TALONG na lang ang mutubo og dili na pud mi nagagalas aron dili matandog ang yuta (Only eggplants are surviving and we are no longer tilling and weeding the farmlands because this will just make the soil even dryer)," a Matigsalog farmer said when asked how they are faring up in the mountains where thousands of mountainfolk rely only on artisanal agriculture.

The El Niño is here and the occasional rains we are getting, like the ones last night, is not enough to keep an un-irrigated farm running. Plants need water every day. A weekly rainfall can never sustain a farm.

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That's why it is disconcerting when Department of Agriculture officials are quoted as saying that Southern Mindanao, particularly the Davao region, is spared from El Niño and that the rains have returned in Davao.

As stated in Sun.Star Davao's report last February 1: "Doctor Frisco Malabanan, director of the Department of Agriculture's (DA) Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) Rice program, said Friday after a three-day tour in the provinces and cities of the region, that one of the signs that the 'mild' El Niño phenomenon has already ended was that some farmers have already started planting rice."

Since when have farmers become indicators of scientific climate conditions? Farmers will always plant, dry spell or flood seasons, in the hope that some of the plants will survive and help them eke through what would have been no-food season at all.

Also, no place that is within the influence of a Pacific climate anomaly can be spared, that's the nature of El Niño. It's not as if we are God's paradise such that Davao is spared while the rest of the Philippines thirst and starve.

We only have to go up those mountains where the farms are, to understand that a whole night's rain is just enough to water the plants for the day. Two days of dry weather after that will dry up the soil once more, and in those highland farms we are talking about, most water sources are more than a kilometer away especially in dry spells like these.

Bringing in water for their plants is close to impossible. And so they do what they have been taught by their ancestors, not to touch the ground to preserve whatever moisture is left.

If we were to base the climate forecast from the Climate Prediction Center of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, major indicators show that the El Niño will gradually decrease "at least into the summer" (start of their summer being June 21, 2010), but it can continue.

As the CPC said in its February 22, 2010 update, "The models are split with the majority indicating ENSO-neutral conditions by May-July 2010 and persisting into the Fall (starting September 22, 2010). Several models also suggest the potential of continued El Niño conditions or the development of La Niña conditions during the Fall."

Last February 18, the DA task force on El Niño announced it has earmarked an initial P882.18 million for mitigation measures for farmers and fisherfolk in 14 provinces in Luzon and the Visayas.

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. Mindanao is not mentioned because as had earlier been reported, what we have is but a 'mild' case, and the rains have already returned.

Never mind if Lake Lanao's water level is now breaching critical level. As far as the task force is concerned, since the farmers have started planting, then El Niño has ended.

We shouldn't allow this.

By agreeing and believing that the rains have returned to Davao Region and that Southern Mindanao is spared from the worst effect of El Ni¤o is denying the very poor farmers access to what they should be getting from government amid this long dry spell. For one, our farmers cannot live on eggplants alone; untended eggplants at that.