A farmer guides his carabao on dry and cracked farmland in San Juan town, Batangas, April 18, 2010. — REUTERS

A PHILIPPINE senator on Wednesday urged the government to fast-track financial support for farmers whose livelihoods are suffering from the El Niño weather phenomenon.

“It is important that we have funds to provide the necessary support to protect our farmers’ investments and to revive their crops,” Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian said in a statement. “We have to be ready to aid our agriculture sector, especially the rice sector, to guarantee the availability and supply of agricultural products.”

Meanwhile, Senator Maria Imelda “Imee” R. Marcos filed on Monday a resolution seeking to probe the adverse effects of dry spells and drought on the country’s water supply, despite state efforts to conserve water.

“Despite the various efforts and initiatives being conducted by the government and the increase in water rates, the entire country is still experiencing strained water resources and water crisis in various regions and provinces,” according to a copy of Senate Resolution No. 986 sent on Wednesday.

The agricultural damage due to El Niño totaled to P2.63 billion, according to the Department of Agriculture. The government has distributed assistance worth P1.1 billion to those affected.

Mr. Gatchalian , who heads the Ways and Means Committee, earlier said Manila must seek more rice deals with countries like India and Vietnam since the country’s rice production still needs work to ensure food security.

The Bureau of Plant Industry has said Philippine rice imports reached 995,841 as of March 21.

The US Department of Agriculture expects Philippine rice imports to reach 4 million MT this year.

“The disruption of El Niño on the agriculture sector could be devastating to the economy and to our farmers as we have seen in previous El Niño episodes and thus the need for a timely release of fund support for farmers in areas affected by El Niño,” Mr. Gatchalian said. — John Victor D. Ordoñez