Written by Charisma Love B Gado
When El Niño hit Isabela in 2009, Julie Gambalan of Aga, Delfin Albano, Isabela, gained nothing despite of sleepless nights fighting for her rice crop.
“I had sleepless nights. The expenses were too much and were adding up to the weekly allowance for my college student then in Manila,” she said. For her rice plants to survive, she sold their cattle for P25,000 to finance the fuel and oil to run the pump that irrigates her crop. She thought it was better to sell her cattle rather than to see her crop gradually die.
But farmers need not to experience again the agonies brought about by El Niño in 2009. To prepare the farmers in the onslaught of moderate El Nino or warmer-than-usual phenomenon, the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) advised farmers to plant early-maturing varieties so rice are harvested before the phenomenon strikes.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) predicted that El Niño is expected to occur during the last quarter of 2014 until the first quarter of 2015, with a probability of 50 percent. Highly vulnerable areas include Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, Ilo-ilo, Negros Occidental, Bohol, Leyte, and some areas in Mindanao.
PAGASA said El Niño events occur on an average of every four or five years, but irregularly occurrences can be as many as 10 years.
“My hands were not as affected as they were in 2009. With the long dry spell, which started around October 2009, my hands were battered while watering our rice plants and rice-based crop almost day and night and by manually harvesting them,” Gambalan recounted.
PhilRice breeders said that by planting early-maturing varieties, farmers may have a better chance of surviving the economic blow from El Niño.
For the irrigated lowland, PSB Rc10 (Pagsanjan), NSIC Rc134 (Tubigan 4), and PSB Rc160 (Tubigan 14) are recommended. With a maximum yield of 7.5 t/ha, Pagsanjan matures in 106 days after transplanting and is resistant against blast and brown plant hopper. Tubigan 4 has a maximum yield of about 10 t/ha and matures from 104-107 days. It has also moderate resistance against stem borer.
Meanwhile, Tubigan 14 has a potential yield of 8 t/ha and matures from 107 to 122 days. It is resistant against yellow stem borer and moderate resistant against white stem borer.
For rainfed lowland, rice breeders encouraged farmers to plant NSIC Rc192 (Sahod Ulan 1), PSB Rc14 (Rio Grande), and PSB Rc68 (Sacobia). Dr. Nenita Desamero, PhilRice breeder, said the varieties are drought-tolerant and suited in areas where El Niño is expected to hit worst.
Sahod Ulan 1, Rio Grande, and Sacobia have a potential yield of up to 6 t/ha and mature from 106-116 days. Sahod Ulan 1 is resistant against yellow stem borer while Rio Grande and Sacobia are not advisable to be planted in tungro-hot spot areas.
The regional field offices of the Department of Agriculture across the country also promote the following newly released varieties in rainfed lowland: NSIC Rc272 (Sahod Ulan 2), NSIC Rc274 (Sahod Ulan 3), NSIC Rc276 (Sahod Ulan 4), NSIC Rc278 (Sahod Ulan 5), NSIC Rc280 (Sahod Ulan 6), NSIC Rc282 (Sahod Ulan 7), NSIC Rc284 (Sahod Ulan 8), NSIC Rc286 (Sahod Ulan 9), NSIC Rc288 (Sahod Ulan 10), NSIC Rc346 (Sahod Ulan 11), and NSIC Rc348 (Sahod Ulan 12). These varieties have a maximum yield potential of up to 6.7t/ha.
For upland environment, Desamero recommended PSB Rc80 (Pasig), PSB Rc9 (Apo), and NSIC Rc23 (Katihan 1), which can yield from 6-9 t/ha.
“In 2009, I only got 8 cavan (0.4 t/ha) in our 1.3-ha farm. This harvest only recovered my expenses on seedling pulling and transplanting. Before the onslaught of El Niño that year, I used to harvest 7.5 t/ha,” she said.
Lesson from the bout
To compensate for the low harvest from their rice field, Gambalan planted vegetables such as eggplant, string beans, and pepper in the parched land where her rice crop withered and died.
“I planted these vegetables because they need less water to grow. I planted three batches of the vegetables, the first two batches all died. For the batch that survived, I watered them at night, at around 10 pm,” she recalled.
The vegetables, she said, use at least part of the barren land and enable the family to have some food on the table.
Gambalan recalled that previous dry spells like in 2005 reduced their yield by 50 percent. In 2009, reduction was at 80 percent. With the crisis, having vegetables in the backyard helped a lot as they have something to eat.
“It was a painful event. My feet ached from the heat coming out from the ground and from the coarseness of the grain we manually harvested. But that is farming. Thanks to some vegetables, and it helped us survive. Whatever fate awaits us and our crop on this new threat of El Niño, we always hope that the coming cropping seasons will compensate the losses we will suffer,” she said.