Disease spreads throughout rice fields
Forty-eight-year-old farmer Edgar Lumontad could not do anything but sigh upon seeing his 3.4 hectare rice field in Barangay Lunas, Asturias town, infected with disease.
Lumontad is among 196 farmers in Asturias who expected yields from last month’s harvest.
But because of the Rice Tungro Disease (RTD), one of the most destructive viral diseases which results to the degenerative growth of crops, Lumontad and the rest of the farmers are looking into alternative ways to support their everyday needs.
For extra income, Lumontad decided to raise pigs following big losses in the last six years of tilling his land.
“Kon pilde ko sa kahumayan naa koy baboy nga ikabaligya. Kon kana lang ang humay, wala gyod mi makaon (If I fail in rice production, I still have my pigs that I can sell because if I only depend on rice, then my family will have no food to eat.),” he told Cebu Daily News.
Meanwhile, Concordia Juntilla, 38 — a farm worker — awaits advice from Lumontad on when he would need her services to harvest his rice produce.
During harvest time, Juntilla, whose husband drives a trisikad (rickshaw), could earn at least P200 a day from Lumontad.
But because of the damage wrought on the farm by the outbreak of RTD, Juntilla will have to postpone her plans to buy new school supplies for her children this June.
“Mga daan lang sa akong gihatag sa ilaha kay dili pa gyod ko kapalit (I just gave them old school supplies because I still do not have money to buy new ones), “ she said.
STATE OF CALAMITY
Last May 9, the local government of Asturias declared the town’s rice-producing barangays of Lunas and Bago under a state of calamity.
Asturias Mayor Jose Antonio Pintor said they had to issue the declaration to allow them to confiscate infected crops.
“Kaning sakita magbalhin-balhin man ni. Amo nalang gi declare nga calamity aron makuha namo ang harvest nila (The disease is infectious. We just had to declare a state of calamity so that we could get the infected crops),” the mayor said.
A report from the Department of Agriculture in Central Visayas (DA-7) showed that about 71.5- hectares of rice fields in the two rice producing barangays of Asturias were totally damaged by RTD.
This translated to about P2.1 million in losses for farmers based on the cost of their farm inputs such as feeds and fertilizers; and another P2.8 million lost in terms of the total value of the farm gate price.
Farmers sell their yields to traders at a cost of P20 per kilo of palay which is far lower than the retail price of rice.
Municipal Agriculturist Jade Mesias said that while farmers would usually get an average of 2 to 3 metric tons (MT) or about 2,000 to 3,000 kilograms of rice yield per hectare when there is no calamity, only 0.1 MT or 100 kilograms per hectare were left to farmers due to the onslought of RTD.
Of the rice yield, 85 percent would go to the farmers’ consumption; while the rest are sold to traders who supply rice in Toledo City and the neighboring towns of Balamban and Tuburan, Mesias said.
Despite their big losses on production this year, Mesias said rice farmers can still harvest their crops, although the quality of the grains are poor due to the epidemic.
GREEN LEAFHOPPERS (GLH)
Plants affected by RTD show stunted growth, yellow to orange leaf discoloration, and a few reproductive tillers where the rice grains grow.
The RTD virus is transmitted by green leafhoppers (GLH).
Mesias pointed to the staggered planting of rice crops in Asturias as the reason for the spread of RTD in farm lands.
According to Mesias, an adult GLH has a life cycle of only about 40 to 50 days. But because farmers plant successively, the insects that lay eggs on rice plants continue their life cycle.
Mesias said that while the GLH infestation could have been controlled by the spray of insecticides, it is now too late to recover the damage caused by the insects to the crops in Asturias.
“It is no longer advisable to spray insecticides because the infection is already severe,” Mesias said in Cebuano.
Mesias explained that the farmers should have sprayed their rice fields with insecticide within fifty days from the time they started planting rice.
Mesias said that each year, the cropping season begins in January and May. Rice planted within those months are harvested after 110 days or in May and September, respectively.
Asturias, a 3rd-class municipality, is located northwest or about 74.3 kilometers from Cebu City.
Mesias revealed that the town’s agriculture office has not received any budget allocation for rice production since he assumed office in 2011.
This year, only P1 million was allocated for the town’s agricultural programs which is half the amount compared to last year’s P2 million budget.
Mesias said the largest allocation or about 60 percent was given to corn production as the town has at least 1,000 hectares of land planted with corn.
Twenty percent of Asturias’ agricultural budget was allotted to vegetables and another 20 percent went to fisheries and livestock. Mesias explained that rice was not included in the annual budget because there will be no return of investment due to the outbreak of the disease.
“Wala mi sa rice kay kahibaw na man mi kon mo invest ana para sa farmers, sa mga seeds, fertilizers, wala man gyoy mabalik. Walay return of investment kay naa na man ang disease (We did not allot anything for rice because we already knew that if we invested on seeds, fertilizers for the farmers, there will be no return of investment because the disease is already there),” he said.
Mesias explained that local agriculturists can only provide farmers with seminars and technology demonstrations; while the Department of Agriculture (DA) provides farmers the seeds.
Mesias proposed to the town council a P500 thousand budget to be taken from the town’s calamity fund, to purchase hybrid rice seeds, fertilizers and insecticides.
The village chief of Barangay Lunas, Paulina Buhia, told CDN that despite the lack of government support in the midst of calamity, rice farmers will continue to till their lands even if it meant going into debt.
“Ang mga farmers, bisan na mabaon sa utang kay maningkamot man gyod nga makatanom ug makapadaro (Even if they are buried in debt, they will continue to plant and till the fields.),” Buhia said.
Buhia, who is also a farmer, called on government to provide help to affected farmers. “Sa pagkakaron looy gyod kaayo ang mga mag-uuma kay uwan patay sad ang tanom, kon init patay sad. Wala gyod tay mahimo ana (I pity the farmers because rain or shine, their crops die and we can’t do anything about it),” she said.
“They should not be left to fend for themselves,” she added in Cebuano. According to Mesias, the rehabilitation of the damaged ricefields in Barangays Bago and Lunas would take at least three to five months suggesting that farmers and their workers will not be able to plant within this period.
However, he said their help would be needed in disinfecting the fields to kill the insects for P250 a day during the rehabilitation process. Mesias assured that after the rehabilitation of the farms, rice production will be given an allocation in next year’s budget because the disease would have already been controlled.
The Cebu Provincial Government through the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) distributed food packs containing kilos of rice and canned goods to affected farmers and farm workers in Asturias town.
PDRRMO Head Baltazar Tribunalo Jr. said they will also send two tractors to help plow the infected fields. Tribunalo called on all rice farmers who detect Tungro disease on their fields to immediately seek assistance to avert more damage to their crops.
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