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If no rain yet by May, that is the time to declare El Niņo, says DA

Zamboanga City (16 February) -- "According to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS), wet planting season comes in March to September. If there is no rain in April and May, then that is the time we consider it an El Niņo," said Department of Agriculture Regional Technical Director Constancio Alama.

Director Alama recently briefed the DA personnel and staff of the regional field unit when to believe that El Niņo is taking place.

Alama said dry season is from September to March, the perfect season for rice planting.

Alama also cited the PAGASA forecast that Zamboanga Peninsula will be moderately affected by drought. But DA will be monitoring the rainful pattern whether there is a deviation from the past seasons.

For two feared phenomena (El Nino and La Nina) Alama disclosed that there are 16 rice varieties under screening identified as drought resistant and tolerant to submergence with optimum yield.

"Other option, we will advice to farmer to shift crops. We will recommend after-rice crops like legumes (mongo, peanuts) water melon," he said.

Should long drought occur this year; the Department of Agriculture is preparing to mitigate measures so as to arrest its adverse effects on food production.

DA Regional Executive Director Oscar O. Parawan has organized the DA Quick Response Team (QRT) for El Niņo phenomenon as a heed to the call of the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council (RDCC) and is scheduled to meet on Feb. 19.

Expected to attend the said QRT meeting are PAGASA officials and the 24 heads of line and attached agencies of the department like the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), Bureau of Soil and Water Management (BSWM), Bureau of Plant and Animal Industries, among others.

Director Parawan requested them to bring their respective action plans for El Niņo. For his part, the executive director is now collecting data on vulnerable areas of the four banner programs of the department such as rice, corn, high value commercial crops and livestock.

Meanwhile, the government thru DA central office is implementing P570 million-worth of intervention measures for the palay sector to offset the effects of the El Niņo dry spell on rice production this year.

This amount is part of the P1.7 billion that the DA will realign from its regular budget in 2010 to carry out measures to reduce the expected production losses in the agriculture sector from a possibly prolonged El Niņo attack, according to Agriculture Undersecretary Bernie Fondevilla.

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.

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 high value commercial crops (HVCC) sector; and P117.4 million more for fisheries, Fondevilla said.

Of the P570 million fund for palay, Fondevilla said that P40 million will be spent for cloud-seeding operations over 342,043 hectares of watershed areas, while the rest of the amount will be used for setting shallow tube wells and pump irrigation system open-source (PISOS) servicing 18,000 hectares of land.

Cloud seeding operations covering 109,880 hectares for the corn sector will cost P12 million while P601.7 million will be used to purchase and distribute microbial fertilizers for 254,990 hectares of affected corn areas, he said.

For High Value Commercial Crops (HVCCs), Fondevilla said the DA will set aside P94 million of its P411 million fund for this sector to procure and distribute vegetable seeds covering 22,652 hectares; P142.9 million for 28,599 bags of mango flower inducers; and P173.8 million to build 1,569 units of small scale irrigation facilities.

He said the P117.4-million fund for the fisheries subsector is broken down as follows: P85.3 million in input assistance in the form of 7,500 fish cages; P13.2 million for 950 units of shallow tube wells; and P18.8 million in livelihood assistance for affected fisher folk.

As early as December last year, the DA had already created a task force to carry out its five-point program to raise crop production along with farmers' incomes in the face of a looming "El Niņo" attack that is expected to last till middle of June 2010 this year.

The task force, which will implement the DA's El Niņo Mitigation Program, will focus on 23 "highly vulnerable" areas and 24 "moderately vulnerable" areas in the country.

These areas considered highly vulnerable to an onslaught of El Nino or a dry spell are Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, La Union, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Isabela, 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, 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.

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.

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

Under a mild El Nino, he said the DA estimates losses of 264,940 metric tons of rice worth close to P4 billion and 174,224 MT of corn valued at P2.26 billion.

The fisheries subsector could lose 21,181 MT of catch worth P1.27 billion, he said, while losses in the HVCC sector could reach 3.17 million MT valued at P583 million under a mild El Niņo attack.

He said a severe dry spell could lead to losses of 816,372 MT of rice worth P12.24 billion;440,429 MT of corn worth P5.2 billion; 42,362 MT of marine catch worth P2.54 billion; and 3.08 million MT of HVCCs worth 443 million.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) had reported that this year's El Niņo would likely be moderate, Fondevilla said. (JPA-PIA/DA) [top]

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