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When drought and rain collide

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“The sun does not apologize for being hot and the rain does not apologize for falling” – Anonymous

The weather bureau PAGASA predicted that the month of May would bring the highest heat index under the lingering El Niño phenomenon. It also forecasted that heavy rains and floods will hit at just about around the exit of the drought, and possibly both meeting along the way. Conversely, these are brought about by the La Niña phenomenon.

COMBINED EFFECTS

Curiously, what are the possible combined effects of both weather phenomena? If immediately after the drought, heavy rains hit, how can agriculture absorb it, especially the major crops where farmers largely derive their income from?

Experts opined that the combined impacts of both events is complicated.  This happened in the Philippines during the last quarter of 2023. A few provinces were hit by floods while Western Visayas, especially Negros Occidental was reeling with extreme heat. This also happened in other countries, such as Bangladesh and Nepal on an occasional basis, where they experienced both events, where immediately after the drought, heavy rains caused floods damaging not only their agriculture, but also their infrastructures.

In agriculture, when this happens a crisis on water management becomes a challenge where water is an important factor in crop production. Irrigation systems are affected, especially the volume of water flowing to certain crops in a given period of time. Erratic water flow as irrigation causes crop damage, when certain crops are produced in a particular area where there used to be a steady and balanced supply of water for years. This is true for rice and corn production where water management is now a problem.

Soil quality is affected when heavy rains come because micro-organisms and nutrients decline due to desertification while drought cracks land rendering it infertile. Moreover, poultry and livestock easily acquire diseases due to water scarcity attributed to drought and colds due to excessive rains. 

These challenges have crucial consequences for the economy, starting from farmers’ communities extending to a larger scale. The losses caused by these events strain communities by harming their production for food security. Decreased crop production and low quality yield cause farmers to sell their products at low farm gate prices directly affecting the law of supply and demand. And, while small farmers suffer from losses as traders exploit the situation for profit, affecting inflation.

VULNERABLE CROPS

According to the agriculture department, crops identified most vulnerable are corn, rice, coconut, and sugarcane. These are major agricultural crops that contribute to the local economy of Negros.

Corn is the main ingredient for livestock feed and even for consumption, rice is a staple for Filipinos, coconut is a major crop in South Luzon and Mindanao, and sugarcane contributes significantly to our local economy. When hit by drought their yield is reduced and deteriorates their quality, and when hit by heavy rains and floods growth slows down due to root rot for coconut, less sugar content for sugarcane, deterioration of quality, and possible uproot for corn and rice.

The current drought highlights the municipality of San Enrique for its rice production, where close to a thousand residents are affected, with an estimated damage of almost P10 million pesos.

Agriculture contributes about 25 percent of the total GDP and an agricultural loss of P6 billion and counting is clearly a manifestation. The growth rate is now reported to slow down at 5.7 percent as against the government’s projection of 6 to 7 percent this year, as reported by Philippine Statistics Authority. NEDA Secretary Arsenio Balisacan attributed this slow growth to two major factors, “construction industry is slowing down, and the extreme heat.”

RELIEF WISH

As I wrote this piece I looked behind my back and noticed it was drizzling. Saw a couple of women riding their bikes wearing big smiles feeling the thin downpour. I stood up from my swivel and walked out of the room and saw colleagues looking out the window looking relieved wearing the same on their faces.

This means that no matter what the rain will bring we all want to get over with the drought and the heat wave. Whether it will bring devastation or otherwise still rain is a big wish. We badly need even a brief moment of relief not only from the drought and the heat wave but from the seemingly backward agriculture and unstable economy we all suffer from. Let it rain!*

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