'We need a strategy for El Niño'
- Dulce Sanchez () - February 28, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The head of an international crop research institute is calling on the Philippines and other countries affected by drought to “go on a war footing” to cope with the El Niño weather phenomenon and climate change.

Dr. William Dar, director general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), said several crises – aside from drought – confront global agriculture today.

“Warming temperatures, floods, increasing land degradation, rising food prices, zooming energy demand and population explosion are creating extreme challenges to feed the world. We can avert this potential ‘climaggedon’ through a strong political will and collective action by the global community,” he said.

Dar said there is a need for a long-term strategy to deal with climate change and El Niño rather than simply taking reactive measures.

He said there is a need for institutional mechanisms to develop and implement a strategy of “adaptation and mitigation for our farmers to surmount climate change and the continuing onslaught of El Niño.”

Dar said the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pag-asa) estimates that there would be a 40 to 60 percent reduction in rainfall that will last until June, and the Department of Agriculture projects that this could cut rice production by 816,372 tons worth P12.24 billion.

He also said the areas hardest hit by the drought are Cagayan and Isabela which are major producers of rice.

He added that the production of other crops like corn, sugar cane, vegetables and other agricultural products will also be severely affected.

Harness science vs drought

Dar said ICRISAT recommends a science-based approach.

He said farmers should grow drought-tolerant crops to “match the available length of the growing season and low soil moisture.” He said ICRISAT has introduced several improved varieties of sorghum, pigeonpea, chickpea and peanut that are more drought-tolerant than currently grown varieties. The DA and local government units, in cooperation with the farmers, should map out a contingency plan to replace affected crops with more drought-tolerant varieties.

Dar said the DA should also put in place an action plan to produce seeds of dryland and alternate crops.

He said there should be ways to have the community participate in harvesting water in the rainy season, arresting land degradation and conserving soil moisture, and for growing improved crops in soils conserved through natural methods.

Dar said the national government and LGUs should formulate policies supportive of dryland agriculture as well as establish institutional mechanisms for credit, market linkages, rural infrastructure and other support services.

“Scientists predict that the dry lands will expand by 11 percent, and we will experience increased frequency and severity of droughts and heavy rainfall events across the globe,” he said.

He said it is important for the country to immediately map out and implement a long-term strategy to cope with El Niño and climate change.

Dar said the government should have sustained investments on water conservation and management and dry land agricultural research.

“Beyond the provision of deep well pumps, the construction of water harvesting structures must be pursued on a war footing,” he said.

He recommends that the government establish a Philippine Dryland Research Institute (PhilDRI), whose creation was proposed by Rep. Leonardo Montemayor in the 14th Congress through House Bill 6752.

“PhilDRI will be the country’s first line of defense against drought and climate change. Likewise, PhilDRI will substantially contribute to poverty alleviation by generating and mobilizing science and technology to improve the livelihoods of poor communities in the drylands,” Dar said.

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