Previous El Niño brought food shortage

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Friday, May 30, 2014

SHORTAGE of food during the 1982-1983 dry spell brought about by the El Niño phenomena was etched in the memory of the couple Corazon and Gabriel Balunga of Valencia City in Bukidnon.

The couple is one of the Mapalad farmers who are marching from Bukidnon to Malacañang to ask the government to distribute the lands to the peasants before the Comprehensive of Agrarian Reform Program with Extension (Carper) expires on June 30 as promised by President Benigno Aquino III in 2012.

“Before, our crops like camote (sweet potato), corn, gabi (taro), and eggplant would die on the third month after those were planted,” Gabriel said recalling his experience in that dry spell in the 80s.


“We were there. We saw the wildfire. There was shortage of food so we and other farmers cut the stem of the ‘lutya’ (a root crop similar to taro). It was itchy so we just washed them well and boiled them afterwards. It went like that throughout the year and it was really, really difficult,” Corazon said.

Gabriel added that the government helped them when “consumers felt that there was a widespread shortage of food in the country. It was the only time they noticed our cries.”

During that time, the National Food Authority (NFA) distributed three kilos of rice for the farmers’ consumption every month, he said.

“What is three kilos to a [family] of 10? I had to think hard on how to budget the 3-kilo rice to us for the month. I made porridge for my children and husband,” Corazon recalled.


Jimboy Saavedra, a 34-year-old farmer from Misamis Oriental, witnessed the 1997-1998 long dry spell in the country.

Misamis Oriental is projected to be the hardest hit area in the region with the looming El Niño that is expected to hit the country in June this year.

“There is a drought coming. I think it will be an odd one and this will be my second time to witness such phenomenon. The soil is losing its moisture and it is still May. How much more when it hits June, which is the predicted initial date of the drought? We can only harvest crops by half of what we planted. Sometimes when they are about to die, we start from scratch and plant again. It’s hard,” Saavedra said.

Crops typically planted by the small farmers are corn and vegetables.

With the upcoming weather abnormality, the farmers in Misamis Oriental are planting ‘bingala’ or cassava instead which can be harvested in four to five months under good weather conditions.

“We are hoping that we can reap healthy cassavas. But with the extreme drought that other farmers also seeing, I think we can only harvest half of them,” Richard Colao, Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas-Northern Mindanao secretary-general, said.

“The lands are drying up than the typical days. Yes, there are rains but there is much more evaporation happening during the day because of the heat. And rains are just intermittent and brief compared to the all-day heat,” Colao told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro by phone Wednesday.

“With the nine-month prediction of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), not even bananas, a known crop, can endure dry and thin soil will last, and coconuts too. Some of them may die while growing flowers, some of them may bear fruits but definitely [may produce] abnormal ones,” he furthered.

In a recent interview with Dr. Josefino Bascug, a meteorological expert and environmental consultant of Misamis Oriental, the approaching El Niño, which is expected to last until the first quarter of 2015, may be similar to the prolonged dry spell during the 1982-1983 and 1997-1998 periods.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has also been preparing in some parts of Luzon through cloud seeding and the release of drought-tolerant varieties of rice.

“We are putting in place policy initiatives, water management and conservation measures, as well as modern and innovative farming and fishery technologies to somehow soften the effects of this dry weather,” DA secretary Proceso Alcala said in a statement on May 28.

Philippine Climate Change Commission Secretary Mary Ann Lucille Sering said there are typhoons that will be felt during the nearing drought that will destroy a great number of crops in the country, and “rice imports will be an option for us.”

Bigger parcel of land

However, local farmers said that they only need enough land to plant for the survival of the long-term El Niño.

“We call [on] the government to focus on the upcoming El Niño because by giving us a bigger piece of land. Say, we can utilize one hectare for long-term crops and the rest for the basic crops like corn and vegetables. Okay na kaayo na! But currently, we only have small space for our crops. We fear that the El Niño might [ruin] everything that we have planted and will plant in the future,” Colao said.

The Balunga couple also said that with the small parcel of land they own, “we cannot definitely get through the El Niño.”

Colao added that there is a shortage of farm lots for the peasants and small farmers to plow and fear that there might be a scarcity soon with the coming of El Niño.

Based on KMP’s assessment, most of the farmers in Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental are now suffering from the crop losses due to the extreme heat.

To combat this, the small farmers are also planting feasible seedlings that can endure during the drought.

However, Colao said that with the predicted duration, not even large and strong crops can live throughout the El Niño period.

Pagasa defines El Niño as a large-scale oceanographic or meteorological phenomenon that develops in the Pacific Ocean, which is associated with extreme climatic variability, such as devastating rains, winds, drought, and others.

This condition can prevail for more than a year, adversely affecting economies in both local and global scales.

Among the abnormalities in the weather pattern caused by El Niño are: delayed onset of the rainy season, early termination of the rainy season, weak monsoon activity (isolated heavy downpours with short duration), weak tropical cyclone activity (far tropical cyclone attack, less number of tropical cyclones entering the Philippine area of responsibility, less intense tropical cyclones), Pagasa added.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on May 31, 2014.

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