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DA steps up mitigating measures vs. La Niña

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Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Regional Operations Joel S. Rudinas assured the people on Friday the DA has implemented mitigating measures against the impact of the La Nina weather phenomenon on the agricultural sector to ensure that grain and food production programs remain on track this year.

Rudinas, who is concurrently the chairman of the El Nino/La Nina Presidential Task Force, made the assurance during the Communication and News Exchange Forum (CNEF) at the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) Central Office in Quezon City Friday morning.

CNEF, a weekly briefing and discussion with government media, is sponsored by the PIA under Director-General Jose A. Favia in cooperation with the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).

Rudinas said the mitigation measures against La Niña include the continuous repair and rehabilitation of irrigation systems and farm-to-market roads as well as the early prepositioning of seeds for farmers during the wet or main crop season.

La Niña is the abnormal cooling of sea surface temperatures, which trigger heavy rainfall. Its opposite, the El Niño, which causes dry spells due to the abnormal warming of sea surface temperatures, has just ended in the country.

Rudinas noted that despite the recent El Niño onslaught and the impending La Niña phenomenon, the agricultural sector managed to expand by 2.5 percent in 2010.

“For La Niña, we are doing rehabilitation work on irrigation and farm-to-market roads,” he stressed.

“After that, what’s important is the prepositioning of seeds for our farmers because the rains have already started to come, and some of them (farmers) are already preparing to plant,” he said.

Rudinas said the DA is also coordinating closely with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), an attached agency of the Department of Science and Technology, on the La Niña phenomenon.

The cold front behind heavy rains that triggered floods and landslides in some parts of the country in the past weeks may last until February or March, according to PAGASA. The cold front is also starting to affect the Western Visayas region.

Rudinas said the DA’s Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) Rice Program with a budget of P12.3 billion is also implemented as a part of the La Niña mitigation measures.

This amount is on top of what would be spent in the event that calamities strike the farm sector in the coming months of the year, he added.

Meanwhile, Rudinas said part of the DA’s plans for 2011 is to strive for eliminating overdependence on rice imports in the next three years.

He noted that the country’s traditional sources of rice imports, Vietnam and Thailand, are also among the most vulnerable to climate change. Just like the Philippines, they may also no longer be reliable suppliers in the near future, he said.

For livestock, DA is focusing on: 1) improvement of genetic materials; 2) disease prevention, control, and eradication; and, 3) establishment of meat trading centers complete with slaughterhouse, cutting floor, cold storage, and processing/packaging plant.

In addition, DA will take full advantage of the country’s bird flu-free status and promote Peking duck and pigeon raising to meet the growing demand from a more affluent China market.

On high-value commercial crops, DA will: 1) provide quality planting materials; 2) construction of production and post-harvest facilities; and, 3) intensify extension services which include the establishment of techno-demo farms for vegetables, and the dissemination of information, education, and communication materials nationwide.

On corn, Rudinas said DA will promote the production of white corn and cassava in order to ease the demand on rice. In addition, clustering approach, envisioned to improve productivity, will be encouraged through the provision of tractors and post-harvest facilities.

As a take-off initiative in promoting organic agriculture in the country, DA allocated an initial P900 million this year to implement various undertakings which include policy formulation on organic agriculture products regulation and registration, accreditation, certification and labeling.

Also included are research, development and extension of appropriate sustainable environment and gender-friendly organic agriculture; promotion of the establishment of facilities that produce organic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other farm inputs; certification process; implementation of organic agricultural programs, projects and activities; and provision and delivery of support services to farmers and other stakeholders.

To date, identification and validation of strategic organic production areas in the county and initial organic product development are ongoing in partnership with organic practitioners and producers.

For 2011, only Quezon, Leyte and Bukidnon provinces have been programmed for implementation due to budget constraint. These provinces have been selected based on vulnerability to flood, El Nino and landslide and total farm area.

By M. Antonio G. Ibarra & Joel C. Atencio-PNA




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