FARMERS in Benguet have joined the calls of their colleagues from the rest of the country for the government to intensify anti-drought measures and avert damages to the vegetable industry.

Benguet Farmers Federation Inc. (BFFI) told participants of the 8th National Vegetable Congress, which concluded in Puerto Princesa City on Thursday, that just like rice and corn farms, the country’s vegetable gardens faced a similar threat from El Niño phenomenon.

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This early, the BFFI said, farmers were already wary of the damage caused by the dry spell on the rice and corn farms of the Cagayan region.

“Those pictures of dried farmlands have scared vegetable farmers,” BFFI president Jose Andiso said.

The province supplies close to 70 percent of the country’s demand for highland vegetables -- potatoes, cabbage, carrots, pechay, wongbok, chayote, cauliflower and broccoli.

The congress acknowledged the role of Benguet’s vegetable farms in government’s food security and poverty mitigation agenda.

But the weather bureau said the trend in climate change the past few years showed global warming would not spare even vegetable farms.

“The absence of rains for January and February alone indicated [that] we are in for a long dry spell, which would surely affect all crop lands,” said weather specialist Rosy Abastilla during the three-day congress.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) advised farmers to modify their planting calendar and to shift to drought resistant varieties.

Acting DA Secretary Bernie Fondevilla said the best farmers could do is to resort to water saving measures to ensure a steady supply of farm water.

He said farmers could also opt to cultivate crops that are not water thirsty.

Andiso said with the onset of El Niño, the government must all the more intensify its assistance to the farmers in terms of post harvest facilities, farm-to-market roads and loan and credit programs.

Loreto Buya-an, BFFI public relations officer, said farmers were worried the El Niño phenomenon would aggravate their woes on overproduction, high cost of production and low farm gate prices.

“We hope the cold weather up in the highlands could help stem the effect of El Niño,” he said.

But Patricio Ananayo, the DA’s marketing services chief for the Cordillera, said the department had been on alert since last year when El Niño’s occurrence was first reported.

Ananayo, who headed the DA Cordillera delegation to the congress here, said farmers must conserve water and learn to put up their own water impounding facilities as a means to fight the prolonged drought.

“We understand the fear of farmers. But just like them, we are also concerned and we would try our best to help them,” he said.