10 March 2014
“Planting the Seeds of Recovery”
Field visit to typhoon affected areas in the Philippines
Thank you all for your presence, I would like to thank the Secretary of Agriculture of the Philippines, Proceso Alcala; Undersecretary for Operations Dante Delima; the Mayor of Basey Mr. Junji Ponferrada, and the Ambassador of Philippines to Italy and Permanent Representative to FAO, Ambassador Virgilio Reyes for the support you have given to the work of FAO in the Philippines and particularly in this Region.
I would like to explain to you what we are doing here, what is our intention. The first thing that I’d like to explain is that FAO is a technical agency of the United Nations, we provide technical assistance. We work with farmers, we work with fishermen, foresters and so on. We are not a financing agency. We do not fund projects. We have some funds, of course, but we mostly use funds contributed from other donors – agencies and governments such as, in this case, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, as well as the UN Central Emergency Response Fund.
When I first got the first news of the impact of the typhoon on November 8, it was immediately clear that Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) was different, much more intense, than other typhoons that used to come to this region. So we immediately mobilized our own resources to begin our response. And we took 1.2 million US dollars to buy the first certified seeds that you received in late November, because we knew that if we did not plant before mid-December, the rain would stop and we would not be able to have the harvest between now and late April, beginning of May. We also reinforced the team we had in Manila with other specialists from FAO brought in from locations such as our Headquarters and our Regional Office in Bangkok, to support the response and went to the field to assess damage and initiate relief and recovery operations. We started to distribute the seeds and the fertilizers to the farmers to be able to plant again.
But that was not our goal. The goal of FAO was not to give the seeds itself. Our goal was to get a good harvest. So, that’s what we call from relief to recovery. We helped in the relief progress, we started to mobilize more resources for the recovery and that’s what we are doing now. We are moving from the first phase to the second one that is development.
We will not leave. Our work is not finished, our mission here is to have those rice paddies harvested now and in the next years. We know that the recovery takes time. Typhoons take a few hours to pass across this area, but the recovery takes years. We are talking about 8 years to recover the coconuts production in the area. So, this is our goal.
FAO needs to work with you, support the farmers, until you can recover and develop again as usual, as you used to do before the typhoon. That’s why we are here. And that’s why we are mobilizing resources. Fortunately this time, we received significant initial funding. We started with around USD 11 million and total committed funds are now slightly more than USD 30 million thanks to the international community, the government, and the hard work of our team here. By now we have assisted 44 000 families, but we hope that we can triple that, we can assist 120 000 or even 200 000 families in the Philippines, in this region and in other affected regions of the country.
But why is that important? Let me give a simple example for you to understand the reason of what we are doing and the donors, as I know that there are some present here, can understand the importance of giving these resources in proper time and to use it in a proper way. We spent more or less USD 5 million in seeds and fertilizers. To put them here and distribute them. We expect it to yield USD 85 million in crops. So, we spend 5 and we will get back 85 – it is 17 times the initial investment. This is a very good business we are doing and gives you an idea of how powerful the results can be when we deliver on time good quality inputs that are needed, I am talking about certified seeds, I am talking about fertilizers. This is not a cost. This has been an investment in relief, to recover the production, and we need to keep it up.
So, we are in the very beginning. We are taking the first step. Now comes the second step. What are we doing next? Well, you see, there are a lot of things to be done. Very important things, and I agreed with Secretary Alcala this morning that we will look very carefully to the harvest season. Why am I saying that? Because we expect to, due to the good quality of the certified seeds, harvest more rice than ever. What happens when you have a lot of rice available? The price can fall too low and the farmers will not benefit by all our good efforts. So we need to make sure that farmers can get good prices for when they harvest next month. The Secretary Alcala promised me that he will be coming here to buy the rice, to guarantee the minimum price. So if he is not here, please call me, and I’ll be back here. Ok? Let’s agree on that.
This is the hard part. To help moving from the second step, because if not we will lose all these 5 million US dollars that we put here and I don’t want that, I don’t like to lose money, especially when the money is not mine, it’s from the donors. We, in FAO, have this culture of value for money – every cent that we spend we want to show where it was put and we want to recover it and we want to recover much more than what we spent.
So, this is the next step. Be prepared for the harvest season. Buy locally the produce, guarantee the minimum price for the farmers. And I hope that for the next season, as Secretary Alcala said, instead of giving one bag of fertilizer we will be able to give two bags of fertilizers , for the farmers to improve even more their production. We invest a bit more but we recover much more.
Also important is what the Department of Agriculture is doing with the coconut production. They have already started to remove all the trees that were damaged, cut them and plant new trees. And it will take time, perhaps 6, 8 years to get them back on production. So, during this time we will be supporting the farmers so that they can feed their families and gain income.
Also, we will be supporting the fishers. We will not be able to provide back all the boats that you lost, but we will start providing some as well as some cage for aquaculture to see if we can recover fish production in this region.
So, there are many steps to follow until we can finish this process from relief to recovery to development, that is the stage that we want to arrive at.
Let me say that the most important for us - as a technical agency - that this international cooperation, what we want is not to give you the fish but teach you how to fish and what we are doing is not putting in place the same things that were there before the typhoon. We are taking the opportunity to introduce assistance to increase production. So, we are not giving the same seeds you had, we are giving certified seeds to improve production, and we would like to improve your capacity in storage, more capacity in selling to the local markets, and also to support the government in our efforts in development.
Let me say that we in FAO are first of all very proud of our team here, who are doing a very good job as I could see, thank you for your leadership. I am very proud also of the partnership we made with WFP, OCHA, Save the Children and other agencies that are working here with us to provide this relief and then the recovery phase. And we are very proud to work with the Philippine government, with the Department of Agriculture to provide the assistance that you need in the region.
And let me finish thanking for the support of the Ambassador Reyes that is intermediating the relationship between the Philippine Government and the FAO, we thank him for his daily assistance and perseverance on working with FAO.
Thank you all.