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‘Ompong’ destroys P14-billion crops

436,000 tons of rice down the drain

Agricultural damage caused by Typhoon “Ompong” climbed to P14.27 billion, affecting more than half a million hectares of farmland with an estimated production loss of 731,294 metric tons, the Department of Agriculture reported Monday.

‘Ompong’ destroys P14-billion crops
DESTRUCTION, CLEARLY. A pathetic view of a damaged rice plantation wiped out by Typhoon Ompong’s ferocious winds in Barangay Lingu in Solana, Cagayan after the powerful cyclone hit land Sunday. The Department of Agriculture has projected at least 1.22 million hectares of rice and corn ravaged by ‘Ompong.’ Greenpeace Photo
The estimated damage rose as reports from the Cordillera Autonomous Region showed huge losses in rice, corn, high-value crops, and livestock.

Rice contributed to the largest share of losses at 62.82 percent with a loss of P 8.97 billion and 435,997 metric tons of production. The loss was equivalent to 8.64 days of rice consumption for the entire country, the department said.

The affected area of 397,204 hectares represents 39.91 percent of the total rice standing crops of the CAR, the Ilocos region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon.

Most of the affected rice crops were reported to be partially damaged and were in the reproductive stage affecting a total of 212,491 farmers.

Provinces heavily affected include Nueva Ecija in Region III amounting to P2.84 billion, followed by Cagayan in Region II with P2.77 billion.

There was also a vast increase in the production losses reported in corn, which is attributed to the reports from CAR and Cagayan Valley.

Damage and losses now amount to P4.5 billion affecting a total of 148,587 hectares with an estimated volume of production loss of 281,039 metric tons.

Most of the affected crops were in their reproductive stage, which were reported as partially damaged.

Losses in high-value crops also increased, amounting to P788.13 million affecting 7,913 hectares in CAR and the provinces of Rizal, Cagayan, and Isabela.

The volume of production loss was at 14,258 metric tons, mostly in their reproductive stage.

Livestock losses were reported in CAR, with 20,316 animal heads affected (103 heads in livestock and 20,213 heads in poultry), amounting to P5.51 million or 1.01 percent of the overall damage and losses.

Damage to irrigation facilities amounted to P15.72 million, affecting Small-Water Impounding Projects, Impounding Dams and Spillways in Ilocos Norte.

Ompong (international name Mangkhut) killed about 60 people, leaving dozens buried in a Benguet landslide, and affected about half a million people, officials said.

“Now the rice sector could recover, because we have coordinated with the National Irrigation Administration—especially for the Cagayan Valley region—not to close their irrigation systems,” said Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.

He also said he would recommend the importation of more corn to make up for the production shortfall as a result of typhoon losses.

Piñol said the damage to rice was worth only “3.6 days of national supply.”

“It would not make a dent right now because it’s harvest season in other parts of the country,” he said.

Piñol said a total of 1.5 million farmers and over 100,000 fishing communities were affected by the typhoon.

Oxfam Philippines, meanwhile, said it was giving priority to distributing water and materials for shelter to ensure the immediate safety and dignity of typhoon survivors.

Maria Rosario Felizco, Oxfam country director, added that survivors, especially small fishers and farmers who have lost their source of income, will need support far beyond the first few days of this response.

Senator Grace Poe said the government’s basket of aid for Ompong-hit farmers in Northern Luzon should include seeds for replanting to help them quickly recover from the damage caused by the strongest typhoon that hit the country so far this year.

“First, give them food to help them tide over, then give them the resources to grow food. Although they would welcome relief goods, what they need more is production assistance,” Poe said.

One of them could be in the form of seed subsidy, she said.

“Give a Cagayan Valley farmer a bag of rice, and he can feed his family for a week, but give him rice seeds for planting, and he can feed many people for a long time,” she said.

As Ompong hurtled toward the country over the weekend, those in its firing line had a stark choice: stay or flee. Many chose to remain to protect their most precious possessions—their food and livestock.

Residents of the storm’s ground zero, in Baggao on the eastern flank of Luzon island, knew they would be hit full-force, but losing their livelihoods was a disaster they were willing to risk everything to prevent.

“Our house was blown away. We were flooded,” Diday Llorente, 55, said. “But we did not evacuate because we didn’t want to leave our carabao [water buffalo] and livestock.”

Llorente lives in the coastal farming area of Baggao that is home to some 80,000 people, and which took a direct hit from Ompong when it made landfall there in the pre-dawn darkness on Saturday.

In this key farming region of northern Luzon island, a quarter of the people live in poverty—getting by on less than $2 per day.

Like many in the region Llorente is a small-scale farmer, eking out a fragile existence from the land. The two hectares of corn she farms with her husband was drowned in flood waters.

For farmers like her, there is no insurance to compensate for a destroyed crop or dead cow, and no rainy-day savings to bridge the gap.

“If we think from their perspective, these are really their greatest assets... whatever little they have is all they have,” Lot Felizco, country director for Oxfam Philippines charity, said.

“It’s really heartbreaking... for people who already live in a very difficult and dangerous situation. What choices do they have?” she asked.

The decision not to evacuate can have horrendous consequences. Many of the 7,350 people killed or missing in the nation’s deadliest storm, Super Typhoon “Yolanda” of 2013, did not heed warnings of a heavy storm surge.

Yet, for those in Baggao the threat of losing their produce, to the violent weather or to thieves, has a powerful influence.

Aida Acopan, 59, evacuated from her home during the last massive storm that struck the area, 2016’s deadly Typhoon Haima. She survived, but at a cost.

“Someone broke into my house and stole half a cavan of rice... so I didn’t want to take any chances this time,” she said.

The loss was roughly 25 kilos of the staple. Having sufficient supplies of it is a primary concern in rich and poor households alike.

With that roughly $10 loss in mind—worth more than a week’s income for the country’s poorest people— and after days of increasingly urgent warnings from authorities last week, she came to a decision about what to do this time.

“We decided not to evacuate,” she said, standing outside her battered, but still standing home of concrete blocks and wood.

The other problem with evacuating is that it does not come with any guarantees. Shelters are basic affairs, usually just some floor space in a school or gymnasium.

“They [evacuees] lose whatever little control they have over the situation,” said Felizco.

But there are no guarantees either that staying with one’s crops or animals will mean that they survive.

In the case of Ompong, gusting winds topped 255 kilometers per hour and some areas got a month’s worth of rainfall in a matter of hours.

Mary Anne Baril stayed in her home as the typhoon uprooted trees, snapped power poles in half and flooded farm fields, including hers.

“We’re already poor, then this storm happened to us,” she said as she brushed away tears. “We have no other means to live.” With AFP

Topics: Typhoon “Ompong” , Department of Agriculture , Cordillera Autonomous Region , Senator Grace Poe
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