By Patricia B. Mirasol, Reporter

AGRICULTURE officials said the expected El Niño will require the government to step in with more support for irrigation.

The Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Field Programs Operational Planning Division cited in a March 16 statement “an increased likelihood” of a transition to El Niño in the July-September period.

El Niño is a climate pattern caused by the unusual warming of surface waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. The resulting dry spell occurs at irregular intervals every two to seven years.

Preparing for El Niño requires a long-term approach, according to Elias Jose M. Inciong, president of the United Broiler Raisers Association, which consists of small- and medium-scale poultry producers.

“You can’t solve it when it’s already there,” he said via Viber. The government has to provide funding for wells, especially for farmers that rely on river water, he added.

Kasi kung ang river ay tuyo na or mababa na ang tubig (If the river has gone dry), you cannot pump water from it,” he said.

Elpidio B. Flores, a farmer from Mangatarem, Pangasinan, said that while the government funds irrigation, not everyone is given support.

Nagbibigay sila sa ibang bayan. Dito sa amin wala e (They give irrigation support to some towns, but not to ours),” he said by phone.

Malayo sa ilog lugar namin (Our town is far from the river),” he said.

Sa 100 na nagsasaka dito, 40 lang ang nagtatanim (For every hundred farmers in our area, only 40 plant in the dry season),” Mr. Flores added. “’Yung 60 naghihintay ng tag-ulan (The other 60 wait for the rainy season).”

Roy S. Kempis, a retired Pampanga State Agricultural University professor, said the situation calls for a robust law on water rights.

“The DA and NIA (National Irrigation Administration) should consider it,” he said.

Such a law should serve to grant equal access to water for “farms and farmers far from the source of irrigation water, channeled from dams,” he said via Viber.

He said such laws and regulations should have teeth to deter those who would divert irrigation water away from rightful users.

Both Mr. Kempis and Mr. Inciong called for more water infrastructure.

“(These) dam and canal distributions will be for potable and irrigation water consistent with environmental concerns and the greater good (and) not just (to satisfy) a few noisy and belligerent activists or advocates,” Mr. Kempis said.

He added that the construction of these new water sources should be pursued rationally with “national and international funding.”

Mr. Inciong called for urban residents to harvest rainwater and use the stored water for non-drinking requirements like washing cars. This relieves the pressure to supply dam water to urban centers.

“What’s been happening in the past several years is that farmers give way to urban populations,” he told BusinessWorld. “Hindi na lang sila magtatanim (They choose not to plant).”

More water is needed for urban centers, so dams like Magat and Angat can be utilized for irrigation, he added.

In the poultry industry, Mr. Inciong said, one of the ways farmers prepare for El Niño is to tap deep wells, which he called the first redundancy.

 “If your generator sets are down, you rely on that,” he added. “Water storage should be good for one to two days, so in case of repairs, you should be okay.”

Mr. Flores, the Pangasinan farmer, said he hopes for government assistance in the form of fuel subsidies.

Wala kaming gaanong kakayahan bumili ng krudo para sa makina… Madaliang lunas ang krudo. (We don’t have the means to buy diesel fuel for our machines. Diesel is the immediate solution),” he said.

Fuel subsidies, he told BusinessWorld, should be in place to help farmers in time for the expected rains in May.

In March 2022, the DA rolled out a P500-million fuel discount program for farmers and fisherfolk.

Mr. Flores hopes to wean himself from reliance on diesel-fueled equipment by having access to solar pumps.

Kailangan ng solar pumps. Kung may financing sana ng gobyerno sa solar, kahit hulug-hulugan namin (We need solar pumps. If the government had a financing program, we’d be willing to pay by installment),” Mr. Flores added.