MANILA — Damages wrought by the El Niño to Philippine crops has already reached PhP4.77 billion as more production losses were reported during the first two months of 2016, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said Thursday.

Agriculture Undersecretary for Field Operations Emerson Palad said that from January to February, an additional PhP1.344 billion in production losses was reported by DA regional offices.

This is on top of the PhP3.426 billion reported production losses incurred in 2015.

“About two-thirds of total damage value incurred in the past two months came from the rice sector amounting to PhP864.37 million. Meanwhile, corn losses was estimated at PhP477.49 million,” Palad said.

Since last year, the El Niño has already affected 121,490 farmers and 222,781 hectares of farmlands throughout the country.

The past two months alone -– when the weather phenomenon was at its peak -– saw the addition of 76,593 hectares of farms being affected.

The DA official said that Northern Mindanao sustained the biggest damage where 12,350 farmers lost PhP358.4 million worth of crops, with Western Visayas coming in second with PhP356.6 million in losses.

“The damages wrought by El Niño in the past two months account for about 28 percent of the total damages to the sector. However, in relation to overall production, total damages so far is deemed minimal,” Palad said.

In the meantime, he said the DA is continuously conducting cloud-seeding operations in the worst affected areas.

The cloud seeding operations are being conducted in close coordination with the state weather agency and the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

Since the last week of January, the agency has already conducted a total of 55 sorties in the provinces of North and South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and Saranggani.

“Field reports indicated that cloud seeding operations in the said provinces have had a 72 percent success rate, bringing light to moderate and moderate to heavy rains in the covered areas,” Palad said.

“We are also in the middle of negotiations with other aviation companies in Region 10 so that we can commence with cloud seeding operations in the provinces of Davao Sur, Compostela Valley and Davao del Norte as soon as possible,” he said.

Meanwhile, the senior Agriculture official said that the agency continues to implement other mitigation and intervention operations in affected areas.

“These include the provision of hybrid seeds and multi-stress tolerant seed varieties as well as the monitoring and control of pest infestation,” he said.

“For irrigation augmentation, the DA is working on the provision and replacement of non-serviceable pumps, solar pumps, wind pumps as well as the quick repair or rehabilitation of small water impounding projects and diversion dams, among others,” Palad said. Cielito M. Reganit/PNA/northboundasia.com