THE COMING rice planting months may have much less water than usual. According to the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), El Niño’s effects may linger until October.
Farmers, farm cooperatives, and the Department of Agriculture must be ready with contingency measures. There must be water. There will be a lot of below normal and way below normal rainfall in May, August and October.
Pagasa also said there would be fewer storms coming, so there should be ways to channel, collect and store rainwater. Divert the rainfall into water impounding facilities or dams. Deploy desalination equipment at strategic locations to provide irrigation for the farms and livestock raisers.
The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Budget and Management must ready the funds meant for farmers’ safety nets as more rice imports come in because there are no more import quotas.
Timing is crucial. The combined impact of the El Niño and rice imports would be big blows to the farm sector. Delays could mean intense hunger for many farming families and even fisherfolk.
Our country is basically agricultural and that means any disruption in the agriculture sector would be felt by all, especially in the area of food security.
While at this, allow us to ask: Where have all our farmlands gone?
Massive land conversion for non-agricultural uses has been one of the key factors for food insecurity and rising costs of basic commodities in recent years. A number of agricultural lands critical to food production have been transformed into subdivisions, commercial centers, golf courses and export processing zones, among others.
Not a few have suggested a ban on the conversion of all irrigated and irrigable lands to residential, commercial and industrial use to protect the country’s prime agricultural lands and help sustain food security. The ban, even if only temporary, would make sure that farmers will continue to have access to irrigated farmlands, along with other support services and subsidies, to enable them to produce enough food to feed the population.