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Six months after Haiyan, Philippines agriculture is on the mend

By RJ Whitehead , 07-May-2014

Six months after Haiyan, Philippines agriculture is on the mend

Tens of thousands of farmers are bringing in their first rice harvest just six months after one of the worst typhoons ever to hit the Philippines left their fields in tatters and their livelihoods at risk. 

After Typhoon Haiyan hit the central Philippines on November 8 last year, the situation was dire. More than 6,000 people lost their lives, while some 600,000 hectares of farmland were destroyed, leaving millions of people without a source of income and threatening food security. 

"When I saw the extent of the destruction and damage caused by the high winds and storm surge, I thought the situation was hopeless," said rice farmer Lisa Canaber from Leyte Province, one of the worst-affected areas. 

However, thanks to an immediate response by the international community, the Department of Agriculture and United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation could assist tens of thousands of rice farmers in quickly restoring and replanting their devastated fields in the wake of the disaster, working closely with the national government at all levels. 

Seeds of recovery

Within weeks of the disaster, the FAO, the Department of Agriculture and their partners began distributing certified rice seeds to severely affected farmers, reaching 44,000 families in time for the December-January planting season.

Some have already gathered their crops, others will be doing so over the coming weeks and into early June. 

And as a result of the timely provision of certified rice seed, complemented by urea fertiliser, many farmers are already seeing much higher yields than normal. 

This will supply them not only with food for family consumption, but also with seed for the next planting season as well as surplus rice that they can sell to boost their household incomes. 

"Had I not received the certified rice seed to plant in time for the December-January season, I would have needed to rely on external food aid for almost a whole year," said Carmen Cinco, who also farms in Leyte Province. "I am hopeful now. We are on the way to recovery." 

The FAO also provided 13,000 farm tools and over 4,500 tonnes of fertiliser to 80,000 affected families. Now rice farmers are reaping the benefits of what is, for them, a first and critical step on the road to recovery. 

Alternative livelihoods for coconut farmers 

In addition to extensive damage to rice farming, some 33m coconut trees were damaged or destroyed by Haiyan, affecting the livelihoods of more than 1m coconut farmers. Given that coconut trees take six to eight years to become productive again, small-scale coconut farmers needed interim support in finding alternative sources of income, and most relied solely on coconut trees for their livelihoods. 

After having consulted local communities, and in close collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Department of Agrarian Reform, Philippine Coconut Authority, Bureau of Animal Industries and other relevant government institutions, the FAO is aiming to help about 30,000 small-scale coconut farmers by providing vegetable seeds, farm tools, post-harvest equipment and livestock such as water buffaloes, goats, pigs and poultry. 

"I need seeds so I can sell vegetables at the market," Rosalia Garredo, a rice and coconut tree farmer from Leyte Province, said. "This and poultry raising as an alternative livelihood will help me be independent until my trees are productive again." 

The goal is to diversify smallholder farmers' livelihoods, thereby increasing their resilience to future disasters. 

Fisheries sector also improving 

Additionally, the storm destroyed the assets of a large number of fishers, ranging from fishing boats and gear to aquaculture ponds to onshore facilities. An estimated 30,000 boats were damaged, with some 10,000 completely lost or destroyed.

In developing and implementing recovery projects, authorities are ensuring that pre-typhoon fishing capacities are not exceeded; that fishers will receive selective, non-destructive fishing gear; input support; and technical guidance in responsible practices. About 17,000 small-scale fishing families will benefit.

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