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Taal’s eruption, all hands on deck!

There’s still no conclusive news as to whether or not Taal will slow down and finally end its rampage. Hoping for the best, however, does not mean that everything will be back to normal anytime soon.

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This column was supposed to continue sharing about the farm visits held last December 2019, focusing today on the Aquaponics farm in Benguet and, next week, on Alexander Wilcosach’s backyard system in Baguio. An article about an Aquaponics home setup in Lemery, Batangas was then next in the pipeline. However, given Taal Volcano’s sudden eruption, today’s column will be about the extent of the damage done to agriculture, the assistance that is arriving and how we can all extend a helping hand.

First of all, Taal Lake has many fish cages. Based on BFAR Calabarzon Regional Director Sammy Malvas remarks, tilapia, tawilis, and maliputo are grown there. It is expected that the sudden change in the water temperature and pH brought about by the eruption would kill the farmed fish. More or less 6,000 cages expected to produce 15,033 metric tons of fish are as good as gone.

Assuming a per kilogram selling price of P90, farm to gate, that’s an estimated loss of P1.352 billion. It doesn’t end there.

Loss is magnified by opportunity lost. Since Taal fish cages will be out of operation for the foreseeable future, multiply that P1.352 billion loss by the number of years that the cages cannot produce output.

To make matters worse, the feed suppliers are also going to take a hit, especially those engaged in “pautang” system. This means they sell feeds to the growers without receiving payment yet. The growers will then simply pay once fish are harvested and sold. Unfortunately, because the fish are dead, there’s nothing to sell, there will be no income for the growers, and the fish feed suppliers can’t collect.

THE backyard setup was covered with volcanic ash after the eruption.

Zooming out, let’s take a look at the value of the produce from fresh water fish cage production in Batangas. Based on the Philippine Statistics Authority, as of 2018, it is an industry with a total production worth P7.151 billion pesos. That entire industry will take a hard hit.

There’s still no conclusive news as to whether or not Taal will slow down and finally end its rampage. Hoping for the best, however, does not mean that everything will be back to normal anytime soon, if ever at all, for the aquaculture industry and — most of all — the people of Batangas and other affected areas.

On the bright side, help is coming. Aid is pouring in from the national and local governments, private companies and our kababayans.

Farmers from Benguet have donated 3,000 kilograms of vegetables to the victims of the natural disaster. Locals have opened their doors to evacuees and provided them with food, medicine and shelter. Even rescue teams for dogs, cats and other animals have mobilized. But much more is needed. Let’s all do our part.

Contact your local government, ask about the efforts being undertaken and what contribution you can give or do. You may also reach out to the Philippine Red Cross. For students, talk to your student council about how it plans to help out. For those working already, your office may have a Corporate Social Responsibility project geared towards assisting people in areas affected by natural disasters. If none yet, why not take the initiative?

A DAY before Taal went on a rampage, this author visited a backyard farm in Batangas.

Many efforts can also be found online.

Water stations, for example, are offering to refill gallons of containers for free if to be donated to evacuation centers. Chefs are gathering cooks so they can set up mobile kitchens. Random strangers are offering to power hose the windshields of passing vehicles covered with ash. Information is shared online as to where masks can be bought (to protect against the ashfall). Profiteers are being called out on social media. Households are sewing make-do masks because of the shortage and are giving them away.

All hands on deck!

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