With the possible impact of the El Niño Phenomenon in the country, the National Sectoral Committee on Rice (NSC on Rice) discussed the climate outlook from August 2023 to January 2024 for potential dry conditions, dry spell and drought in the country and possible mitigation plans on July 31, 2023.

Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) Senior Weather Specialist Rusy Abastillas reported to the Committee that El Niño is “present in the tropical Pacific and will persist until the first quarter of 2024 and will show signs of strengthening in the coming months.”

“The current warmth in the Pacific will have caused reduced rainfall in the Philippines,” Abastillas added.

“The onset of El Niño is protracted and we need to plan ahead. We need to check our capacity to produce our own food, especially in the rice industry para hindi tayo maapektuhan ng global effects of El Niño,” said NSC on Rice Chairperson Hazel Tanchuling. 

On the other hand, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) presented its El Niño preparedness and mitigation plans per region in 2024.

Some of NIA’s interventions, through policy directions, include the adjustment of cropping calendar and pattern of planning. The adjustment of farming schedules to avoid typhoon season months would mitigate the impact of weather-related phenomenon to agriculture, including NIA irrigation infrastructures.

The agency also released a memorandum circular on the adoption of diversified cropping in the national and communal irrigation systems. This aims to mitigate and lessen the effects of climate change, particularly water scarcity, to ensure continuous harvest at all times.

The Committee raised through a policy recommendation that DA, through NIA, to consider a comprehensive and holistic water conservation program in collaboration with other concerned agencies from DA and other Departments.

Meanwhile, the DA- National Rice Program, also known as Masagana Rice Program (MRP), has collected and mapped the El Niño data from PAGASA and presented their interventions. 

MRP Head Directorate Andrew Villacorta said that they will use historical data on the rice areas which were not planted during the past drought events. However, these areas will still be subject for validation with the help of the Regional Field Offices and NIA.

The collected data will be the basis for strategies on negatively impacted rice areas and how to maximize production in stable rice areas. DA also included in the National Expenditure for Fiscal Year 2024 Major Program, Activity and Project the production support, extension and training, and irrigation support to mitigate for the effects of El Niño.

The Committee also presented the rice and palay international and local price trends and forecast, as well as the policy recommendations updates from this year’s National Fertilizer Forum. 

On the other hand, the Committee endorsed its member and National Manager of the Federation of Free Farmers Cooperatives, Inc. Raul Montemayor as PCAF’s official nominee as farmers’ sector representative in the National Food Authority (NFA) Council.

The nomination of Montemayor aims to ensure the adequate representation of the farmers’ sector to the NFA Council as it formulates policies on rice and food security. |Jezebel Campaniel