Philippines: Farmers hit by changing rainfall patterns

News and Press Release
Originally published
MANILA, 18 May 2009 (IRIN) - Climate change is taking its toll on farming in the Philippines, with more than US$27 million damage done to crops and livestock by typhoons Kujira and Chan-hom, the National Disaster Coordinating Council reported.

The heavy rains unleashed by the two back-to back-typhoons earlier this month are generally not expected until June.

However, according to specialists, climate change will disrupt the planting calendar, affecting the quality of crops and ultimately the economy.

"Farmers have to learn to adapt to the new seasons. It means having to change the planting calendar," Antonio La Viña, dean of the Ateneo School of Government and a consultant to the presidential adviser for global warming and climate change, told IRIN in Manila.

"You can no longer assume the seasons will be the same," he said.

Lost revenue

Farmer Eliseo Luciano, 56, of Isabela Province in northern Luzon, is grateful his rice crops were harvested in April before the rains arrived.

Such rains would have affected the quality of the rice and driven his sale price down. But he cannot plant his alternative crop, mongo beans, a popular dish in the region, while waiting for the second rice-planting season in June, losing him more than $400 in revenue.

Traditionally, April and May are the peak of the summer season in the Philippines, when farmers are supposed to harvest their main crops (palay, usually) and plant their alternative crops before June, when the typhoon season generally starts.

"Right now, our mongo should be flowering. It is our big source of additional income after the rice crops are harvested [in April]. It never used to rain like this before. The rains are very unusual. Sad to say, other farmers who planted mongo cannot earn from them. They will die with so much water," Luciano told IRIN.

"I have been farming for 20 years. I can feel the changing weather conditions. When it's cold, it's very cold. When it's hot, it's really hot," Luciano added.

Other farmers are also feeling the pinch. Owen Mangaser, 31, in La Union Province, had no choice but to harvest his tobacco crops when the rains came in April, rather than May. Tobacco, like mongo beans, dies with too much water.

La Union is also in northern Luzon, which is often the entry or exit point of the estimated 20 typhoons to strike the country annually.

"It is supposed to be the time of year to harvest the tobacco crops. But a lot of our crops were damaged when the heavy rains came in April. I had to harvest mine immediately to save the leaves that can be saved. Others lost everything," Mangaser said.

Unlike in Isabela, farmers in La Union do not have access to irrigation, so they can only plant rice during the rainy season or in the second half of the year.

For the first half, they can only plant crops like tobacco, which do not need much water.

Rafael Mariano, leader of the farmers' group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Association of Farmers in the Philippines), is worried that climate change will affect the schedule and volume of the harvest, particularly rice.

"Our farmers have been delaying their harvest because of the unexpected typhoons. They are waiting until the typhoons stop," he said.

Many farmers in the Philippines lack post-harvest storage and drying facilities and spread their unhusked grains on concrete streets to dry in the sun.

But delays in harvesting will adversely affect the moisture content and purity, forcing down prices, experts say.

Matter of timing

Mariano said there should be changes in the farmers' planting calendar.

"We have to plant earlier. Farmers should be able to harvest before the typhoons come. They need time to dry and store the harvest so we can plant early again," he said.

With the early typhoons, Mangaser is not waiting for June to plant rice. "The rains serve as a signal for us to start planting," he said.

Luciano, however, is waiting for the signal from the National Irrigation Administration (NIA). "The NIA gives the farmers the schedule. We may have typhoons now but what if there will be a long interval before the next typhoon comes? We might run out of water."