Drought exacts toll on Cotabato farmers

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 16 April) – Farmer Deylon Musa, 62, shared boiled rice and steamed camote tops with his wife Pundo and a five-year-old granddaughter for lunch on Thursday at their small, dilapidated hut at Barangay Tamontaka here just beside his rice field.

An hour earlier, under the scorching heat of the sun, Musa finished his routine working on a hectare of farm land that used to be soaked in water.

But the drought has changed all that, as the dry spell has hit his farm bad since February. He could no longer harvest the rice on his field, the stalks still swaying with the wind.

He gasped with despair.

Musa’s face showed how he and other farmers have suffered due to the dry spell. His farmland, used to be lush green, has turned into yellowish brown.

If the drought goes on, Musa could not say how he could make both ends meet. His wife is earning just enough for the family’s food on the table through laundry jobs.

“This is my worst problem,” Musa told reporters as he showed his devastated farmland.

At least 19 of Cotabato City’s 37 villages have been placed under state of calamity due to the drought after the agriculture sector suffered P17 million losses to agricultural crops.

More than 300 farmers in 400 hectares farmlands planted to rice and corn have been affected by the drought in the city’s agricultural sites.

“All I pray is rain, more rain because we cannot rely on water from the river. Strong rain is what we need here,” Musa said as he was about to embarked on another round of farm work going to his vegetable yard.

Mayor Japal Guiani Jr. said the Sangguniang Panlungsod has approved a resolution putting the affected villages under a state of calamity so the local government could use its calamity fund in helping the affected farmers.

“State of calamity has been declared in 19 villages so that our farmers can receive assistance from concerned government agencies while our government workers can avail of calamity loan,” Guiani said in an interview.

He also chided the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) for what he called a “ghost project” in Barangay Tamontaka, referring to a 100-hectare irrigation rehabilitation project in the area implemented by NIA with a budget of P64 million, expected to have been completed in 2012.

Guiani could hardly believe the city rice fields have dried up when there are several tributaries to the farms. Furthermore, Cotabato is surrounded by two big rivers – Rio Grande de Mindanao and the Tamontaka River.

The mayor said there must be an investigation on the project. It turned out the project was mothballed.

“Our farmers are now suffering because hundred of hectares of farmlands programmed for irrigation with this huge budget was not completed,” he said.

Guiani stressed that the farmers here should not have experienced drought as there is supposed to be ample water supply, if only the irrigation project was pushed through.

Food Security Secretary Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, who also chairs NIA, was asked about the alleged “ghost project” during his visit to Maguindanao but declined to comment, saying no report about it has reached his office.

He said he will call for an investigation.

MindaNews contacted the public information office of NIA-12 but the woman on the phone could not comment on the issue, saying only her boss, who was not in the office, was authorized to respond. MindaNews also asked for the regional director’s number, but NIA has not yet replied as of press time. (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews with reports from Joyce Toledo and Tanto Piang Jr., University of Southern Mindanao Development Communication interns)