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Drought warning raised for provinces producing close to 50% of PHL rice

DROUGHT induced by El Niño is expected to hit five major rice-growing provinces that accounted for nearly half of the country’s rice output in 2023, the government weather service said.

In a report, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said the affected provinces are Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Pangasinan, Cagayan, and Negros Occidental, with drought conditions expected to prevail until the end of February.

PAGASA defines drought as three consecutive months of way below normal rainfall conditions or greater than 60% reduction from average rainfall.

PAGASA has said that the effects of El Niño may run until the second quarter. An estimated 63 provinces will experience droughts or dry spells.

In 2023, the Philippines reported output of 20.06 million metric tons (MT) of palay or unmilled rice, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

This exceeded the 20 million MT target set by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and was 1.53% higher than the prior year.

The five provinces represent 49.52%, or 9.93 million MT, of palay production in 2023.

The DA’s target was unchanged in 2023, with the impact of El Niño likely offsetting any productivity gains in the rice industry.

Iloilo, another top rice-producing province, is set to experience dry spells during the period. The province produced 1.07 million MT last year, or 5.33%.

PAGASA defines dry spells as “below normal” rainfall conditions for three consecutive months, or a 21–60% reduction from the area’s average rainfall.

Other top rice-producing provinces are expected to be unaffected by the ongoing El Niño until the end of February. They are Camarines Sur, Maguindanao, Tarlac, Bukidnon, and Cotabato.

The provinces made up 19.64% of palay production in 2023.

Initial reports put rice damage and losses from El Niño at P151.3 million, according to the DA’s third El Niño bulletin.

PAGASA said the strong and mature El Niño currently prevailing is projected to continue through February. A transition to a state known as ENSO-neutral (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) is then expected in the second quarter.

ENSO-neutral conditions are those that are neither El Niño nor La Niña, PAGASA said.

Last week, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. announced a solar irrigation program to mitigate the impact of El Niño and help farmers achieve rice self-sufficiency. — Adrian H. Halili