Farmers learn how to adapt to El Niño | Inquirer News

Farmers learn how to adapt to El Niño

For Carlos Dion of Sta. Barbara in Pangasinan province, an El Niño year is not good for farmers, recalling an unforgettable experience in 2010.

“There was not much rain then and if it rained, there was too much water, destroying our crops,” said Dion, 63, who has been tending a farm in Barangay (village) Carusocan since he was 10.

“I’m beginning to worry,” Dion said. “The government seems to have no plans in place for El Niño, just like in 2010.”


This late, he said, no agricultural technician has visited farmers in Pangasinan, the country’s third-largest rice producer. Most farmers have begun to prepare their fields, borrowing money, for planting in June.


“We might just be wasting time, money and effort again,” Dion said.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) earlier predicted that El Niño, a phenomenon characterized by below-average rainfall and stronger storms, would hit the country in June or July. It said the dry spell would be felt strongly late in the year.

A bit worse

Farmers in Cagayan Valley, however, are not panicking.

“It is really dry these days and irrigation water is really scarce, but this has long been the case at this time, perhaps only a bit worse,” said Ernesto Maraña, 64, of Bone South, Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya province.

He said his fellow farmers knew how to deal with the dry spell. “It’s just instinct. We will find ways [to cope],” he said.


“We now have to take turns allowing limited irrigation to flow to our farms,” said Juner Bacudo, 59.

Water pumps have not been of much help, he said, because of scant underground water.

Antonio Domingo, 54, said farmers at Abian village in Bambang were looking at drought-resistant crops, like cassava.

“If nature does not allow us to plant our crops anymore because of the drought, then we look for other jobs, like being laborers in construction sites,” said Eddiemar Nafuran, a corn farmer, in Linao East village in Tuguegarao City.

Dalisay Moya, a provincial agriculturist, said the government had long prepared for El Niño, identifying and mapping vulnerable areas—farms dependent on rain and those at the tail-end of irrigation systems. The province has an irrigated area of 167,389 hectares and rain-fed area of 80,146.28 ha.

“We have to pinpoint these areas so that we will know what to recommend to farmers, like instead of planting rice, they can plant other crops that do not need much water,” she said.

Controlled irrigation

Moya said the government was also working on subsidizing the farmers’ needs, including provision of certified palay seeds that they can readily replant.

Oftociano Manalo, president of the Ilocos Region Irrigators’ Association, said he had been recalling some 100 diesel-engine water pumps that the Department of Agriculture (DA) lent his group in 2010.

The Philippine Rice Research Institute, he said, has introduced a controlled irrigation technology called “alternate wetting and drying,” a water-saving system that entails drying the soil intermittently before irrigation.

“Even if at the surface, the soil is parched, as long as you have water 15 centimeters below the soil, the palay plant will not die,” Manalo said.

Eduardo Morante, head of the irrigators’ association of Barangay Payas in Sta. Barbara, said that while water pumps helped, expenses soared because of high gasoline prices.

“That’s why we are always the first victims of El Niño. I just wish we would be given a fuel subsidy,” Morante said.

Aside from this, he said, farmers would have to dig canals and creeks for sources of water that they can pump to their farms.

Renato Millan, head of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) provincial irrigation management office, said the agency was preparing a cropping calendar so water from the irrigation systems could be properly distributed.

In the Cordillera, Edwin Dicksen, an agriculturist of the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), said his agency had been guiding local farmers so they could plant according to the pattern of rainfall.

“Let the farmers schedule their farm activities when water supply is available,” he said.

Crop planting calendar

Dicksen said the ATI had been studying rainfall patterns from information supplied by the weather bureau in the past five years so they could prepare a calendar for crop planting.

He said some farms in Kalinga, Apayao and Ifugao were most vulnerable to the dry spell. He said drought-resistant crops, like monggo and watermelon, should instead be planted there.

In Pampanga province, farmers in Barangay Paligue in Candaba are trying to rise from a lost cropping season due to severe floods wrought by Typhoon Santi last year by doing a second cropping this time. The village still has 700 ha planted to palay—more than half of the 1,100 ha grown between November and February.

“They maximized the water in the canals fed by Angat Dam,” said agricultural technician Celedonia de Leon.

The grains have sprouted and De Leon, 59, hopes that these will mature so farmers can get a yield of, on the average, 100 cavans a hectare this June.

The NIA first planned to cut the supply coming from Angat Dam in Bulacan on April 25. At the request of the IAs, this was deferred to May 10. The second extension ended last week when the National Water Resources Board gave priority to the needs of Metro Manila’s more than 10 million residents.

The last time drought struck Paligue in 1997, said village chief Mauro Pangan, some farmers shifted to watermelon and cucumber.

Synchronized cultivation

He said growing palay during the wet season was less costly. “If the rains come late, many of our fellow farmers will have to pay more interests on loans or they may not be able to pay off their debts on time,” he said.

Pangan said he took to duck-raising for eggs to augment his income. “But Candaba should not be drying up because it is a natural flood basin,” he said.

Andrew Villacorta, DA regional director in Central Luzon, said the department was giving 100 water pumps, providing seeds for short-term crops, supporting the construction of small water-impounding dams and enrolling farmers in crops insurance to recover losses.

In Nueva Ecija province, the country’s rice granary, irrigation officials have committed to help rice farmers through an early release of irrigation water from Pantabangan Dam on June 1.

“It will help farmers cultivate their farmlands, grow the rice seedlings and plant within June,” said Josephine Salazar, a NIA operations manager. The dam’s gates will close at the end of September. In case, the dry spell drags on, she said, they will resort to cloud-seeding to replenish the reservoir.

Salazar urged farmers to take advantage of the early release of irrigation water and maximize water use.

“Let’s synchronize land cultivation, growing of seedlings and transplanting. And please, be kind to the other farmers, especially those at the tail-end of the irrigation system,” she said.

Fish, poultry also hit

Pantabangan Dam’s water, though, can irrigate only 114,000 of the 190,000 ha planted to rice in Nueva Ecija during the wet season cropping.

In Bulacan province, officials said the impact of the extreme heat and the absence of rain had also been felt by traders involved in fish growing and hog and chicken raising.

Randy Santiago, a fishpond owner and president of Paombong Fish Farmers Association, said mortality among cultured “bangus” (milkfish), prawn, shrimp and crabs was high this summer. He said many of them resort to early harvesting to avoid heavy losses.

In Zambales province, farmers have started to experience the impact of the dry spell.

Belman Elamparo, 52, a banana grower in Barangay Taltal in Masinloc town, said his 1-ha plantation had not yielded any fruit since summer started.

Elamparo used to earn P5,000 every month from his farm. But in the past months, he said, workers had not been earning a single centavo.

“The extreme heat has wilted our banana trees. You will just see these trees falling to the ground because of the intense heat,” Elamparo said.

He said the government had been encouraging the cultivation of mahogany but farmers were not too receptive “because it takes years to grow them.”

Opportunity in adversity

In uphill Barangay Cawag in Subic, some Aeta people have gone to the lowlands to look for alternative income.

Juanito Balos-balos, tribal chieftain, said many of the Aetas were selling souvenir items, guiding tourists and accepting construction jobs to eke out a living instead of tending farms.

“They can no longer plant rice or vegetables because of dried-up soil,” Balos-balos said.

Agriculture officials believe El Niño could also open up opportunities.

“If the rainy season is delayed, there will be more time for our farmers to clean their irrigation canals, which have been silted,” said Moya, the provincial agriculturist of Pangasinan.

Farmers can clear their mud dikes because an El Niño episode is favorable for rats to multiply, she said.

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“So usually we expect that after an El Niño episode, we have rodent infestation on some farms,” she said. “It will be an opportunity for the farms to have more time to rest. This is important because after continuous cropping, the soil also gets tired. It also needs rest to make it more productive.”—Reports from Gabriel Cardinoza, Melvin Gascon, Jhoanna Marie Buenaobra and Kimberlie Quitasol, Inquirer Northern Luzon; and Anselmo Roque, Tonette Orejas, Carmela Reyes-Estrope and Allan Macatuno, Inquirer Central Luzon

TAGS: Agriculture, El Niño, Farmers, Philippines

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