P420M in crop insurance ready for El Niño-hit farmers

A total of about P420 million in insurance claims across the country is ready for immediate payout to farmers who have lost their crops to the dry spell caused by the El Niño phenomenon, the Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. (PCIC) said on Saturday.

The drought is expected to persist through the summer months and cut the country’s rice production in the first quarter by 5 percent, according to government estimates.

It could also prevent the sugar industry from meeting its annual US quota for the current crop year as the country focuses on maintaining domestic stocks, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) said.

In a report to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, PCIC president Jovy Bernabe said the P420 million was based on the notices of loss filed as of March 15.

Drop in production

Bernabe said the amount would be paid out in the next two weeks to 36,338 claimant farmers across the country.

“The [number of claimants] will still increase as we continue to accept and process the notices of loss of more affected farmers [for] the duration of this drought phenomenon,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture last week said initial assessment showed that a total of P464.3 million worth of rice and corn crops had been lost as of March 11.

In its January-March 2019 Palay and Corn Estimates, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said palay production may decrease to 4.62 million metric tons from 4.88 million MT over the same period last year.

The PSA report also said that the harvest area for rice may contract by 3.3 percent to 1.15 million hectares from 1.19 million ha in 2018, although yield per hectare is seen to increase to 4 MT from 3.87 MT in the previous year.

The dry spell phenomenon, which, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), will delay the onset of the rainy season, has already affected 13,679 ha of agricultural lands.

“There is no need to be afraid of the El Niño” if the government can “implement a sound water management program and embrace the solar-powered irrigation system,” Piñol said of his agency’s flagship program.

Effect barely felt

In a statement, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) said areas covered by the Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation System (Upriis) “barely feels” the effect of El Niño on irrigation water delivery.

The NIA said that during the previous stronger occurrence of El Niño in March 2015, water level at the Pantabangan reservoir fell to 184.02 meters.

According to Pagasa, Pantabangan’s level was at 203.54 meters on Saturday morning.

The Climate Prediction Center, which is part of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, said the dry spell strengthened in February as above-average sea surface temperatures rose across the equatorial area of the Pacific Ocean.

In a statement, SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica said the sugar industry may not be able to meet its US allocation of 136,201 MT from September 2018 to August this year.

The Philippines started shipping sugar exports to the United States as part of its annual quota under a preferential trade scheme.

The country is one of the few nations that can sell sugar to the United States at a premium.

“I doubt that we would be able to meet our US quota this year. The US can source it out from other countries because we have to focus first on filling our local supply,” Serafica said.

The SRA recently reduced its production estimate for the current crop year to 2.08 million MT from 2.25 million MT. It said it was allocating 95 percent of the sugar production to the local market, with the remaining 5 percent reserved for the US market.

Sugar production on Negros Island, which produces more than half of the country’s supply, has ebbed, according to the agency.