Joshua Mendoza

Published: March 22, 2024

A group of farmers and scientists in Luzon has raised concerns over the potentially devastating effects of El Niño on food security and the livelihoods of agricultural communities.

In a release, Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura Luzon called for increased support and faster distribution of aid to help rehabilitate farms and infrastructure damaged by El Niño.

Robert Estuesta, a farmer from Calintaan town in Occidental Mindoro, said that the drought triggered by El Niño and the lack of water supply are affecting nearly 500 hectares of onion fields and another 500 hectares of rice fields in their area.

In total, around 2,000 hectares of agricultural lands across San Jose, Sablayan, Calintaan, Mambura, Lubang, and other municipalities in Occidental Mindoro are affected by severe drought, impacting not only rice and onions but also corn and vegetable crops. 

“The grass and other plants that are the primary sources of feed for our animals are also dead. We hardly have any nutritious grass left to feed our livestock,” Estueta said in Filipino.

According to the Department of Agriculture (DA), El Niño has caused P1.75 billion in agricultural damage across eight regions in the country. Around 32,000 hectares of farmlands were damaged, with over 29,437 farmers affected. 

On Friday, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) announced that the warm and dry season has begun. This comes as the country still faces the impacts of El Niño.

While El Niño is gradually weakening, its effects are expected to persist in the coming months, 

“With the ongoing El Niño, significant reduction from the normal rainfall or drier-than-usual conditions will likely continue, which may bring negative impacts such as dry spells and droughts in most areas of the country,” PAGASA said. 

“The different climate-sensitive sectors such as the water resources, agriculture, energy, health, public safety, and other key sectors in the country may continue to be adversely affected,” it added. 

Proactive action needed

The drought triggered by El Niño devastates onion farms. (Masipag Luzon)

Aside from the lack of irrigation water, particularly on Mindoro island, Masipag Luzon regional coordinator Rowena Buena said there are also reports of financial losses and pest attacks.

She added that the DA might be underestimating the numbers of affected farms and farmers in Mindoro because of the island’s low agricultural production contribution.

“However, the issue in Mindoro doesn’t end with the country’s rice supply but also about the lives and livelihood of farmers on the island. The P5,000 cash assistance isn’t enough for those who suffered from financial losses, especially now that the cost of farming is very expensive,” Buena said in Filipino.

Currently, five municipalities in Oriental and Occidental Mindoro have declared a state of calamity.

Farmer Leody Velayo from Gapan City in Nueva Ecija also expressed disappointment, saying the government should have been proactive in addressing the impacts of El Niño.

“It was too late when the Executive Order No. 53 that activated the Task Force El Niño was signed, even though PAGASA already warned of the impending phenomenon as early as March last year,” Velayo said in Filipino. 

He added that it would have been better if LGUs had lent farmers equipment earlier so that they could have repaired their water reservoirs, especially in Gapan where many farms are situated in high elevations and lack irrigation.

“We couldn’t afford to build or repair facilities ourselves because small farmers like us couldn’t afford it.”

Amid these critical challenges, Atty. Ricky Azardon, Executive Director of the National Water Resources Board, underscored the necessity of water conservation in his address at the kickoff celebration of the Philippine Water Week and World Water Day 2024.

“Our overarching goal in the water sector is to realize water security for all, ensuring that no individual or community is left behind in accessing this fundamental resource,”