COTABATO CITY — The damages to agricultural crops brought about by the long dry spell and rat infestation in Maguindanao rose to PHP110 million, officials said Tuesday.

With this, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will increase its support to affected farmers, according to Sec. Alexander Alonto of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF-ARMM).

He said to date, dry spell and rat infestation in the province destroyed more than PHP110-million worth of agricultural crops.

Alonto cited a report from his office which showed that 18,831 hectares of rice and corn farms in 18 of 36 municipalities in Maguindanao, with roughly 22,000 farmers, have been affected by the adverse weather condition now felt not only in ARMM but also in many parts of the country.

Last Jan. 28, the Maguindanao provincial board placed the entire province under a state of calamity due to rising drought damage figures.

Alonto said his office is expecting higher loss figures in the near term as municipal officers further validate updated reports on the extent of crop damage.

As immediate response, Alonto said DA-ARMM has already provided 4,400 bags of open-pollinated corn seeds and 3,000 bags of palay to affected farmers.

“It is part of the region’s intervention to farmers affected by the drought,” Alonto said, adding that DAF-ARMM is still waiting for updates from municipalities hit hard by the dry spell.

Alonto identified the towns hardest hit by dry spell and rat infestation as Datu Abdullah Sangki, Datu Anggal Midtimbang, Datu Montawal, Datu Unsay, Guindulungan, Kabuntalan, North Upi, South Upi, Sultan Kudarat, Sultan Mastura, Talayan, Ampatuan, and Datu Piang.

Emma Ali, provincial social welfare officer, said the local office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD-ARMM) has distributed relief packs to affected residents noting her office is still validating latest reports.

“We will immediately respond to their humanitarian needs as long as we get the complete data assessed by the municipal officers,” Ali said.

Based on a report from the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, the dry spell, referred to as ‘El Niño’, is expected to be felt until the second quarter of this year.

El Niño is an abnormal warming of surface water in the eastern tropical sections of the Pacific Ocean generally observed once in three to five years.

The phenomenon, the weather agency said, usually occurs during the last quarter of the year and lasts until the first half of the following year. PNA/northboundasia.com

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