A farmer walks past a dried pond in a remote village near Libungan in Cotabato province, the Philippines. The province is one of the most heavily affected by the drought that has already damaged thousands of hectares of agricultural land. Photo: Keith Bacongco

By Keith Bacongco
8 April 2016

ARAKAN, Philippines (UCA News) – Swathes of corn stand withered on the parched rolling hills near the farming town of Arakan in the southern Philippines, while shallow cracks scar what were once fertile rice paddies.

El Nino is wreaking havoc in agriculture-rich Cotabato province.

Allan Salon, a member of the Manuvu tribe, says life is hard these days. There is nothing to harvest and hunger is rife.

In the village of Malibatuan, people only eat once a day with the children getting most of what there is to eat.

Desperation and hunger forced Allan and his brother, Lito, to join their neighbors, in heading to the provincial capital, Kidapawan, on March 29. The village leader said everyone who went to the city would get a sack of rice.

Allan and Lito believed that they would return home that same afternoon with their bags of rice.

"I was told we would be going joining a 'picket,'" said Allan. "But I did not know what that meant."

"We went because we were told the governor give a sack of rice to each of us," he said.

They, along with 6,000 other poor and hungry farmers and tribal people, gathered and blocked a major highway linking the Cotabato and Davao provinces in Mindanao.

At least three people were reported killed when police moved in to break up the highway blockade on April 1.

The state's Commission on Human Rights identified at least two of the victims — Enrico Fabligar, a bystander from Kidapawan, and Darwin Sulang, a farmer from Arakan.

Sulang’s friend, who asked not to be named, says they also went to Kidapawan thinking they were going to collect rice. […]

The vulnerable also includes Melody Ababon who has to gather banana stalks near her home in the town of Kibungan to feed her cow.

The animals have nothing else to eat, she says. "The fields are dry, and the bananas are slowly going too."

Before the dry spell, her cow was fat, Melody says. Now, the ribs are showing. "Some farmers have already sold their farm animals to buy food," she says.

In the town of Pigcawayan, Nonoy Domaguit, says he already sold a pair of goats because the animals have nothing to eat.

"I did not want to sell them, but I pitied them because they have nothing to eat," he said.

The vulnerable also includes Melody Ababon who has to gather banana stalks near her home in the town of Kibungan to feed her cow.

The animals have nothing else to eat, she says. "The fields are dry, and the bananas are slowly going too."

Before the dry spell, her cow was fat, Melody says. Now, the ribs are showing. "Some farmers have already sold their farm animals to buy food," she says.

In the town of Pigcawayan, Nonoy Domaguit, says he already sold a pair of goats because the animals have nothing to eat.

"I did not want to sell them, but I pitied them because they have nothing to eat," he said. [more]

Drought takes a terrible toll on poor Filipino farmers


MANILA, 12 April 2016 (Reuters) – Crippling drought brought on by the El Niño weather pattern could cut rice stocks among the world’s top exporters to levels not seen since 2008, potentially fuelling a price crisis similar to one seen that year, an industry expert warned.

Total stocks in top shippers of the grain India, Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, and the US are likely to fall to 19 million tonnes by the second half of the year, from a peak of nearly 41 million tonnes in 2013, said Samarendu Mohanty, head of the social sciences division at the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute.

“If we have a bad monsoon, with drought still persisting in many parts of Asia, the risk significantly increases in terms of price response,” Mohanty said in a telephone interview.

Dwindling stockpiles could crimp volumes exporters are willing to ship abroad.

Although a severe El Niño is now fading, it has brought drought to swathes of Asia, drying irrigation channels and destroying crops.

It has also stoked concerns on the strength of the South Asian monsoon due to start around June.

Export restrictions by major rice producers including India fed panic in the market in 2008, forcing big purchases by countries such as the Philippines that caused Asian benchmark prices to nearly triple to around US$1,000 a tonne.

After that, consumers and exporters, mainly in Asia, rebuilt rice inventories to avoid another crisis, but Mohanty said stocks have been declining since 2013.

“Last year, nobody was panicking because they were sure that there’s plenty of rice in the market if there’s any shortfall. I think we don’t have that luxury anymore this year.”

The price of Thai 5% broken rice touched an eight-month high of US$378.50 a tonne in March, while Vietnam’s own 5% broken rice last month rose to a 2½-month peak of US$385 a tonne.

Mohanty said India and Thailand, the world’s top two exporters, would have combined stocks of around 16 million tonnes by the third quarter, around 70% lower than levels in 2013.

That buffer will be much smaller than recent stock levels of 16.2 million tonnes for India and about 12 million tonnes for Thailand.

India will be “very cautious in exporting” if its rice output is hit by a weak monsoon, said Mohanty.

That could push big buyers such as the Philippines and Indonesia to accumulate the grain, a staple food for nearly half of the world’s population, similar to what happened in 2008.

“We might see the same thing as we move forward and countries get scared about the weather situation around them,” Mohanty said.

The Philippines is considering importing another 500,000 tonnes of rice this year to boost state reserve stocks.

Is there a rice shortage looming due to El Nino drought?


By Paolo Romero
9 April 2016

MANILA, Philippines (The Philippine Star)– A lawmaker warned yesterday of a “severe and irreversible” food crisis hitting the country in the next 15 years as more and more people are opting to live and work in urban areas rather than pursue agriculture as a means of livelihood.

Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas said many agricultural lands have been converted into industrial and residential estates, and the production capacity of the remaining farmlands is dwindling due to the damaging effects of climate change. 

However, he said that the biggest threat to the country’s ability to produce a sustainable food resource is the rapidly decreasing number of farmers and even fishermen.

He warned there might come a time when there will not be enough farmers and fishermen to sustain the country’s food requirement. This would force the country to rely more on imported food products, which in turn may lead to devastating food and financial crises.

“Nowadays, the younger generation doesn’t want to get their hands dirty. They would rather work night shifts as call center agents rather than work on farmlands. If we cannot stop this widening shortage of agricultural workers, there might come a time that we can no longer buy any fresh produce even if we have the money to buy them,” Treñas said. 

He said according to recent Department of Agriculture statistics, the average age of farmers in the Philippines is 57 years old. It estimated that the shortage for farmers might reach critical stage in the next 15 years. [more]

Lawmaker warns of food crisis within 15 years

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