Rat infestation reported in more provinces in Mindanao

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 February) – More provinces in Eastern Mindanao and many parts of the country have been reported attacked by swarms of field rats, in an infestation that an official blamed on climate change and human interference in Nature’s food chain.

After farmers in eight barangays in the northern hinterlands of Davao City whose farms were devastated appealed for help, reports indicated that areas in South Cotabato, North Cotabato and Sarangani areas were also attacked by rats.

City Agriculture Officer, Leonardo Avila III, said that rats attacked provinces in the Visayas and in the rice-producing areas in Central Luzon too.

Avila said he would also ask the Provincial Agriculture Office in Davao del Norte to confirm reports of rat infestation in its northwestern town of Talaingod which shares boundary with Davao City’s rat-infested northern barangays.

In South Cotabato, the regional office of the Department of Agriculture directed its regional crop coordinators “to take necessary measures to lessen the rat infestation in rice and corn-producing areas in the province and put up systems of preventing future occurrences”.

Director Amalia Jayag-Datukan assured farmers of assistance in the hardest hit municipalities of Surallah and Tantangan towns.

Datukan said that “if rat infestation will not be stopped, [it] would pose a direct threat to the self-sufficiency program of the region”. She has instructed the agricultural program coordinating officers and the Regional Crop Protection Center (RCPC) to extend assistance to farmers in the affected areas.

In a statement, the South Cotabato Agriculture Office said that “from December 2010 to January 11, 2011, about 428 hectares of rice fields in 15 barangays of Surallah have been infested by rats”.

It placed the damage at 2,970 metric tons of palay valued at P8,325,269.

Seven of the 13 barangays in Tantangan lost 3,152 metric tons of palay valued at P8,623,440.

“Total value loss was at P16,948,709 with 1,451 farmers affected,” the report said.

The RCPC already distributed 100 kilos of zinc phosphide, a rodenticide, “in addition to the intervention provided by the LGU [local government units] to farmers in affected municipalities to prevent further infestation of their crops that were already on reproductive, vegetative and mature stages”.

Rats infested Lake Sebu much earlier, in October last year, and the town was forced to declare a state of calamity after rats attacked 10 of its 19 barangays. More than 150 kilograms of rodenticides were distributed to rice farmers.

As of December last year, the Provincial Agriculture Office of North Cotabato also reported to the regional office that “at least 4,881 farmers were affected from severe rat and rice blast infestation, damaging more than to P12 million worth of crops”. Damage covered 1,357.80 hectares.

Farmers said rats destroyed palay by eating the stem. Rats reportedly like to attack palay that is about to be harvested but even seedlings were not spared.

The affected areas were the municipalities of Pres. Roxas, Alamada, Carmen, Pigcawayan, Aleosan, Libungan, Antipas, Kabacan and Tulunan. In November, matured crops in the town of Matalam were also damaged by pests.

As of February 3 this year, the Regional Agriculture Office distributed a total of 425 kilos of zinc phosphide, which could already cover 20,000 hectares.

Last year, the South Cotabato Provincial Government conducted a rat tail campaign where farmers could receive a kilo of rice for every 10 rat tails they collected.

Avila said the long dry spell last year triggered the rat infestation, a trend that was observed during the several episodes of the El Nino phenomenon in the last three decades.

He also blamed human-induced devastation of the environment and the hunting for fun and food of certain animal species as having caused the uncontrolled increase of the rat population.

“Aside from climate change, the killing of wild animal species  in the past has now told us that we have greatly disturbed Nature’s food chain that removed the natural control of not only rats but of other pests as well,” he said.

“There are no more grass owls, and there are fewer snakes in these areas because people hunt them,” he said.

Rats and other rodents are the natural prey of owls and snakes.

“Snakes do not naturally harm or hunt human, but they seek out these rats because these are their natural food,” Avila explained.

Avila was noted for his strong environment advocacy during his three terms in the city council, and he succeeded in establishing the protected area for sea turtles and fishes in Punta Dumalag. He was also active in the Save the Davao Gulf Foundation, a region-wide conservation program for the gulf. (MindaNews)