THE Department of Agriculture (DA) has earmarked an initial P882.18 million to fast track the implementation of mitigation measures for farmers and fisherfolk in 14 provinces in Luzon and Visayas.

The said provinces are where the El Niño phenomenon, which 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.

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Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said Thursday that the agency’s regional field units (RFUs) in the five El Niño-hit regions are already drawing up with local government units (LGUs) their respective master lists of affected farmers eligible for food aid under the Emergency Food Assistance Program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Separate master lists are also being prepared by RFUs and LGUs for farmer-victims qualified to enroll in skills training programs of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) or for possible emergency employment for the construction or repair of farm-to-market roads (FMRs) and irrigation facilities, he said.

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.

According to the February 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 hectares can still recover from the dry spell — or a total of 158,166 hectares of affected farmland with 201,237 MT of assorted crops valued at P2.84 billion combined.

Of these affected farms, some 35,360 hectares are palay fields with 56,696 MT of damaged crops valued at P963.84 million, while another 122,748 hectares planted to corn fields with 144,359 MT were also damaged worth P1.88 billion.

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 hectares, and corn losses valued at P1.85 billion from 101,609 MT of destroyed crops in 72,157 hectares combined.

The damaged palay fields represent 3.39 percent of the one million hectares for harvesting over the January-March period, while the volume account for 1.5 percent of the production forecast of 3.79 million MT for the period.

The damaged cornfields make up 18.21 percent of 673,995 hectares to be harvested and the volume is 7.27 percent of the production estimate of 1.99 million MT for the January-March period.

As a result of such farm production losses, Yap said the Task Force El Niño has set aside some P52 million for its ongoing cloud seeding in Northern Luzon and Western Visayas, and for the planned or requested cloud seeding in Central and Southern Luzon, Bicol Region, Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Davao Region and Soccsksargen (South Cotabato-Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat-Saranggani-General Santos).

Some P260 million will be spent on optimizing water delivery and rescheduling by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA); P398,930 for the purchase and distribution of 1,500 units of pump and engine sets by the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BWSM); and another 1,000 units of pump and engine sets by the DA-RFU in Northern Luzon.

Another P25 million was earmarked for pests and disease management; P1.149 million for the acquisition of veterinary drugs and biologics; P35 million for mobile diagnostic laboratories; P104 million for fishery inputs and livelihood; and P5.9 million for crop shifting projects.

Yap said the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) has already delivered 54,500 bags of salt or sodium chloride worth P19 million for the benefit of 13,625 coconut growers tilling a total of 13,625 hectares as mitigating measure to protect coconut farms from the dry spell.

It is also due to bid out the supply of another 300,000 bags of salt worth P150 million for some 75,000 coconut farmers tilling 75,000 hectares.

On the other hand, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) has also started its own cloud seeding with a budget of P2.2 million.

It has also recommended to the DA the use of 250 units of shallow tube wells (STWs) in heavily affected areas with sources of water to cover 50 percent of the sugarcane fields in Negros province. (PNA)