Crop losses amounted to P6.5 billion from January to April 2, Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Emerson U. Palad said in a press briefing following the fifth meeting of the Technical Working Group on the Roadmap to Address the Impact of El NiAo in Pasig City yesterday.
This adds to the P3.4 billion of such losses recorded from February to December last year, the official added, noting the actual tally has thus far turned out lower than projected because of the government's interventions.
The Northern Mindanao region incurred the biggest production loss of P2.462 billion from January to date, followed by Western Visayas (P1.9 billion) and Soccsksargen (P748 million).
"In 1997/98 the total [damaged area] was 677,441 hectares; in 2010, it is at 555,102 hectares; and for the period -- we count February 2015 to April 2, 2016 -- we are at 373,491 hectares," Mr. Palad said.
"This is substantially much less than what we have experienced in the previous year."
In terms of intensity, local and international weather forecasters have compared the current El NiAo cycle to the 1997/1998 episode, when agriculture production in the Philippines dropped by a fourth.
"Government has been fairly successful in mitigating the impact of El NiAo, particularly in ensuring sufficiency in supply of food and keeping prices stable," Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Emmanuel F. Esguerra said in the same briefing.
"While drought usually entails low production leading to high agricultural product prices, inflation data show that prices of food, particularly rice, have been low and stable in the past months," the official noted.
The official cited interventions made by the government, particularly the provision of irrigation services and distribution of seeds in non-vulnerable and mildly affected provinces, timely importation and price freeze in areas declared under a state of calamity.
The National Food Authority (NFA), for instance, has approved the importation of 750,000 metric tons of rice in preparation for El NiAo's possible impact on agricultural production this year.
NFA has a stand-by authority from the President to import another 500,000 metric tons of rice this year, NFA Administrator Renan B. Dalisay told reporters after the briefing.
"What the NFA Council is doing now is monitoring the supply [and] consumption on a month-to-month basis because we are entering the lean months, that's why we'll see," Mr. Dalisay said.Aside from stable food supply and prices, Mr. Esguerra noted that there were no reported breakout of diseases despite the lack of water and that Social Weather Station's survey showed last year's 13.4% average hunger rate dropped to its lowest since 2004.
"However, despite these encouraging numbers, we recognize that there could be areas that are feeling the brunt of El NiAo and for this, the role of LGUs is very crucial," Mr. Esguerra said.
"We are certainly bothered by the fact that there are people who still go hungry. There could be areas that are not yet being reached by government interventions."
As proposed by the interagency El NiAo Task Force headed by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the national government has earmarked P19.2 billion for cash-for-work programs, distribution of food packs in rural areas and other interventions. "Actually, [the] P19.2 billion [we have set], that was really considering the worst case. As it turns out, it was not as bad as we originally thought it would be," Rosemarie G. Edillon, NEDA deputy director-general, said during the briefing. At present, 23 provinces experience 60% less rainfall, 20 of which are in Mindanao. Seven provinces -- Isabela, Quirino, Bukidnon, Davao del Sur, Cotabato, Maguindanao and Basilan -- have declared a state of calamity, along with five cities, 24 municipalities, and two barangays.
"We would like to assure the public that government is doing its best to address the needs of affected areas and families, considering that they are among the poorest and most vulnerable sectors," Mr. Esguerra said.
Source: Bworld Online