Food producers poorer, hungry three years after Yolanda

December 10, 2016

by IBON Foundation


Despite about Php144 billion in funds, the Philippine government has barely delivered on the planned rehabilitation and reconstruction in Yolanda affected areas. The people are more vulnerable, poorer and hungry with uncertain livelihoods and security of tenure. 

For most farming communities in Eastern Visayas, production has not recovered. “Many farmers are only able to eat rice once or twice a day. Mostly now we eat root crops. With low incomes and high prices of goods, there are farmers that have to settle for just coffee or hot water”, shares 55 year-old Nestor Lebico, Sr., Secretary General of Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (SAGUPA-SB), a regional farmers organization.

Similarly, many fisherfolk are also struggling to make ends meet. “After Yolanda, our situation has worsened. We usually only eat once a day now.  Sometimes we can only eat our rice with salt, or we settle for root crops”, says Arsemon Ocenar, a 22-year-old fisherman in Bgy. Himyangan, Villareal, Western Samar, and member of the local chapter of Pamalakaya, a national federation of small fisherfolk organizations.

Bgy.Himyangan is a coastal village comprised of over 1,000 families, half of which depend on fisheries for their livelihood. Arsemon said that typhoon Yolanda destroyed many of their boats and fishing gear, as well as damaged their homes.

According to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute in 2015, only 3 of 10 families in the Eastern Visayas are able to eat adequately.

Production down

After three years, Yolanda-stricken farmers have not received the assistance they badly need to recover. SAGUPA’s initial scanning of their members’ state of livelihood shows a trend in production loss of 85-90% in Eastern Visayas, especially in Leyte, Northern Samar, and Eastern Samar.

“Coconut farmers used to harvest 2,000 nuts for every hectare, but now we only harvest 200-500 nuts. Before we could produce 600 kilos of copra every quarter which is about Php16,200 at Php27 a kilo”, says Nestor. Aggravated by bunchy top fest infestation, the harvest of abaca fiber has also fallen from 500 kilos to just 50 sold at P57 a kilo. Nestor adds that their rice harvest has also fallen from 20 kilos to only 6-8 sacks sold at Php800/sack.

Arsemon meanwhile lamented that their fishing incomes have fallen from Php2,000 – 5,000 per month to less than Php1,000 per month. This is because fish catch has dwindled, forcing fisherfolk to go farther out to sea. He also said that more fisherfolk today do not have their own boats or fishing gear, and are forced to become workers on fishing boats under exploitative sharing arrangements.

Typhoon Yolanda significantly damaged the agriculture and fisheries sectors in the Visayas, which are the main sources of livelihood in the area. The Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda (RAY) estimates that around 600,000 hectares of agricultural lands were affected by the typhoon. There was a loss of 1.1 million MT of crops, 80% of which was in Eastern Visayas. Worst affected was Eastern Visayas coconut production, which went down by 26.6% in 2014. Of the more than 12 million coconut trees damaged, 11.3 million were in Eastern Visayas. From rank 9 in 2010, the Eastern Visayas agriculture sector dove to 4th lowest in 2014 and 2015. Its contribution to the country’s gross value added (GVA) in agriculture, forestry and fishing (AFF) has likewise declined from 5.1% in 2010 to 3.5% in 2015.

Neither have the regions’ fisheries sectors recovered significantly to date. In Capiz, Cebu, Leyte and Eastern Samar, cumulative losses in commercial fish production between 2013 and 2014 was estimated to be at Php1.4 billion. In 2015, losses add up to at least Php500 million, mostly in Capiz, Iloilo, Cebu, Western Samar and Eastern Samar. As for marine municipal fisheries, value of production in Capiz, Iloilo, Eastern Samar and Southern Leyte dipped by around Php875.6 million. In 2015, the highest loss was in Iloilo at Php400 million lost in value.

To address the extensive damage to the agriculture and fisheries sector, the government as of October 2016 has distributed farm tools and equipment, replaced or repaired 53,969 fishing boats, and distributed 131,091 bags of rice and corn seeds. Yet, it targeted only 100,000 hectares of coconut areas for replanting, despite over 400,000 reported damaged or destroyed coconut trees. Of this target, only 83.2% have been completed. Of the 282,000 hectares coconut areas targeted for intercropping, only 29.4% has been completed.

Beyond Yolanda

“What programs the government does have is still focused on Yolanda, not the other calamities that have come after”, says Nestor. He also noted that government programs do not necessarily adress the issue of agriculture backwardness and underdevelopment that should be the priority of action.

After Yolanda, three more strong typhoons (Ruby, Agaton, Senyang, Nona) ravaged many areas of Eastern Visayas, adding to the damage. Assistance has become all the more wanting; farmers suffered more losses. Three types of pest infestations also damaged coconut, abaca and rice farms. The recent long extreme El Niño added more woes to the farmers. As a result, people are going hungry and government help is not enough.

Yet it would be remembered that the region and most of its provinces have barely recuperated in July 2014 when former president Benigno Simeon Aquino declared that the Yolanda survivors have recovered and that government is ready to take over for rehabilitation and reconstruction. Foreign aid agencies and local and international non-government organizations (NGOs and INGOs) did not agree but were forced to pack up and leave one by one with only a handful left to finish their programs for rehabilitation including for housing and livelihood. From the start, despite the vastness of Yolanda’s impact areas, the Aquino government identified only 171 municipalities in 14 provinces and four regions, which are located within the 100-km storm track as priority areas for assistance. Government response in Eastern Visayas alone, the most affected, remains wanting, and much more in other areas within and outside the 100-km track.

Unfelt government assistance

Forty-year-old Ramil Teopinto, coconut and abaca farmer from Northern Samar, laments that all their crops were destroyed by Yolanda. They were only able to harvest their root crops 6 months later. It took one year before they can harvest bananas. They have to wait two years before they can harvest abaca, and 7 to 8 years for coconut.

Jefry Lacbayen and Reynaldo Solayao, coconut and rice farmers from Pinabacdao, Western Samar lamented the same. Both are members of Magdawat Organic Farmers Association (MOFA) in Pinabacdao, Western Samar. According to them, their repeated attempts to replant were wasted by typhoons Ruby and Senyang. Lack of capital and government’s slow response have created their families’ current and worsening hungry state.

Their farms were covered with mud; worms and rats infested their farms; cocolisap damaged their remaining coconut trees. It took them 4 weeks to clean up their farms and replant after Yolanda. They practiced Tiklos (bayanihan). Yet the subsequent typhoons even washed away much of the fertile topsoil from their farms. The El Nino in 2015 through 2016 aggravated their production woes. From Yolanda, Ruby and Senyang, Jefry lost Php50,000.00, Php 10,000 and Php30,000 respectively, while Reynaldo Php40,000.00, Php30,000 and 5,000.

According to Reynaldo, families need an average Php100/day per member for basic needs including transportation and education. They usually borrow for expenses their incomes cannot sustain. However, save for the three batches of relief of food packs and some vegetable seeds for planting, no substantial assistance from government has come. There were seedlings of coconut distributed but only to those close to the mayor.

Government reports providing 376,198 beneficiaries with livelihood assistance and cash for building livelihood assets (CBLA) as of October 2016. Various fishing and agriculture equipment were distributed including 79,105 fishing gears and paraphernalia, 24,643 farm tool sets, and 40,022 skills and livelihood trainings conducted, among others. However, these numbers do not show if affected families were able to fully recover and improve their livelihoods, or have been able to acquire stable and gainful employment. Worse, government’s provision of seeds for high value crops does not help in forging these agricultural communities’ resilience against repeated calamities. According to stories from the ground, farmers and workers in the Eastern Visayas region are still struggling.

Moreover, beyond wanting support for agriculture is the greater problem of falling agriculture contribution to the Philippine economy. Thus what is needed is a plan to strategically boost local agriculture and fisheries production to catalyze development that can help communities withstand and overcome natural calamities. Without it, the Eastern Visayas and the rest of the country will remain prone to battering extreme weather changes, and the Filipino people vulnerable socially and economically to climate hazards.