By Minka Klaudia Tiangco and Chino Leyco
Agriculture Secretary William Dar on Friday said that the total damage to agriculture due to Taal Volcano’s eruption has risen to P3.06 billion.
In a roundtable discussion with the Manila Bulletin editors and reporters on Friday, Dar said the P3.06-billion damage and losses is just an initial estimate from the affected areas in Southern Tagalog or Region IV-A and is expected to further rise.
“This is just an initial, but I’m hoping the volcanic activities will stop soon,” Dar said, citing the devastation already affected 15,790 hectares of land and 1,923 animal heads in the region, particularly in Batangas.
Hardest hit is the fisheries sector with estimated losses pegged at about P1.6 billion, Dar said during the roundtable discussion.
He said widespread fish kills are being reported due to the low oxygen and high sulfur levels found in bodies of water near the Taal Volcano.
“They (fishes) cannot be of used anymore because they have already ingested toxic elements,” Dar said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Meanwhile, coffee, cacao, pineapples, vegetables, rice, and coconuts were among some of the most damaged crops.
Dar said the damaged areas and losses are still under further validation by DA-Calabarzon as well as the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
Data from the Department of Agriculture-Calabarzon and BFAR showed that 15,790 hectares and 1,923 animals were affected.
Despite this, Dar said there should be no price increase of basic goods in Metro Manila.
He said they have already tapped regional and provincial officials to mobilize supplies from Central Luzon and the Cordillera Administrative Region to fill the gaps for the low supplies coming from Southern Luzon.
“Hindi po dapat gagalaw masyado ang presyo (There should be no price increase),” he said. “Of course, there will always be a little movement, but not as much, because there is sufficient supply.”
The Agriculture secretary said they have yet to determine how long before affected areas can recover and how much is needed to rebuild the devastated parts of Southern Luzon since they have to wait until the phenomenon has passed.
But despite negative effects of the eruption on the agriculture sector, Dar remains optimistic that the country’s farm output could still expand by at least 2.0 percent this year.
“I’m still positive to get to 2.0 percent reckoning from third-quarter beginning last year to first semester this year.
While damage is P3 billion, we can have what we call the catch up plan to handle these losses from other areas,” Dar said.
According to Dar, out of the 6,000 fish cages installed around Taal Lake, there was an estimated P1.6-billion losses for the culture of tilapia and some bangus species, making fisheries the most affected commodity.
Meanwhile, Dar assured that the government has prepared a catch-up program to support the affected region.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) distributed P130 million worth of agri-fishery and livelihood assistance, including rice and corn seedlings, poultry, and livestock, to affected farmers and fisherfolk.
Dar said they also have P7 million worth of tilapia fingerlings ready for distribution once water levels of bodies of water around Taal volcano have stabilized.
The DA is also giving out P25,000 zero-interest loans to farmers.
They are also planning to establish vegetable gardens near the evacuation centers to assist farmers, Dar said.
For the rescued livestock, the Bureau of Animal Industry initially delivered 20 bags of animal feeds, drugs and medicines, while the Philippine Carabao Center and National Dairy Authority provided 2.5 tons of roughages, consisting of one ton corn silage and 1.5 tons rice straw.
Dar said this agriculture support will be transported to Batangas today, January 18.
The DA-Regional Field Office II, meanwhile, coordinated with the Nueva Vizcaya Agricultural Terminal (NVAT) to donate 10 tons of assorted vegetables and will arrive early Saturday in Lipa City.
Moreover, the League of Associations, composed of 11 Vegetable Farmers’ and Traders’ Associations in La Trinidad, Benguet, has coordinated with DA-Cordillera Administrative Region for a truck to haul 3 to 4 tons of assorted vegetables.
Collection of vegetables will start on January 19 at the La Trinidad Trading Post and will be delivered to evacuation centers in Batangas in coordination with Kilusang Pagbabago and Philippine National Police.