Coconut farmers in the Philippines are in urgent need of assistance to recover their livelihoods nearly three months after Typhoon Haiyan tore through the country, the FAO has warned.
The typhoon flattened millions of trees when it made landfall last November, and the country’s second largest coconut-producing region, Eastern Visayas, was one of the areas worst affected.
In this region alone some 33m coconut trees were damaged or destroyed with more than a million coconut farmers hit. The Philippine Coconut Authority has estimated losses valued at US$396m.
“Coconut farmers are replanting, but what makes the situation so dire is that newly planted trees take between six to eight years to reach maturity and return to full production,” said Rajendra Aryal, acting FAO representative in the Philippines.
“It is critical to develop alternative income sources for these small-scale farmers until their coconut trees become productive again. Crop diversification and intercropping can provide key access to income and restore self-sufficiency, building the resilience of communities to withstand future disasters.”
Coconuts are one of the most important crops in the Philippines, the second largest coconut producer in the world, which accounts for 26.6% of global production.
The devastation created knock-on effects along the entire value chain, affecting people who were engaged both directly and indirectly, from farm owners, workers and traders to those involved in transport and logistics.
Risk of increased vulnerability
“Coconut farming is my main source of income, and when the typhoon hit I lost all my trees,” said Domingo Brivia, a small-scale coconut farmer from Barangay Tacurana, on Leyte island, Eastern Visayas.
“If I don’t get some kind of support soon I’ll have to borrow money, but the interest rates are so high that I’m scared.”
Brivia and other farmers like him face rates as high as 120% if they resort to borrowing. As land-poor tenants having lost whatever possessions they had, they cannot resort to selling their assets to survive, said the FAO.
The UN organisation is now working closely with the Philippine Coconut Authority, humanitarian partners and local organisations to develop a recovery plan for the sector in Eastern Visayas.
This will include clearing felled trees through coordinated cash-for-work programmes, introducing crops that can be grown alongside replanted coconut trees, and providing alternative livelihoods for affected coconut farmers.
“The priority for us is to support coconut farmers who now have no access to income,” said Dante Delima, under-secretary for operations at the Philippines Department of Agriculture, the coconut authority’s parent body.
Recovery efforts are also still needed in other sectors, the FAO added, saying that remote farming communities in upland areas who have received little or no humanitarian aid, fishers and coastal communities, and backyard livestock-keepers who lost their animals are all in urgent need of support.
The organisation has therefore called for US$38 million to support more than 128,000 severely affected households in the Philippines, and has so far received US$12 million.
With this it has provided around 44,000 of the worst-affected farming households with rice seed and fertiliser to plant in time for the December-January planting season. This should yield enough to feed around 800,000 people for one year.
“We need to build on these achievements making sure that the good work carried out in the wake of the typhoon is not rolled back,” said Aryal. “This requires continued and generous support from the donor community to ensure that affected farmers and fishers can restart their lives.”
Typhoon Haiyan struck the Central Philippines on November 8, 2013, killing more than 6,000 people, affecting a further 14m, and causing damage to an estimated 600,000 hectares of farmland.