MANILA - The Philippines' Department of Agriculture on Wednesday ordered its regional offices to intensify monitoring of drought incidence in farms nationwide after the weather bureau announced a mild El Nino was in progress.
The Philippines is one of the world's biggest rice importers and a frequent buyer of corn but is aiming for another record harvest of the grains this year in order to reduce purchases.
"Since the last quarter of 2014, warm ocean conditions persisted, which shows that El Nino is in progress," the weather bureau said in a statement.
El Nino, a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, can trigger both drought and stronger cyclones in the country, it said.
Previous El Nino episodes caused severe dry spells in the Philippines, followed by strong typhoons. A rice shortfall due to typhoons and drought connected to El Nino in 2010 prompted record imports of the staple.
"The Department is hoping for a minimal effect on major crops as initial reports from the field show that a significant number of palay (paddy rice) and corn farmers have started to harvest by as early as last month," the agriculture department said in a statement.
The department said it was coordinating with the National Irrigation Administration to ensure a better management of water supply to farms and had distributed drought-resistant rice seeds to farmers.
It aims to increase paddy rice output this year by about 5.9 percent to 20.08 million tonnes from a record high 18.97 million tonnes last year. For corn, the target is to increase output by 7.7 percent to 8.4 million tonnes.
The targets are in line with the government's growth goal of 3 to 5 percent for the agricultural sector.
However, the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics has cut its paddy output forecast for the first quarter due to a contraction in acreage.
Rice production in the quarter is now seen dropping 2.8 percent from a year earlier, more than its earlier forecast of 0.6 percent, raising questions about whether the country can afford to delay extra imports.
The state grains procurement agency, the National Food Authority (NFA), has just awarded supply deals for up to 500,000 tonnes to the world's top rice exporters, Vietnam and Thailand. On Monday, it said it would not rule out importing more this year.