The Philippine government is compelled to take major steps to ease poverty and unemployment in the drought-stricken Southeast Asian region. The farm sector, which analysts say has been neglected by administrators in the past, is reeling under drought conditions propelled by the El Nino phenomenon and is desperately in need of money to boost agricultural production. The agricultural sector needs at least us $1.9-2.3 billion a year to get moving.

Lack of cheap funds for farmers is affecting productivity. Even beneficiaries of the government's land redistribution programme since the 1980s remain poor since they sorely lack support services, such as cheap credits. Analysts say the administration needs to give agriculture funding a top priority to reduce unemployment, considering that agriculture is still labour-intensive. Farm sector recovery could well be delayed beyond this year because of the arrival of the La Nina weather pattern, which brings torrential rains. Meteorologists have raised the possibility of La Nina, the cold water current, hitting the country in the last quarter of the year.

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