Farmers told to brace for dry spell as El Niño looms

May 22, 2023


MANILA – A farmers group has warned of the possible impacts of El Niño on food production in the country, saying that the government might fall short of its preparations on how to mitigate its impact.

“The 2023 to 2024 El Niño could be calamitous to Filipinos if we are not equipped and if the government keeps slacking off. Among the main track of action and response should be to lower the vulnerabilities,” said Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in a statement.

Last month, the Department of Agriculture said the country’s rice supply will remain stable despite concerns over the looming El Niño.

The government agency, which Ferdinand Marcos Jr. heads himself, cited their study through its National Rice Program, which estimated that the ending stock of palay for the first quarter of 2023 would be about 5.66 million metric tons (MT). This, they said, is good for 51 days.

Filipino farmers, however, are not convinced, citing how the latest forecast models showed that “a moderate to strong El Niño would develop by August to September this year —threatening local agriculture and food, and water supply.”

“The onset of El Nino is less than a month away. Dry spells and mild drought were observed in some areas. We are worried about the government’s response and approach to El Nino,” KMP added.

El Niño over the years

El Niño has been documented to have brought economic losses to the country.

From 1949 to 2009, the Philippines has seen at least 17 El Niño events, with the country suffering from a $450 million damages during the dry spell bout back in the years 1982 and 1983.

KMP also said that the El Niño periods have “become drier and longer in the past several decades — 1997 to 1998 (13 months); 2014 to 2016 (19 months); and 2018 to 2019 (19 months).”

In a World Bank policy paper from over two decades ago, titled “El Niño or El Peso: Crisis, Poverty and Income Distribution in the Philippines,” at least 47 to 57 percent of the total impact of measures of incidence, depth, and severity of poverty may be attributed to the El Niño back in 1997 and 1998, considered as the strongest of the century.

This is despite the economic crisis that hit many Southeast Asian countries in the late 1990s and the fact that El Niño is considered a recurrent phenomenon in the country, occurring once every three or four years.

Irresponsible pronouncements

KMP also assailed what they referred to as “irresponsible statements” of the agriculture department as it downplayed the effects of El Niño.

“DA undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian keeps on saying that El Nino will have a positive effect in some areas and that DA is only preparing measures in areas that will be negatively impacted by the climatic phenomenon. For its part, NEDA said El Nino would not deeply hurt the local economy,” the group noted.

“How can the country be fully prepared with this kind of mindset? Everyone should be ready, the DA most especially,” it asserted.

The farmers group said that there should be a massive information drive for farmers and that community-level responses should be developed and supported, such as simple rainwater harvesting and collection systems.

“We must look for ways to lessen the vulnerabilities and enhance our capabilities in disaster response. There must also be emergency and short-term solutions and long-term climate adaptation measures,” the KMP said. (RTS) 

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