindoro, Palawan, Capiz, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Misamis Oriental, Zamboanga City, Sarangani and South Cotabato.

Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Mt Province, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Batangas, Laguna, Quezon, Romblon, Sorsogon, Aklan, Antique, Bohol, Samar, Zamboanga Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga Sur, Bukidnon, Davao Oriental, Davao Sur and Davao City are considered as moderately vulnerable to the El Niņo phenomenon.

Total agricultural production losses under a mild El Niņo scenario could reach P8.09 billion, and P20.46 billion under a severe dry spell, Fondevilla said.

Fondevilla said that based on studies made by the Department, a total of 453,204 hectares of land planted to palay, 227,843 hectares of corn areas and 14,160 hectares in the fisheries sector are threatened under a prolonged El Niņo attack. (PIA) [top]

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