DAVAO CITY – Parts of Mindanao are experiencing a peculiar weather condition with the onslaught of the El Niño phenomenon since late last year, the Department of Agriculture reported Thursday morning.

"It is actually funny. The east coast of Mindanao is experiencing frequent rains, while there are areas in the west coast that have reported drying up of areas already," Agriculture Undersecretary for Operations Joel Rudinas said in a press conference at the Apo View Hotel.

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The Caraga region, which is on the eastern coast of Mindanao is reportedly experiencing frequent rains and fears for flashfloods as rivers continue to swell.

"Water coming from the Compostela Valley province is now pouring onto Agusan del Sur," Rudinas said. "But areas in the Zamboanga Peninsula are experiencing drying up."

El Niño is an occasional seasonal warming of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean that upsets normal weather patterns from the western seaboard of Latin America to east Africa, and has caused droughts in the Philippines before.

The government is trying to alleviate the effects of the drought by helping farmers switch to crops that are less dependent on water than rice, such as vegetables and fruits.

The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) in a website post explained that the weather situation in Mindanao is due to the persistent occurrence of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) over the southern portion of the country that caused continuous heavy rains affecting the Caraga region.

The weather bureau further explains that the weather disturbance triggered the flooding and landslides in the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, and Dinagat.

Pagasa explained that the weather systems in Mindanao that influenced the rainfall condition for January were the Northeast (NE) monsoon, the tail-end of a cold front, the ridge of High Pressure Area, the ITCZ and the low pressure area.

DA also reported that the drought that hit North Cotabato since January has already damaged some P134 million worth of agricultural crops.

The North Cotabato provincial agriculturist office said some 4,643 hectares of rice field in the province’s 17 municipalities have been dried up and crops have no chance of recovery.

An estimated 8,900 hectares of corn fields were affected by the El Niño phenomenon.

Affected towns are Banisilan, Libungan, Matalam, Midsayap, Mlang, Pigcawayan, and Tulunan. Kidapawan City rice fields were also damaged.

In Libungan, North Cotabato, irrigation water had been rationed from the Libungan irrigation project in the hope to limit the effect of El Niño phenomenon.

Meanwhile, a DA task force dealing with the latest El Niño onslaught has earmarked an initial P882.18 million for the accelerated implementation of mitigation measures for farmers and fisherfolk in 14 provinces in Luzon and the Visayas, where the dry spell that is expected to last until July has already damaged over 200,000 metric tons (MT) of palay, corn, and other crops with an aggregate value of P2.84 billion.

The 14 affected provinces are Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, and Quirino in Northern Luzon; Bulacan and Nueva Ecija in Central Luzon; Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, and Romblon in the Mimaropa area or Region 4-B; Masbate in Bicol; and Antique, Guimaras and Negros Occidental in Western Visayas.

 

Rudinas said the slew of mitigation measures that have already been initiated or are set for implementation by the various DA-attached agencies range from cloudseeding to the provision of shallow tube wells (STWs) and open source pump irrigation systems to close monitoring of a possible drought-triggered outbreak of pests and diseases.

The cloudseeding in two regions are being supervised by the Bureau of Soil and Water Management (BWSM) in cooperation with the Pagasa and the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

 

“The task force is stepping up the implementation of mitigation measures in compliance with the latest directive from President Arroyo for the DA and other government agencies concerned to speed up and even expand the delivery of intervention programs that would help our small farmers and fisherfolk cope with the devastating effects of the latest El Niño attack,” Rudinas said.

According to the Feb. 16 situationer report by the DA Central Action Center (Dacac), crops planted in 10,533 hectares have zero chance of recovery while those planted in another 147,633 ha can still recover from the dry spell—or a total of 158,166 hectares (has) of affected farmland with 201,237 MT of assorted crops valued at P2.84 billion combined.

 

Of these affected farms, 35,360 has are palay fields with 56,696 MT of damaged crops valued at P963.84 million, while 122,748 ha are corn fields with 144,359 MT of damaged crops worth P1.88 billion, said Dacac chief Marites Bernardo in her situationer report.

 

Worst hit among the 14 provinces is Isabela, which has absorbed palay losses amounting to P1.85 billion from 144,359 MT of damaged crops in a total of 87,850 has, and corn losses valued at P1.85 billion from 101,609 MT of destroyed crops in 72,157 ha combined, Bernardo said in her report. (Carlo P. Mallo of Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)