AGRICULTURE Secretary William D. Dar said that the ongoing eruption of Taal volcano is not expected to have a significant effect on the performance of the agriculture sector in 2020.

“Not significant. We can recover,” he said in a text message.

Residents living near Taal volcano started evacuating after the volcano spewed ash Sunday. The alert level is currently at 4, which is the second-highest on a scale of zero to 5. A 4-level alert signifies “intensifying unrest characterized by earthquake swarms and volcanic tremor… (and) lava dome growth and/or (increased) lava flow,” according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

The volcano’s ash cloud has traveled as far north as Central Luzon.

The National Food Authority (NFA) said the affected areas have sufficient stocks of rice.

In a statement, the agency said that Region IV has 1.93 million bags of rice in inventory; the National Capital Region (NCR) has 197,000 bags; and Region III has 1.963 million bags.

In a bulletin, the DA (Department of Agriculture) said that has instructed its Region IV offices to prepare to extend loan assistance.

The department said that the Survival and Recovery Assistance (SURE Aid) program allows for loan assistance of P25,000, without interest and payable in three years. Affected farmers and fisherfolk can also avail of higher loan amounts under the Micro and Small Agribusiness program.

BFAR National Director Eduardo B. Gongona said that the agency is still not able to assess conditions at Taal Lake due to the forced evacuation being implemented in the area.

“We are expecting na magkakaroon talaga ng (there will be a) fishkill later on due to increased acidity, turbidity and temperature,” he noted.

The Taal Lake fishery includes farmed tilapia and endangered tawilis, a delicacy unique to the area.

Tawilis is a species of freshwater sardine that migrated to the area when Taal was still accessible to the sea.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the CALABARZON region, which is composed of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon, accounted for 41.02% of inland fishery production in 2018 at 164,200 metric tons (MT).

Asked to comment, Rolando T. Dy, executive director of Center for Food and Agri-Business of University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), said that the eruption’s impact is manageable so far.

“Manageable impact. Other regions can (fill the gap) but Central Luzon and CALABARZON account for a significant (proportion) of the national total,” he said in a text message.

“(It) has effect on hogs, poultry producers and standing crops in Central Luzon and CALABARZON. Fish pens in Taal lake and similar areas will definitely be affected. Transport of agriculture goods will also suffer,” he noted.

Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) Research Fellow Roehlano M. Briones concurred that the impact is not yet significant.

“So far, (its is) alert level 4, I don’t anticipate any harmful effects to agriculture,” he said in a phone interview, and added that if the alert level reaches 5 the damage could be more significant.

“It all depends if it will worsen and what kind of material is emitted and what volume,” he added.

Phivolcs describes alert level 5 as “magmatic eruption characterized by explosive production of tall ash-laden eruption columns, or by massive collapses of summit lava dome. Generation of deadly pyroclastic flows, surges and/or lateral blasts and widespread ashfall.” — Vincent Mariel P. Galang