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Extreme drought hits Cebu City: Farmer decides ‘free harvest’ for tomatoes

By: Niña Mae C. Oliverio - Multimedia Reporter - CDN Digital | April 23,2024 - 07:42 AM

Extreme drought hits: Farmer decides 'free harvest' for tomatoes in Cebu City. In photo is Emelio Secretaria talking to reporters about the situation in his farm.

Emelio Secretaria talks with the reporters about the situation in one of his farmlands in Barangay Sudlon 2. | CDND Photo by Niña Mae Oliverio

CEBU CITY, Philippines — He is giving out his tomatoes for free but not because of the abundance in harvest.

He is Emelio Secretaria, a farmer who owns four hectares of farmland nestled in Barangay Sudlon 2, Cebu City. The drought due to El Niño did not exempt him from experiencing the worse.

Secretaria recently posted on his Facebook account the situation in one of his farmlands where local tomatoes were planted.

He said that more than 15,000 kilograms of his tomatoes could not make it to the markets of Metro Cebu because its sizes were no longer salable.

The tomatoes they planted began to wilt, and the fruits they bore cannot be sold in the markets anymore. In turn, they decided to give these for free to their neighbors.


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“Kay anugon kaayo ni kung maabtan siya og kadaot. Libre ra ni. Free harvest ta,” said Secretaria.

(Because it would be a waste if it would reach the time when it could not be used. These are free. The harvest is free.)

Secretaria said that for his tomatoes fit to be sold, each must weigh 50 to 80 grams. But due to the drought, the tomatoes now weigh 20 to 25 grams.

Secretaria’s family owns a total of four hectares. For tomatoes, they allocated almost three hectares divided in two areas in the same barangay.

In their 1.7 hectares, he said they had already spent P500,000, but of the amount, only almost P400,000 were returned.

Meanwhile, in their 1.2 hectares, they spent around P300,000 but only around P70,000 were returned. This was the area that he posted on Facebook that reached thousands of views.

And combining their total expected income in two areas, Secretaria said that the drought had caused them to lose over a million pesos of income from their crops, especially on their tomatoes.

The other crops that they planted were ampalaya, repolyo, and sili espada.

Scarcity of water due to El Niño

When they felt the heat last March, they thought that it was only normal—the kind of heat they experienced in summer during the previous years.

Extreme drought hits: Farmer decides 'free harvest' for tomatoes in Cebu City. In photo are other crops planted in Secretariat's farm.

Other crops planted in the 1.7 hectare farmland of Emelio Secretaria’s family. | CDN Digital photo by Niña Mae Oliverio

He said that they still had enough supply of water last March and they were able to produce and harvest enough crops, until April came.

“Pagsugod sa April, murag extreme na gyud ang pag-unlod sa tubig,” he said.

(When April started, it seemed like the water level dipped extremely.)

Due to scarcity of water and weeks without any rains in Cebu City, farmers like Secretaria had a hard time keeping their crops healthy.

Giving out the tomatoes for free, free harvest

After realizing that it would be hard for them to make the tomatoes profitable in the markets, they decided to give them to their neighbors for free, and even called the netizens to visit their area for a free harvest.

“Loss naman gyud mi, amo na lang nahuna-hunaan nga himoon namo og positive ang negative impact sa kakusog sa init kay humana man gyud, gidawat namo nga pildi na. So para mapuslan pa sa mga tawo, mapuslan pa sa katong nanginahanglan, mao to among gipost nga ihatag namo libre,” Secretaria said.

(It is already a loss for us, so we are just thinking that we will just turn the negative into a positive impact due to the heat, that is already done, we already accepted that these are losses. So to have these still can be used by people, so that these still can be used to those who needed them, that is why we posted online that we will give these for free.)

Secretaria said that they decided to let the people harvest the tomatoes for free because they also wanted the consumers to experience the life of a farmer.

In photo are overriped tomatoes in Emelio Secretaria's warehouse.

Overriped tomatoes placed in Emelio Secretaria’s warehouse. CDN Digital photo by Niña Mae Oliverio

After Secretaria’s post went viral on Facebook, many netizens have asked for his location, hoping for the possibility of free harvest.

But this was not the first time that they have been giving out free tomatoes to their neighbors.

Secretaria said that since 2011, they had already given out tomatoes to their neighbors every time their harvest was abundant.

Unexpected rapid decline of water supply

As a farmer for more than a decade, Secretaria said that they had been always prepared for the impacts of drought and dry spell whenever El Niño would hit.

But this time, they did not expect it.

“Amo naman gyud unta nang gi-program ang amoang planting nga bisan og mo-init siya, mo-survive ang among tanom kay naa pa mi tubig. Pagsud lang gyud sa Abril kay ang tubig rapid man kaayo ang pag-unlod,” Secretaria said.

(We usually would program our planting that even if it would be dry days or hot days, the plants could still survive because there would still be water. But when April started this year the decrease of the water supply was really rapid.)

He said that he and his fellow farmers were not able to anticipate and prepare for the rapid decline of the water supply needed for their crops to grow healthy.

Comparing his experience in the previous year when drought or dry spell hit their farm, Secretaria said that this year’s drought had the worst impact in terms of the water supply.

They have a rainwater catchment facility in their farm, but due to the absence of rains in the city, the water is nearly drained.

Emelio Secretaria looks at their rainwater catchment facility getting drained by the heat. CDN Digital photo by Niña Mae Oliverio

Emelio Secretaria looks at their rainwater catchment facility getting drained by the heat. CDN Digital photo by Niña Mae Oliverio

If the water supply would still be insufficient in the following weeks, Secretaria said that they would only plant crops by utilizing land in “square meters” and not the entire hectares which they would usually utilize.

“Kana siya, sugal kaayo na,  kay wa pa ta kahibaw og mahurot unya ang tubig. Pildi na sad na. Pero isip usa ka farmer unya naa tay obligasyon sa kalikupan nga moprovide ta og pagkaon, pildi or daog, magtanom gyud ta kay unsa nala’y kan-on sa tagasyudad og di ta magtanom. Morisgo mi og tanom bahala og wala’y kasiguradohan kung kanus-a kutob ang El Niño,” he said.

(That is really a big gamble because we still don’t know if the water supply will be gone. Then we will still lose. But because we are farmers and we have an obligation to the many to provide food, win or lose, we will still plant because what will those from the city eat if we will not plant. We will just risk planting, even though there is no sure thing of the time when the El Niño will end.)

At present, they have been applying drip irrigation systems to sustain the water needs of their crops.

Additional support needed from the government

Secretaria said that he was already aware of the local government’s actions to address the needs of the affected farmers during this season.

And what he hopes now is for the city government to aid them with equipment that they can use for the long-term.

“Sa akoa, isip usa ka mag-uuma, ang need nako katong dili nako maabot. Pananglitan ang paglocate o pagprovide og mga scanners para makita asa ang kusog nga tubod,” Secretaria said.

(For me, as a farmer, I would need one that I could not afford. For example, to locate or to provide scanners for us so that we can locate where the water supply is abundant.)

He also hoped that they would be allowed to borrow an excavator which they could use to dig the area that could produce enough water.

Since January until April this year, he said that no government agency had tried to reach them for aid yet, but that he understood that the agencies would prioritize those farmers who owned a smaller portion of farmland compared to his.

“Priority gyud to nila ang mga gagmay nga mga farmer kay kung naa ko’y damage, mas labaw gyud to ilaha,” Secretaria said.

(The small farmers are their priority because if I have damage, their damage is bigger than mine.)

Damaged tomatoes due to El Niño and insufficient supply of water. CDN Digital photo by Niña Mae Oliverio

Damaged tomatoes due to El Niño and insufficient supply of water. CDN Digital photo by Niña Mae Oliverio

City agriculture

The city’s agriculture department (CAD) reports that 786 out of 10,976 registered farmers in the city have experienced partial crop damage due to El Niño since January.

Agriculture Department Head, Joelito “Joey” Baclayon previously said via Cebu City’s media arm, Sugboanon Channel, that they already ‘sought the assistance of other government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and the National Irrigation Administration to help the farmers.’

Baclayon added that CAD also tapped the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation (PCIC) to provide insurance to farmers for their crops and livestock.

But despite CAD’s accomplishments presented by Baclayon, Councilor Pastor “Jun” Alcover, the City Council’s chair for the Committee on Agriculture, said in a phone interview on April 22, that he still wanted Baclayon to step down from his post over his incompetence in handling the farmers.

Alcover had urged Baclayon to step down during the April 4 council session, alleging a lack of clear plans from CAD to address El Niño concerns. He further criticized Baclayon’s handling of the issue in previous interviews.

On April 15, Alcover held a press conference, presenting documents from affected farmers, contradicting Baclayon’s claim of no complaints received by CAD. But Baclayon reiterated on Sugboanon Channel that his office had not received any reports from the city’s 10,970 registered farmers.

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TAGS: Cebu City, El Niño, farmer

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