THE Department of Agriculture (DA) has projected more than P20 billion losses to the agriculture sector due to "severe" El Nino phenomenon, a government press agency said.

DA Undersecretary Bernie Fondevilla said Tuesday that a severe dry spell could lead to P20.46 billion losses to agriculture.

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The DA estimates some 816,372 metric tons (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 high value commercial crops (HVCCs) worth P443 million will be affected under severe El Niño.

Fondevilla said that based on studies made by the DA, 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 Niño attack.

He said total production losses under a mild El Niño scenario could reach P8.09 billion.

Under a mild dry spell, the DA estimates losses of 264,940 MT of rice worth close to P4 billion and 174,224 MT of corn valued at P2.26 billion.

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

Fondevilla said the DA is now implementing P570-million worth of intervention measures for the palay sector to offset the effects of the dry spell on rice production this year.

The 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 Niño attack, he said.

El Niño 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.

Mitigation program

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

Of the P570 million fund for palay, he said that some 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

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 added.

For HVCCs, Fondevilla said the DA will set aside some P94 million of its P411 million fund for this sector to procure and distribute vegetable seeds covering 22,652 hectares; another 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 fisherfolk.

As early as December last year, Fondevilla said 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 Nino attack that is expected to last till middle of June this year.

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

Vulnerable areas

Areas considered as highly vulnerable to the onslaught of El Niño 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.

Considered as moderately vulnerable areas include the provinces of 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.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration had reported that this year’s El Nino would likely be moderate.