W. Visayas agriculture sector suffers amid escalating El Niño impact

By Mariela Angella Oladive

The agriculture sector in Western Visayas is facing escalating damage due to the relentless El Niño phenomenon, with the latest data from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) showing a significant increase in agricultural losses.

The reported cost of agricultural damage attributed to El Niño has soared to P254.89 million across three regions, impacting over 7,000 farmers and fisherfolks. This figure more than doubles the previous estimate of P112.19 million reported just last week.

The provinces of Iloilo, Negros Occidental, and Antique in Western Visayas have been hit hardest, with total agricultural damage amounting to P251.43 million. The devastation has affected 5,466.26 hectares of crops throughout the region.

In response to this crisis, the Iloilo provincial government has rolled out interventions and programs totaling P92.7 million to provide relief to the affected sectors.

This funding information was disclosed by Provincial Agriculturist Ildefonso Toledo at a recent meeting of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (PDRRMC), where he detailed the initiatives underway.

Allocated funds are set to support a range of programs, including hybrid rice production, irrigation enhancements, and the Jalaur premium rice production project. A P15 million subsidy under the SIGURADO program was also announced, which aims to provide insurance for farmers and fisherfolk.

“Toledo also discussed the establishment of the Climate Field School, designed to arm farmers with critical insights and tools to navigate changing weather conditions,” the Provincial Agriculturist added.

Moreover, Governor Arthur Defensor Jr. reaffirmed the province’s dedication to tackling the challenges brought on by El Niño, integrating countermeasures into ongoing agricultural programs.

Meanwhile, the town of Cauayan in Negros Occidental, which is severely affected by the dry spell, is awaiting intervention from the provincial government.

Mayor John Rhey Tabujara of Cauayan discussed the situation with the Daily Guardian on Tuesday, saying, “we cannot just yet declare a state of calamity.”

“We are still studying it,” he added, indicating a cautious approach to the declaration.

Tabujara is looking forward to the provincial governor’s response.

“I am still waiting for the governor’s intervention.”

The dry spell has inflicted an estimated P14.4 million in damages, primarily affecting rice and sugarcane farms within the municipality.

The mayor also mentioned that the municipal government is currently providing food and financial assistance to the 127 farmers whose rice fields were struck by the dry spell, a consequence of the El Niño weather phenomenon.

A total of 126 hectares of rice and sugarcane fields across 14 of the 25 mountainous and coastal barangays of Cauayan have suffered from the adverse weather conditions.

Dina Gensola, the provincial agriculturist, previously noted that they are in the process of validating reports of additional areas affected by the dry spell in Cauayan and Kabankalan City.

The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Social Welfare and Development are also mobilizing to assist those affected. Presidential Communication Office Assistant Secretary Joel Villarama confirmed the extension of financial aid to impacted farmers, alongside initiatives for alternative income sources, including livestock.

Villarama underscored the need for adaptive farming strategies such as alternate wetting and drying techniques to lessen El Niño’s impact on rice farming.

“Heat-tolerant and heat-resistant seedlings will continue to be distributed to enhance the sector’s resilience against extreme weather,” Villarama further stated.

Additionally, repair efforts for irrigation canals are in progress to help farmers cope with reduced water availability.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. emphasized the critical role of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils (DRRMCs) at all levels in responding to the crisis. He called for coordinated actions and the use of existing networks for effective response.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Service Administration (PAGASA) has identified 41 areas severely affected by El Niño. With the threat of the drought’s expansion, proactive measures are crucial to protect the livelihoods of farmers and ensure the resilience of the agricultural sector in Western Visayas. (With a report from Dolly Yasa)