THE government has reactivated El Nino task force in preparation for the worst effect of dry spell threatening to damage agricultural lands in the country.

As discussed in the Cabinet meeting Tuesday, Philippine Information Agency head Conrado Limcaoco said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered revival of the task force, which was created in 2001 under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

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Limcaoco said the task force to be headed by DA Secretary Arthur Yap was tasked to come up with a comprehensive and integrated action plan to address the coming El Nino phenomenon. It will work alongside Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System and Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services (Pagasa) earlier projected that the El Nino wille likely hit in the first half of 2010 with drought expected to peak by February.

DA Undersecretary Bernie Fondevilla said in a press briefing at the Malacanang that crop and fishery losses could reach close to 10 billion if the effect of the El Nino is moderate.

He said the projected land area to be affected by a moderate El Nino is 543,844.8 hectares in rice while 273,411.6 hectares in corn. He added that commercial crops such as vegetables could also be damaged and could reach as much as 3.804 million metric tons.

Fondevilla said aside from rice, corn and vegetables, sugarcane plantations as well as fisheries sector can also be affected by the lack of water and extreme temperatures caused by the El Nino.

As mitigation measures, specific measures were recommended during the Cabinet meeting such as cloud seeding for both corn and rice areas; water management especially in dams under the control of National Irrigation Administration (NIA); distribute shallow tube wells for farmer; distribution of microbial fertilizers as well as organic fertilizers for corn farmers; and give out vegetable seeds for farmers against small water irrigation facilities.

Fondevilla also said that the government will be helping mango growers having a repeat growth season of mango since mango favors dry season.

“Mangoes have a different need for them dry season is good. We will be having a repeat of the growth in mango this year when there was El Nino before as support for mango growers we will distribute mango flower inducers.”

For fisheries, necessary assistance will be given like fish cages to transfer fish to rivers, shallow tube wells, water pumps and livelihood assistance.

Fondevilla disclosed that the government has earmarked a total of P1.7 billion budget to be used by the task force El Nino.

Aside from the reactivation of task force, Limcauco also stressed that the government will embark on conserving water campaign.

He appealed for collective water conservation over the next six months, which El Nino is likely to be felt.

“Please help us we will try to launch conserve water campaign,” he said.

The first report of the DA secretary regarding the task force El Nino is expected to be submitted to the president on Wednesday, ended Limcauco. (Jill Beltran/Sunnex)