Weather forecasting as aid to farmers
Since it is the storm and flood season, we deemed it timely and useful to discuss the weather and weather forecasting at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday. Secretary Mario Montejo of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and Acting Deputy Administrator Vicente B. Malano of the weather bureau Pagasa explained the complexities of weather patterns and government efforts to improve weather forecasting.
To illustrate the importance of the weather and metereologists, recall that D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, the biggest in history, was originally scheduled on June 4, 1944, but was postponed. The reason? Bad weather over the English Channel, which would have wrought havoc on the thousands of invasion vessels and made the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who would storm the beaches seasick.
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower put the fate of Operation Overlord in the hands of his metereologists. Their forecast was that there would be a hole of fair weather on June 6, and so the invasion was reset for June 6. The rest is history.
In the Philippines, the people most affected by the weather are the farmers, and not the city folk who have to wallow in floods every time it rains. The success or failure of a farmer’s crop depends on the weather. If there is not enough water, the palay crops wither and die. If there is too much rain, the vegetables rot. If there is a typhoon when the palay is ripe and ready for harvest, the grains are soaked in water and either rot or develop sprouts.
It is the same thing with other crops. If a drought overtakes a corn crop, the plants die. If heavy rain or strong winds buffet a blossoming mango orchard, the tiny blossoms are blown away. If frost overtakes vegetables in Benguet, the farmers lose the entire crop.
That is why the farmer must be weather-savvy. Because of global warming and changing weather patterns, the Filipino farmer can no longer rely on the traditional times of planting and harvesting. That is where weather forecasting will be very useful.
Pagasa can tell them whether there will be enough rain in the coming weeks and months, which is a good time to plant rice. Even if there is heavy rain, rice farmers should refrain from planting if Pagasa forecasts a sudden dry spell in the near future, which means the palay seedlings will perish.
If Pagasa forecasts a wet or stormy spell when the palay crops are ripe for harvesting, the farmers should time their planting to avoid that wet spell so that the ripe palay will not rot. Pagasa, with its new supercomputers, can now provide farmers this timely information, according to Montejo and Malano.
Unfortunately, Montejo said, Filipino farmers are hard-headed and refuse to learn new things. “My father and my grandfathers have been doing this for generations. Don’t tell me how to grow crops. How long have you been growing crops?” they would say.
Thus, rice farmers start plowing and planting with the first rains of June because that is what they have learned from their grandfathers. Our farmers traditionally believe that after the “siyam-siyam,” or nine days and nine nights of continuous rain, the rainy season begins.
That is not true anymore. Note that Pagasa declared that the rainy season has officially started even without the siyam-siyam. Weather patterns have changed because of climate change.
Secretary Montejo’s advice to the farmers is for them to consult their local weathermen and time their plantings according to the weather outlook. He said that to aid farmers, the DOST and Pagasa are disseminating weather forecasts through local metereologists.
Weather patterns differ from region to region, so it is important that each region be assigned a weather forecaster, Montejo said. It may be raining hard in the Visayas but there is a drought in Northern Luzon at the same time. Climate change has thrown all previous weather knowledge and assumptions out of kilter.
Can Pagasa tell the farmer when is the best time to plant different crops? the two scientists were asked.
Answer: “Yes, it can.”
Can it tell the Department of Education and the schools when it will rain hard and flood the streets so that classes can be suspended early enough?
Answer: “Rains, yes, floods, no.” Floods are caused by many factors. If the drainage system is in good working order, water will quickly drain away even with a heavy rain. But if the drainage system is clogged, even a light rain can cause a flood.
Much of the water that floods Metro Manila comes from the runoff from the denuded mountains in the east. Denudation is no longer caused by logging concessionaires (there are no more logs to cut) but by charcoal makers who cut even the small trees. There is a big demand for charcoal because of all the barbecue stands and “ihaw-ihaw” restaurants. The DOST has made a model of a machine that can compress into charcoal bricks agricultural wastes such as palay husks, coconut fiber, sugarcane stalks, hay and cogon, leaves and twigs, etc. Why not distribute these machines in the countryside so that charcoal makers don’t have to cut trees and still supply the barbecue stands with plenty of charcoal? That will also give the farmers additional income.
Answer: “We are going to do that.”
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Popular pop singer Nonoy Zuniga will have a reunion concert with the FBC Rebirth, formerly known as the Family Birth Control, at RJ Bistro in Dusit Thani hotel in Makati on July 6, starting at 8.30 p.m. The first 250 guests will be given gift packs.
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