DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 June) – Incoming agriculture secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol is planning to employ farmers in El Niño-stricken areas through the cash-for-work program to assist them in the recovery stage.
Piñol told a press conference at the Grand Regal Hotel Thursday that two days after he was informed by President-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte of his appointment, he went around the provinces across the Philippines to see for himself the extent of damage caused by the drought.
“I started ‘Byaheng Bukid’ which brought me to different parts of the country. Except for the island provinces, I virtually covered the entire country. I reported to the president that the effects of El Niño was really worse that farmers really need help soon,” he said.
He proposed to Duterte that a cash-for-work program be employed to assist the affected farmers and the fisherfolks adversely affected by the El Niño phenomenon two to three months after Duterte takes over the presidency.
Though he did not give an offhand count, Piñol said the government still has remaining funds that are sufficient to cover several farmers in the program to earn them a living for the meantime.
He said that he would allocate initially about P200 million to P300 million budget for the cash-for-work program.
The cash-for-work may involve farmers and fisherfolks in cleaning of irrigation canals and seas, de-silting of dams, and fixing of roads, Piñol said.
He said another intervention that he would immediately enforce is the dispersal of seeds to farmers.
Piñol quoted Incoming Budget secretary Benjamin Diokno as saying that the government would have P22 billion remaining from the unused 2015 and 2016 budget, but he asked for additional P30 billion for the next months for the total rehabilitation of the agricultural sector.
Preparing for La Niña
He said that the farmers will have to plant rice by next month so that they would be able to harvest by October in order to avoid La Niña, which is expected to peak in the last quarter of 2016.
“We need to prepare for La Niña carefully so that we won’t have a food shortage. What we would like to do is to talk with the growers. I would like to know how much rice seeds they have. We need to start planting by July,” he said
Piñol said that the country’s national rice supply from the National Food Authority and private warehouses would last 103 days. He noted that there is a standby permit to import 500,000 metric tons of rice from the ASEAN neighbors to ensure there is sufficient supply when La Niña comes.
“We still don’t need that,” he said, referring to the importation. “We need to know the capacity of our farmers to produce,” he added.
Piñol said the government has funds that can be disbursed to farmers immediately.