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Priest blames plague of corn for Philippine floods

Crops planted on hilltops fail to hold soil, causing floods and landslides during heavy rain

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Priest blames plague of corn for Philippine floods

Residents navigate a flooded street following a typhoon in this file photo.  (Photo: Myrna Jo Henry)

A Filipino priest in flood-stricken Cagayan province, north of Luzon, has blamed unscientific corn-farming techniques for contributing to floods and landslides during the onslaught of Typhoon Vamco.

The typhoon made landfall in the Philippines on Nov. 11, submerging homes and damaging agriculture amounting to 13 million pesos (US$270 million).

Monsignor Gerry Perez of Tuguegarao Archdiocese said flooding in the Cagayan region had become frequent in recent years because of wrong planting techniques.

He blamed large-scale corn plantations on hilltops as major causes of floods and landslides in the region.

“The floods Typhoon Vamco brought were a confluence of many things. It was not simply a problem in our city’s drainage system. It was rather an effect of something that we cannot anymore ignore,” he said.

Monsignor Perez said questionable farming methods were among factors authorities should not ignore in finding solutions to flood problems.

“We have erroneous agricultural practices … that bring environmental damage, like how hills in our region were converted for massive corn production,” he said.

Cagayan is the top corn-producing region in the Philippines and harvests 1.6 million metric tons of corn per year, according to government figures.

Monsignor Perez, however, said corn roots were not sufficient to hold the soil during heavy rain that often led to landslides. Unlike trees with longer and stronger roots, corn roots are short and shallow.

He also said corn involved the use of herbicides and pesticides that damaged the environment.

“The use of herbicides loosens and weakens the soil. It is alarming now because there were so many areas that were cut off because of these landslides,” he said.

He pointed to four people buried inside their home by landslides during Typhoon Vamco. Their house was located at the foot of a hill covered by corn.

“They were there thinking the floods would only affect the lowlands. Little did they know it was not the flood that would kill them but a landslide," he said.

He called on local authorities to stop planting corn on hills.

The priest said Typhoon Vamco’s victims were in the process of rebuilding their lives.

“We are now building our homes ... The plan is to provide them with materials to build new homes amounting to at least 50,000 pesos [US$1,000] each,” he said.

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