DRR technology for agriculture

IT HAS often been said that agricultural technologies take decades before these reach its target beneficiaries, the farmers.

Thus, amid the fast-changing climate, farmers are the last ones to be able to adjust and respond.

Shackled in poverty, they become even more vulnerable to the risks that climate change brings, whether it be drought, typhoons, landslides and floods, or pests.

This time around, incoming Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol wants to push it that way and he’s using technology to help him along. He’s starting off with rice.

“Yung Project Noah, gi-satellite mapping noon ang buong Pilipinas, now we’re using it for agriculture,” Piñol said in a telephone interview last Saturday.

Project Noah of the Department of Science and Technology was developed for disaster risk reduction and management as it brings to anyone’s fingertips vital information on nine main component projects: Hydromet Sensors Development, Dream-lidar 3D Mapping, Flood NET–Flood Information Network, Strategic Communication, Disaster Management using WebGIS, Enhancing Geohazard Mapping through LIDAR and High-resolution Imagery, Doppler System Development, Landslide Sensors Development, Storm Surge Inundation Mapping, and Weather Information Integration for System Enhancement (Wise).

It was also mandated to provide high-resolution flood hazard maps and install 600 automated rain gauges and 400 water level measuring stations for 18 major river basins of the Philippines.

These are the Marikina River Basin, Cagayan de Oro River Basin, Iligan River Basin, Agno River Basin, Pampanga River Basin, Bicol River Basin, Cagayan River Basin, Agusan River Basin, Panay River Basin, MagaswangTubig River Basin, Jalaur River Basin, Ilog-Hilabangan River Basin, Agus River Basin, Davao River Basin, Mindanao River Basin, Tagum-Libuganon River Basin, Tagaloan River Basin, and Buayan-Malungun River Basin.

In addressing disaster risk concerns, however, the technology at hand also gives a picture of how the landscape is, thus giving a big picture of agricultural potentials.

“We’re using Project Noah technology to identify low-lying areas with ample water resources for rice production,” Pinol said. These are the areas that have watersheds and rivers, the incoming secretary said.

In using the available technology, he added, farmers learn to work with nature more.

In a study published in 2000 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Bridging the Rice Yield Gap in the Philippines, written by scientists from the Philippine Rice Research Institute, it listed socio-economic constraints that limit the farmers’ management capabilities that make them unable to make correct decisions for higher yield, consequently higher profit.

Among these constraints are limited management skills of farms, deteriorating terms of trade due to declining incentives made worse by higher protection on tradable inputs, and lack of appropriate and adequate infrastructure.

“Because of limited access to credit for processing and storage facilities, farmers are forced to sell their marketable surplus during harvest months when prices are low. Farmers cannot wait for a good price because they do not have a place to dry or store their rice. As a result, wholesalers dictate prices to retailers and consumers,” the study read.

Then there is the dire lack or rising cost of irrigation systems. That there are still farms that remain unirrigated in this time and age gives a picture of how farmers continue to suffer.

One of the areas that has been identified to have potential in rice production is Mindoro such that this is the first area that Piñol intends to visit as a full-fledged agriculture secretary on July 7, 2016.

He said he intends to meet farmers there to check on their situations and capabilities.

“Mindoro has so much untapped resources,” he said, “but they only harvest rice once a year because they have no irrigation.”

While there are other sectors that have to be attended to as well, Piñol said he will start with rice not just because it is a crop that is rife with politics and emotions, it is also in anticipation of the effects of the months-long El Nino this year.

“Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand were also affected by El Niño. Now even if we have the money to buy rice, there will be very little rice to buy,” he said.

Thus, rice self-sufficiency is very important. With the forecast of La Nina that will be most felt by the third quarter of this year, Piñol said, he is also looking into enhancing crop production in the western regions of the country.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) had earlier raised the La Nina Watch status. This means that it is closely monitoring sea surface temperatures in the Pacific to forecast how the weather is forming in the coming months.

“The possibility of a developing La Niña is favored during the second half of 2016. With this current state, La Niña Watch is now in effect. A La Niña event is characterized by a persistent cooler than average sea surface temperature anomalies (below -0.5 °C) over the tropical Pacific,” Pagasa had advised.

According to the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (Enso) Diagnostic Discussion of the Climate Prediction Center of the US National Weather Service La Niña is favored to develop during the Northern Hemisphere summer 2016 (June 20-September 21 2016), with about a 75 percent chance of La Niña during the fall and winter 2016-17 (September 22, 2016-March 19, 2017).

It’s a weak to borderline moderate La Nina, the Enso diagnostic discussion read.

Piñol said he had already consulted with Pagasa and got a similar outlook.

“I was told that the Philippines will not be that affected, but the eastern seaboards will be,” he said.

Thus, crop production will have to be enhanced in the western areas to prop up the possible losses that the eastern areas might suffer.

“Common sense lang ang sa atin,” Piñol said confident that there are already existing technologies that only need to be brought to the end-beneficiaries, the farmers.
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