Morning routine.

ALAMADA, North Cotabato – Every morning, farmer Nora Fe Alfone waters her vegetable garden that sits on a slope just stone’s throw away from her house in this vegetable-growing village of Rangayen.

As vegetable farmer, this has been her routine but this time she doubles the amount of water she pours into her vegetables due to El Niño.

Not too far away, farmer Raul Garnatis harvests corn from the two and half hectare field that also sits on the other side of the slope facing the vegetable farm of Alfone.

But instead of being glad in this harvest time, Garnatis face looks grim as he removes each corn cubs from the stem amid the scorching heat.

His cornfield is among the thousands of hectares of farmlands in the province that have been severely affected due severe heat brought by El Niño.

This town has the largest number of damaged cornfield in the province at 2, 179 hectares amounting to P68 million.

Farmer Raul Garnatis shows damaged corn cub due severe heat brought El Niño phenomenon affecting several hectares of farmland in Alamada, Cotabato Province. Garnatis,who was able to harvest 113 sacks in previous cropping cycle from his 2.5-hectare farm, is now uncertain how many sacks of corn he could earn from his damaged cornfield. (Keith Bacongco)

Unlike in his last cropping cycle, Garnatis was able to harvest 113 sacks. “Maayo na lang ni karon makakuha kami 30 sacks( we would be lucky if we could salvage 30 sacks this time),” he lamented as he showed a withered corn cob.

Since it’s a hybrid variety, the corn cobs usually grows about eight inches long. But due to severe heat, many cobs have shrunk into half. “Gaan gani kaayo, sobra katunga sa normal na kabug-aton (The cobs are so light, less than its usual weight),” he said.

His wife, Teodora also told Manila Bulletin that before the dry spell hit, the corns were growing well. But due to severe heat since last month, the cornfield eventually withered, she added.

The worst part, they are just tenants of the corn farm, which is owned by their relative. As a tenant, they are only entitled to a sharing scheme depending on the yield. The couple mainly depend on corn farming for living.

“Naluoy na gani sa amoa ang tag-iya, mao na inadlaw na lang para dako-dako among madawat kysa mag bahinay depende sa abot ( The owner pity us and decided to pay us per day instead of the usual sharing scheme),”

A day rate of corn harvesters in the area usually costs from P200 to 300 only.

Farmer Raul Garnatis harvests corn from his farm, which is severely damaged by severe heat brought by El Niño phenomenon affecting several hectares of farmland in Alamada, Cotabato Province. Garnatis,who was able to harvest 113 sacks in previous cropping cycle from his 2.5-hectare farm, is now uncertain how many sacks of corn he could earn from his damaged cornfield. (Keith Bacongco)

This mountainous town is the second largest producer of corn in the province with at least 9,000 hectares next to Carmen with about 11,000 hectares, based on the data of Department of Agriculture.

“Kaning among tapad na maisan, gipasagdan na lang niya kay wala naman gyud siya mapuslan (The owner of that nearby farm had already given up because was not able to salvage anything),” said Garnatis as he pointed to a neighboring cornfield in the slope.

With the crop failure, the couple admitted that they have yet to figure out how to survive until the next cropping season.

Nora Fe Alfone shows organically-grown tomatoes in her garden in a vegetable-growing community of Rangayen in Alamada, Cotabato Province. Amid the dry spell, some farmers are able to earn from their diversified farms. (Keith Bacongco)

Climate adaptation

For Alfone, it has been her practice for years already to diversify her farm to be able to adapt in erratic climate conditions.

Having a diversified farm, she explained that it ensures them not just of their daily food consumption but as well as their income. “Kung dili ka maka income sa isa ka crop kay nadaot sa init, naa pa ka lain makuhaan income kay naa man mga tanum na maka survive sa init (If you could not earn from a withered crops, you could still earn from heat resistant crops),” she explained.

In her vegetable garden, Alfone grows bell pepper, eggplant, lettuce, tomato, native scallions and some herbs. On the other side of the slope, she grows corn and a variety of upland rice both in a less than a quarter of a hectare land.

Even as she is watering the crops every morning, it is not a guarantee that the vegetables could endure the severe heat.

“Maski na daghan among ibisbis tungod sa sobra ka init, maapektohan gyapon ang quality sang mga bunga parehas na lang sa mga atsal na gagmay kaayo karon (No matter how much we water the vegetables, the quality of the vegetables are still affected such as the bell pepper),” Alfone lamented.

According to her, she earns at least P2,000 every week from her vegetables while the produce from their corn and rice farm are for their sustenance.

However, she admitted that many vegetable growers were able to prepare their farms through the Empowering Poor Women and Men in Building Resilient and Adaptive Communities in Mindanao (Embrace) program initiated by the Oxfam in the Philippines.

Alfone said that the program laid down the foundation for the women farmers to become resilient to the impacts of climate change.

“Sa unang panahon na mag abot ang tag-init, dili man ingon ani ang epekto sa among mga tanom. Pero karon, lahi gyud ang epekto sa init (In the past, the impact of dry spell wasn’t as bad as what we are experiencing now),” she added.

What was once a productive ricefield is now a parched land in Barangay Baruyan in Libungan, which is among the 12 towns in the Province of Cotabato placed under state of calamity due to impact of El Niño. (Keith Bacongco)

State of calamity

In the neighboring rice-growing town of Libungan town, a farmer in Barangay Cabaruyan told Manila Bulletin that when dry spell hit their village in 2016, they were able to pump water into the rice paddies.

“Karon nahubas naman ang source sa tubig mao na wala na gyud nakatanom dili parehas sa una (The underground water source have dried up,too, and we could no longer plant this time),” a farmer said.

In some towns like in Pigcawayan and Tulunan, where underground water sources are still available, many farmers have shifted into watermelon farming and leguminous crops.

While they admit that they could earn more from watermelons, the farmers have to endure the back-breaking routine of watering the crops every morning and afternoon to be able to achieve good yield.

Vice Governor Shirlyn Macasarte-Villanueva said the Sangguniang Panlalawigan has passed a resolution last week placing all 17 towns under a state of calamity due the extent of damage on agricultural crops.

As of March 22, data from the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist recorded the damage to rice sector has already reached P389 million covering 8,784 hectares and P286 million worth of corn had been lost in 8, 289 hectares.

The data also bared that the high-value crops sector also lost P38 million in 238 hectares. It added that at least 13,000 farmers have already been affected by the dry spell.

Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza said that the affected farmers could avail of the emergency assistance from the provincial government.

“They can visit our office anytime and we will asses their needs and determine how we can help our farmers,” Mendoza told Manila Bulletin. #