LIBON, ALBAY –  With the Bicol region having the highest death toll  and damage on  agriculture,  Secretary Emmanuel F.  Piñol of the Department of Agriculture rushed  to the region on the first working day of the  year to personally inspect the areas   heavily  affected  by Typhoon Usman  and confer with local officials and farmers.   He was accompanied by  Ret, Commodore Eduardo B. Gongona, Undersecretary for Fisheries and Jocelyn Alma Badiola, Executive Director of the Agriculture Credit Policy Council (ACPC).

He first  went to Masbate City   where he interacted with some 500 farmers  and local officials  as part of his  “Byaheng Bukid”  or provincial sorties  where he intends to bring the government closer to the people.   He then turned over  agri -assistance consisting of production  inputs & farm equipment amounting to  over P16 million.   He was met there by DA Bicol Regional Executive Director  Elena B. de los Santos and the two Regional Technical Directors- Edgar Madrid and  Rodel Tornila,  Masbate City Mayor Rowena B. Tuason  and provincial Executive Assistant Florentino S. Atazar who represented  governor Antonio T. Kho who is out of the country.

From there the  team  flew to Libon, Albay and conferred with mayor  Wilfredo Maronilla  and interacted   with  about a thousand farmers leaders, local officials  heads of DA attached agencies,  and municipal agriculturists and extension workers  who gathered at the  municipal gymnasium here.

For the Albay province Piñol committed an additional  P50M    to be accessed by small farmers/fisherman as loan  under the   Production Loan Easy Access  (PLEA) Programs which is being  implemented by the ACPC.  Under the Survival and Recovery Assistance (SURE) Loan Program, an emergency loan assistance of P5,000 will be immediately provided to farmers affected by  a calamity to buy their basic needs. An additional P20,000 recovery loan  assistance will likewise be  provided to be used by farmers  to purchase  the needed inputs so they can immediately start again their farming/fishing operations and recoup their losses.  He urged the farmers to avail of these loan assistance which he said  he conceptualized  and promised to be back after  one year to one and a half year to see the impact of this program on those farmers who availed of this  special window.

Sec. Piñol also presented  his pet project – the Solar Powered Irrigation Systems (SPIS) which are now operational in some parts of the country including the four  units in Camarines Sur. He  underscored the benefits of this irrigation system which is  the best option for areas  where big irrigation systems cannot be feasible.  It is worth only about P6.5 million  and can irrigate  10 to 20 hectares of rice field.  He added that it is also not  expensive to maintain because it is not dependent on gasoline or diesel or electric power.  He further  explained that the technology is also very practical as this system uses pipes  set up above the ground thus it is appropriate for any types of land terrain.  This caught the interest of many of the farmers present who expressed their intent to avail of this project.

In response to the  complaints  of farmers that they get low price for their palay, he immediately ordered the NFA provincial manager Alexander C. Parerra to start going around the province through mobile buying  facilities to buy palay from farmers instead of just waiting for them to bring palay to their buying  stations.

On same occasion the DA turned over  interventions and assistance  to 15 municipalities and 3 cities agricultural interventions and assistance totaling to over P3.5 million.  These include certified palay seeds, open pollinated variety white corn seeds, assorted vegetable seeds; ducks, cattle, turkey, and native pigs.

As of this writing the partial damage report wrought by Typhoon Usman in the agriculture sector for the six provinces of Bicol  is valued at almost P600 million with  29,114 farmers affected covering  an area of 30,240 hectares of these 23,953 hectares are rice areas; 5, 686 are corn areas and   550 hectares are vegetables and high value crops.

On his second day in Bicol he had also a meeting with Albay Governor  Al Francis Bichara, who is also the Regional Development Council (RDC) chair. He also  met  with  the regional  executive directors   from  the four affected regions  that is: CALABARZON, MIMAROPA,  Bicol and Eastern Visayas together with Christopher Morales, DA chief, Field Programs Operations  and Planning Division to firm up  the rehabilitation plan for the affected farmers and fisherfolk.  He later joined President Rodrigo   Duterte  who came over  to Camarines Sur to also visit the  affected areas and meet with the local officials. (Emily B. Bordado- DA-RAFIS -5)