Contrary to what some of us might think, volcanic ash isn’t just soil or dust spewed in the air, according to the U.S. Geological survey. Volcanic ash is made of tiny jagged  rock particles, minerals, and natural glass. Despite being called “ash,” volcanic ash isn’t fine and powder-like. It’s actually hard and it doesn’t dissolve in water (when wet, however, it can conduct electricity), which makes it a serious threat  to the environment, especially livestock and agriculture.

Compared to the ashfall caused by Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991, Mount Taal’s ashfall is rich in potassium (fat-soluble vitamins found in food and dietary supplements), which is an essential nutrient for plant growth.

Mount Taal erupted last Sunday, Jan. 12. Its ash reached nearby cities and provinces, and even places as far as Quezon City. Batangas is currently under a state of calamity and is anticipating an explosive eruption within hours or days. With the looming threat of an even heavier devastation in different areas in Luzon, what’s the current state of agriculture and the economy?

The eruption of Mt. Taal last Sunday, Jan. 12, placed Batangas under a state of calamity and affected nearby provinces and cities
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF VOLCANIC ASH ON PLANTS AND SOIL?

Aside from the physical weight that causes plant breakage, volcanic ash, once deposited in the ground, can alter soil chemistry. This means that it can affect the acidity as well as the nutrient and water content of the soil. Varying plants require different pH levels for proper growth. An imbalance in the soil’s acidity can hinder a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients as well as influence the effectivity of pesticides and the decomposition of organic materials in the soil. 

As the Taal eruption in 1977 changed the geographic condition of the area, it is likely that it will replenish the soil just the same, according to the Department of Agriculture (DA).

However, former University of the Philippines agronomy professor Adolfo Necesito says that the Taal eruption can actually benefit the crops in the long run. Compared to the ashfall caused by Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991, Mount Taal’s ashfall is rich in potassium (fat-soluble vitamins found in food and dietary supplements), which is an essential nutrient for plant growth. 

Although the volcanic ash of Mount Taal comes with potassium, Necesito also mentioned that depending on the volume or severity, its clay-like nature will harden soil surface and lower water infiltration (plants’ ability to absorb water from the ground), which is the complete opposite of what happened in the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption.

Volcanic ash from Mt. Taal’s eruption is said to be beneficial for plants as it is rich in potassium, aiding plant growth and boosting nutrient content in the soil

The powdery deposits may also cause blockage in the openings of a leaf’s surface, hindering gaseous exchange in photosynthesis and respiration as well as the cooling effects of transpiration (the movement of water in a plant).

There will undoubtedly be a massive blow to the economy, as in Batangas alone the damage costs are estimated to reach P7.63 billion (excluding public and private costs). 

As the Taal eruption in 1977 changed the geographic condition of the area, it is likely that it will replenish the soil just the same, according to the Department of Agriculture (DA). The Bureau of Soils and Water Management will still examine the short to long-term benefits of the ashfall, taking into consideration the matter on traceability (whether or not the food grown is safe for consumption). Still, the benefits can’t compensate for the damage already done.

AGRICULTURAL AND ECONOMIC IMPACT

The DA’s initial agricultural damage report valued at P74.5 million last Monday shot up to P577.59 million. What took 99 percent of that impact is the coffee industry, while the rest are from livestock (P65,000 worth of damage) and corn crops (P528,300 worth of damage). Cavite and Batangas, two of the major coffee-producing provinces in the country, were greatly affected by the eruption. 752.54 hectares of land were damaged, resulting in a loss of 3,563 metric tons of coffee. This puts the production of the local kapeng barako in grave danger.

A fish kill is also bound to happen due to the high sulfur content in water, eliminating 15,000 metric tons of fish. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) predicted 6,000 fish cages to be at risk.

There will undoubtedly be a massive blow to the economy, as in Batangas alone the damage costs are estimated to reach P7.63 billion (excluding public and private costs). 

The Bureau of Plant Industry is set to distribute 5,000 coffee mother plants and 1,000 cacao seedlings, while the Bureau of Animal Industry prepared drugs and biologics for affected livestock animals as well as already dispersed trucks dedicated to animal rescue and evacuation. P21.7 million worth of aid for livestock and crops is also bound to be administered in affected areas in Region IV-A (CALABARZON).

Some residents went back to rescue animals that survived the heavy ashfall

Rice, cacao, banana, and high-value crops are among the other affected commodities. A fish kill is also bound to happen due to the high sulfur content in water, eliminating 15,000 metric tons of fish. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) predicted 6,000 fish cages to be at risk. The BFAR will soon attend to the fish cages (which were abandoned when residents evacuated the areas near Taal) before water contamination worsens.

As Taal continues to be in activity, more areas will be affected as the wind carries volcanic ash across thousands of miles. And even after the eruption, there’s still fallen ash, which human activity and environmental processes can spread for many more months or years. 

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