The government plans to allocate P19.2 billion to help farmers affected by the El Niño dry spell and mitigate its impact on crop production, the government’s chief economist said Monday night.
Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the El Niño task force estimated that some P19.2 billion would be needed to address the adverse effects of the dry spell seen to persist until May next year.
“[The budget is] still very tentative. [The] indicative budget that we have discussed with the agencies amount to something like P19.2 billion, covering both the remaining months of this year and next year,” Balisacan said.
Balisacan also said the country needed to import 1.5 million metric tons of rice early next year to ensure the adequate supply of the staple amid the prolonged El Niño dry spell.
Balisacan said some 500,000 MT of rice was initially programmed to be imported in the first quarter of 2016, but an additional 1 million MT would be needed if the effect of the prolonged drought would be as bad as 1997 and 1998.
“The assumption is that, if the effect of the El Niño is going to be as bad in terms of production, in ‘97 and ‘98, then we will need to bring in an additional 1 million [MT],” he said.
The National Food Authority has the discretion on rice importation, but Balisacan said the plan should also be approved by President Benigno Aquino III, given the huge volume involved.
“The most important thing really here is learning from El Niño... to make sure we have adequate supply. The timely importation is crucial, because what we want is to avoid domestic prices from shooting up while world prices are relatively stable,” he said.
Weather forecasters expect the El Niño phenomenon to persist until May next year.
Balisacan said the assumption of the task force working closely on monitoring and addressing the effects of the El Niño was that rice production would be as bad as the 1997-1998 scenario when rice production fell 25 percent. He said other crops were expected to be affected.
“In this particular case, it’s not just going to be rice [to be affected], but other crops, particularly corn, and in the case of Mindanao, we also have [shortage of] power,” he said.
The El Niño task force identified several projects in partnership with different government agencies to mitigate the impact of the dry spell.
Balisacan said of the P19.2-billion indicative amount, some P7.5 billion would be released to different agencies such as the Agriculture, Public Works, Labor and Social Welfare Departments as well as the National Irrigation Authority in the remaining months of 2015. The rest would be allocated in the first half of 2016.
These projects include water management for farm production, distribution of food stamps and cash-for-work program for families displaced or affected by the dry spell.
Seven provinces have already been affected by the dry spell, including Quirino, Aurora, Quezon, Bohol, Siquijor, Camiguin and Misamis Oriental.