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Meeting El Niño head-on

Manila Standard

The forecast by weather experts is El Niño, the warming of the ocean surface or above-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, will continue from last month to the end of the first quarter.

El Niño in the Philippines, characterized by low to zero rainfall, typically happens once every two to seven years, with the last occurring from the fourth quarter of 2018 to the third quarter of 2019.

Aside from the environmental impacts, El Niño can negatively affect the Philippine economy and can hurt households because more than 20 percent of the local labor force relies on agriculture which is vulnerable to droughts.

El Niño occurrences in the past even reduced rice production by 20 percent and affected the electricity supply since some power plants depend on dams.

Majority of global climate models suggest that El Niño will likely persist until March-April-May 2024 season with a transition to ENSO-neutral in April-May-June 2024 season.

For the agriculture sector, plants usually wither due to the heat, requiring more frequent watering as a result of high chances of evaporation.

The effects brought serious problems to farmers in terms of diminished rainfall, delayed planting of crops, crop failure and reduced yield due to water stress, low water supply, drought, induced pests and diseases to crops/animals, and forest fires.

Late last year, the Department of Agriculture continued to advise farmers to grow short gestation plants and those that do not require so much water ahead of the El Niño’s projected start in November until the first quarter of 2024.

Officials said the dry spell is a natural phenomenon that can be cushioned by adopting systems like growing plants that do not require so much water and those needing only a shorter time to harvest.

For animal farming, the effects of El Niño can also be lessened by feeding cows with corn and sugarcane as well as legumes, which are good sources of protein for animals.

For fisheries, the recommendation is to choose tilapia and bangus (milk fish) since these are resistant to heat, as well catfish and mudfish which live and thrive in muds.

The National Irrigation Administration has also recommended the diversification of crops, especially in Benguet in the Cordillera Region, like corn, carrots, cabbage, beans, tomato, squash, broccoli, sweet peas, onion leeks, and radish, all of which have low water demand compared to rice.

Officials also recommended the use of early maturing and drought-resistant plant varieties as well as the adoption of a rotational schedule of water delivery for hosed farmlands.

We are on our toes.

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