EXPORT-grade cavendish banana plantations in Davao Region are now gearing up for El Nino phenomenon, which has been affecting Southern Mindanao since September of 2009.

Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) president Stephen Antig said the group is already reinforcing the irrigation systems of the various plantations in Mindanao.

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The El Nino phenomenon, which has caused below average rainfall for the past five months, is expected to peak sometime March, just as the summer season arrives.

Other fruit growers in Southern Mindanao have also expressed alarm, citing the lack of communication from the Department of Agriculture (DA) on mitigating measures to be implemented to buffer the effects of the El Nino phenomenon.

"We have not yet discussed it with the DA, but we told other farmers to prepare. They must rehabilitate their irrigation systems if they already have one, but if none, they should start putting up their irrigation system," said Larry Miculob of the Southern Mindanao Fruits Council during Tuesday's Club 888 forum at the Marco Polo Davao.

Davao provinces have been identified by the Agriculture department as "moderately vulnerable" to the effects of El Nino, which will last until middle of 2010 despite the cool and overcast weather being experienced.

Being an agricultural area, Southern Mindanao is one of the country's producers of fruits, particularly durian, mangosteen, lanzones, citrus, and mangoes.

For international export, the region produces bananas and pineapples. Except for mangoes and citrus, most of the fruit produce are expected to be heavily affected by the drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon.

Late December, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap created a task force to carry out mitigating measures to avert the adverse effects of the dry-spell on the crop production of the country.

The DA identified the rice or palay sector as one of the major sectors vulnerable to El Nino. The phenomenon is projected to cause a production loss of 2.36 million metric tons (MT) worth some P40 billion, covering an area of 620,000 hectares.

The alleviation program of the DA is expected to need a budget of P2.58 billion to implement, including cloud seeding operations; installation of shallow tube wells, rain pumps and drip irrigation systems; construction of small water-impounding projects; development of water springs; provision of hybrid seeds, farm implements and fertilizers to farmers; and the distribution of animal stocks, biologics and drugs for livestock growers. (CPM/Sunnex)