Saturday, December 2Food Security Matters

DA’s Call to Action: Cultivate Drought-Tolerant Crops During El Niño

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is keeping a vigilant eye on the impending El Niño phenomenon and is advising farmers to prepare for its anticipated start in November, which is expected to last until the first quarter of 2024. This proactivity is essential because El Niño, characterized by low to zero rainfall and higher temperatures than usual, can wreak havoc on the agricultural sector, resulting in crop withering and water shortages due to increased evaporation. To mitigate these potential consequences, the DA is encouraging farmers to adopt various strategies that will help them withstand the challenges posed by El Niño.

El Niño tolerant rice
El Niño tolerant rice

Aida Pagtan, the Chief of the Regional Agriculture and Fisheries Information Service (RAFIS), is playing a pivotal role in disseminating this crucial information. According to Pagtan, El Niño is a natural climatic phenomenon, but its effects can be significantly lessened by taking the right measures. One of the primary recommendations is to cultivate crops with short gestation periods and those that are less water-intensive. By choosing these types of plants, farmers can reduce their water consumption, which is vital during a period when water is already in short supply. Furthermore, these crops can mature more quickly, allowing farmers to harvest before the most severe effects of El Niño set in.

In addition to crop selection, Pagtan highlights the importance of diversifying livestock feed. For animal farming, particularly cows, it’s advised to feed them with crops like corn and sugarcane, as well as legumes, which serve as excellent sources of protein. During El Niño, heat can hinder animal reproduction, making artificial insemination a viable option to overcome this challenge. Farmers can seek assistance from provincial agriculture offices to facilitate this process.

For the fisheries sector, choosing heat-resistant fish species is essential. Tilapia, bangus (milkfish), catfish, and mudfish are all well-suited to endure the higher temperatures associated with El Niño. By selecting these fish varieties, fish farmers can protect their stocks and maintain their livelihoods even in the face of extreme weather conditions.

Recognizing the vital role of irrigation in agriculture, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) is actively involved in providing solutions to cope with El Niño’s impact. In areas with a high risk of drought, such as Benguet province, diversifying crops is recommended. Crops like corn, carrots, cabbage, beans, tomato, squash, broccoli, sweet peas, onion leeks, and radishes are known for their low water requirements compared to rice. This diversification ensures that farmers can still yield crops even when water is scarce.

Furthermore, the NIA is advising the use of early maturing and drought-resistant plant varieties. By adopting these plant types, farmers increase their chances of successfully harvesting crops even in the face of extreme dry spells. The NIA is also encouraging a rotational schedule for water delivery to hosed farmlands, optimizing water use during critical periods.

In areas served by the NIA, the challenge is significant, given the 2,848.89 hectares of farmlands in Abra, Apayao, Ifugao, Kalinga, and the community irrigation systems across various provinces. These areas are at high risk of being adversely affected by the impending dry spell. To counteract this, the NIA is advocating the use of pumped water as an augmentation strategy. This involves sourcing water by pumping it from nearby creeks or underground sources. This innovative approach can help avoid disruptions to the planting season and ensure that farmers have access to sufficient water for their crops.

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