Damages on agriculture caused by Mt. Taal’s eruption already cost P4.3 billion across four key industries in Region IV-A (CALABARZON). A record of 168,615 people were in 427 evacuation centers in Batangas last Saturday. However, these numbers decreased since authorities allowed residents to return to their homes for four hours to check on their belongings and feed livestock last Thursday.

BFAR previously announced that 15,000 metric tons of fish are at risk due to the eruption.

Although reduced activity was observed, scientists are still evaluating whether or not to lower the alert level of the volcano (currently in Alert Level 4, one level away from the highest alert level indicating an explosive eruption).

P1.6 billion were lost in the tilapia and bangus culture in the devastated areas around Taal, making the fisheries industry currently the most affected sector in agriculture.

THE DAMAGE ON AQUACULTURE

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) reports that at least 2,761 farmers depend on the Taal lake for livelihood. Noel Reyes, assistant secretary and spokesperson of the Department of Agriculture (DA), said that they are asking other regions to fill in the lack of supply in Metro Manila as 60 percent of their fish comes from Taal lake. The DA is also gathering support from Cordillera and Nueva Vizcaya to provide food to farmers.

Following the Department of Health’s warning to the public regarding health risks, BFAR said that fish from Taal lake is safe for consumption as long as it is fresh, caught alive, and thoroughly cleaned. Almost 6,000 fish cage owners of the Taal Lake Aquaculture Alliance, Inc. appealed to harvest the huge volume of fish they left upon evacuation.

Fish from Taal lake is now unsafe due to the amount of ashfall and volcanic debris in the water
The fisheries sector took the most damage from the eruption, losing around P1.61 billion in the tilapia and bangus culture

Volcanic earthquakes, according to the Philippine Seismic Network, are already at 714 (176 of which were at magnitude 1.2 to 4.1 and felt at intensities I to V). BFAR previously announced that 15,000 metric tons of fish are at risk due to the eruption. Once aquaculture operation resumes, the DA will provide tilapia, catfish, carp, ayungin, and shrimp fingerlings to damaged livelihood.

A RISING THREAT

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) confirmed that there is a  rise of magma in the volcano, causing deformities in Mt. Taal and indicating a possible explosive eruption. Volcanic earthquakes are already numbered by the Philippine Seismic Network (PSN) to be at 714 (176 of which were at magnitude 1.2 to 4.1 and felt at intensities I to V).

Taal Volcano was reported to be in a calmer state in the past few days, releasing only steady steam emissions and “infrequent weak explosions.” However, volcanic activities underground still pose a greater threat. Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum said that the movement of magma underneath can cause fissures and cracks on the ground, as seen in some areas of Batangas, particularly Lemery, San Nicolas, Agoncillo and Talisay.

Volcanic earthquakes in Mt. Taal show signs of possible explosive eruption
Some towns in Batangas displayed cracks and fissures cause by the eruption of Mount Taal

Solidum also noted that Mt. Taal is continuously being “uplifted” or stretched (with the most part of it swelling and only the northeastern flank subsiding) and that the crater lake is being vaporized due to volcanic activity. Should a major eruption occur, ash columns higher than five kilometers will pose hazards to Laguna, Metro Manila, and some parts of Rizal and Quezon. 

The local demand for coffee is at 135 million kilograms a year, far from the 40 million kilograms that local farmers are currently producing.

THE STATE OF KAPENG BARAKO

Far higher than the DA’s estimated damage cost at P73.95 million, one of Philippine Coffee Board’s directors, Rene Tongson, said that the loss in the coffee industry can reach as high as P1.2 billion (computed based on the current market price of roasted coffee products). Tongson noted that coffee farms may take a year and a half to grow back and fully recover from the damage caused by the eruption. 

While P160 million worth of livelihood assistance was distributed among farmers and fisherfolks, P30 million was also set aside for five-years’ loan worth P25,000 for them. 

The local demand for coffee is at 135 million kilograms a year, far from the 40 million kilograms that local farmers are currently producing. Ten to 15 percent of the country’s coffee bean harvests come from Batangas and Cavite. Aside from barako, other coffee bean variants produced in Batangas include robusta, excelsa, and arabica. 

At this pace, and with devastation to deal with, it would take time before the Philippines becomes a coffee exporter again—the numbers only pushing the country to import more coffee, and with the aftermath of Mt. Taal’s eruption, there’s a whole coffee industry in need of revival

Ashfall in areas around Taal caused agriculture billions worth of damage
The heavy ashfall caused some houses to collapse—what more can plants, particularly coffee, can take?

With Mt. Taal’s unrest and a looming threat of an explosive eruption, there is much to be done to salvage what’s left of agriculture. Five thousand mother coffee plants are pledged by the government for coffee farmers in the area. P1.9 million pesos and 150,000 seedlings and salt fertilizer for damaged trees are allotted by the Philippine Coconut Authority to affected coconut farmers. 

“The economy is about P18 trillion, so if you look at the numbers, and in relation to the size of the economy, the impact of agriculture for example, is not that large,” Benjamin Diokno said.

While P160 million worth of livelihood assistance was distributed among farmers and fisherfolks, P30 million was also set aside for five-years’ loan worth P25,000 for them. 

IS THERE AN ECONOMIC IMPACT?

Despite the significant damages in agriculture, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno said that it won’t affect the economy on a large scale: “The economy is about P18 trillion, so if you look at the numbers, and in relation to the size of the economy, the impact of agriculture for example, is not that large.”

Unless there’s a major explosive eruption, NEDA says there won’t be a significant effect on the economy.

The BSP predicts the inflation rate for this year and next year to be at 2.9 percent, saying it’s still to early to assess the effect of the devastation on inflation. Diokno also noted the possible decline on real estate areas in Taal.

According to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), there would only be minimal impact to the regional and national economy as well as on its poverty reduction programs. Their initial assessment on the total damages was at P7.63 billion, taking into account a violent eruption from Mt. Taal.

The forgone income in the 14-km radius danger zone is not even one percent of the gross regional domestic product of CALABARZON in 2018, the industry and service sector’s estimated forgone income at 0.02 percent and 0.08 percent of the region’s gross value added respectively.

Volcanic ash is made of jagged pieces of natural glass, rock particles, and minerals
Ash columns as high as 5 meters may reach Laguna, Metro Manila, and some parts of Rizal and Quezon in case of an explosive eruption

Unless there’s a major explosive eruption, NEDA says there won’t be a significant effect on the economy.

Socioeconomic Planning Undersecretary and NEDA Chief Ernesto Pernia said that the disaster can stimulate the economy through jobs generated by reconstruction and rehabilitation of affected areas. Banking on Batangas and Cavite’s “well-off” provinces status, Pernia said government spending would be substantial and that if anyone was to slide to poverty, it will only be temporary.

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