Yolanda-affected farmers, fishermen face income crisis

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

cHUNDREDS of farmers and fishermen affected by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) gathered in Tacloban City, Leyte, on Wednesday, May 7, to call for an urgent action from the government to secure their food and income.

The affected farmers and fisherfolk urged the government to fast-track the clearing of coconut trees and stop the onset of rhinoceros beetle infestation, restore coral reefs and seagrass beds destroyed by Yolanda, and invest in small-scale aquaculture and seaweed farming.

They also appealed for the construction of safe evacuation centers and the updating of contingency plans ahead of the next typhoon season.


These calls came as barely a month before the next typhoon season starts, 40 percent of disaster-affected households in Leyte still live in makeshift shelters. In Eastern Samar, only eight percent of evacuation centers are functional.

The farmers said they welcomed the government’s 90-day target in clearing about 390,000 coconut trees. However, this represents only three percent of the 13 million destroyed trees that need to be cleared in Eastern Visayas alone.

(Contributed photos)

Farmers in Leyte are now facing threats of rhinoceros beetle infestation that may decimate remaining coconut trees and other crops.

“Nauna pang dumating ang mga peste kesa sa tulong ng gobyerno. Natatakot kaming mas ga-grabe pa ang sitwasyon at mas babagal ang rehabilitasyon pag ‘di agad kumilos ang gobyerno [The pests came to our farms faster than the help of the government. We fear the situation will only worsen and rehabilitation will further slow down if the government does not take immediate action],” said Gilbert Negad, of Coconut Banana Producers Federation of Leyte.

Maria Mendoza, Fair Trade Alliance (FTA) executive director, said: “Farmers are in crisis. Food distributions have stopped, cash support is slowing down, and yet coconut farmers have no way of earning money to support their families. The more we delay in clearing the farms, the more time it will take to plant quick-growing crops, and secure immediate food and income for small coconut farmers and their families.”

One positive step by the government identified during the gathering Wednesday has been to issue guidelines that protect the rights of tenant farmers in times of emergencies, waiving the usual rules that regulate clearing, ensuring tenant farmers receive 75 percent of the profits from coco-lumber sales, and allowing farmers to plant other crops while coconut trees grow. However, this policy is yet to be fully enforced and implemented.

Meantime, fishermen whose boats have been repaired have gone back to sea, only to return with catches less than half of their usual catch before Typhoon Yolanda struck Leyte.

Also, while the Leyte Gulf was already over-fished, the typhoon has now destroyed marine ecosystems such as seagrass beds and coral reefs, further affecting fish stocks. Alternative livelihoods, such as small-scale aquaculture is needed until the seas recover, said the fisherfolk leaders.

“We urge the government to immediately conduct comprehensive coastal and marine resource assessments to identify the extent of damage, and rapidly implement a plan for rehabilitation,” said Al Bernarte, programme coordinator of the NGOs for Fisheries Reform (NFR).

Fishing communities who live along the coast are also anxious about plans of the government to relocate them away from the sea.

Casimero Villas, chairperson of the San Joaquin-Cogon Fishermen and women Association (Sacofa), of Palo, Leyte, said: “Sabi ng DSWD, kailangang umalis na kami sa mga bahay naming sa tabing dagat dahil nasa hazard zone daw kami, pero di naman nila maipaliwanag ano ba criteria ng hazard zone [People from the government’s social welfare department told us that we need to leave our homes by the sea because we’re in a hazard zone, yet they can’t explain the criteria of what a hazard zone is.”

“Yung gusto nilang paglipatan sa amin, ang isa ay prone sa landslide, at ang isa naman ay prone sa flooding, ayon sa geohazard maps. Ang nakalulungkot talaga, hindi maunawaan ng pamahalaan ang dahilan kung bakit hindi kami pwedeng ilipat ng malayo sa dagat – nandito ang kabuhayan namin. [One of the government’s targeted relocation areas is prone to landslide, while the other one is prone to flooding, according to geohazard maps. The sad part is, the government doesn’t seem to understand why we can’t be relocated very far away from the sea – this is where we get our sources of living],” he added.

Since November, international aid organization Oxfam, which spearheaded the gathering Wednesday along with NFR and FTA, has assisted over 730,000 people with immediate water, sanitation and hygiene support, cash grants and cash for work schemes, rice seeds, boat building and seaweed farming support, as well as the provision of mosquito nets, mother and newborn kits, and emergency shelter materials.

Leo Roozendaal, Oxfam’s Asia deputy regional director, said: “The reality facing many poor people is that they are going to build back worse – not better. The initial emergency response by the Philippines Government and international community saved lives and prevented outbreaks of disease, but we cannot rest on this good work. The government is talking about the difficult issues that need to be tackled but there is not enough action.”

“Farmers and fishermen and women urgently need support for the next phase of recovery. Strong leadership is needed at all levels to speed up the recovery programs and help the poorest people get back on their feet,” he added.

About 600 Yolanda-affected farmers and fisherfolk attended the gathering on Wednesday held at the UP Tacloban Multipurpose Hall. The activity was conducted also to commemorate the sixth month of Yolanda, considered the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall in 2013. (Sunnex/PR)

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