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Drought hit farmers forced to sell their animals

SOUTH COTABATO (UCAN): Farmers in the southern Philippine region of Soccsksargen, Mindanao, have resorted to selling their farm animals to survive the impact of a drought that has reportedly ravaged about 15,000 hectares (150 square kilometres) of farmland.
Father Ariel Destora, director of the social action centre of the Diocese of Marbel, said the scorching heat brought about by the El Niño phenomenon that has hit the region this year had dried up grasslands.
“Some farmers are being forced to sell their cows because they have nothing to eat,” said Father Destora as he appealed for donations to help farmers and residents affected by the arid conditions.
Several farmers and fisherfolk groups appealed to the government in the second week of April for livelihood assistance of at least US$197 ($1,545) per affected family.
“Some parts of the diocese have no water,” said the priest. “Life has become hard for those severely affected.” 
The Diocese of Marbel straddles the provinces of South Cotabato and Sarangani, and parts of Sultan Kudarat in the Soccsksargen region which includes North Cotabato province and General Santos City.
North Cotabato, which is suffering the brunt of the drought, already declared a state of calamity after crop losses reached at least US$12 million ($94 million).
Of the 18 local government units in the province, nine were reported to be severely affected.
In South Cotabato province, the dry spell had already damaged agricultural crops worth about US$232,000 (1.8 million) by the end of March, according to data from the local agriculture office.
“We are doing our best to help the farmers,” said Ray Embajador of the Department of Agriculture. 
He said his office is still in the process of looking into the impact of the drought in order to provide “appropriate intervention.” He said at least 11,604 hectares (116 square kilometres) of rice fields and 3,120 hectares (312 square kilometres) of cornfields in the region have been affected.
About 71,909 families or 359,545 individuals have been hit by the dry weather in North Cotabato alone, according to the National Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Council.
Estimated losses caused by the El Niño phenomenon across the country have so far reached about US$97 million ($761 million).
The state weather bureau announced that the dry weather is expected to persist until October.

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