Beyond coconut farming: building alternative livelihoods for Filipino farmers affected by Typhoon Haiyan

Beyond coconut farming: building alternative livelihoods for Filipino farmers affected by Typhoon Haiyan

01/12/2015

The road to recovery has not been easy for fifty-two-year-old Marcelina Calvez and her husband who have been farming in Palompon, Leyte for more than 30 years. They have seven children and like many coconut farmers, they do not own their land. Even prior to Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Yolanda), the half hectare of coconuts they were farming was not enough to meet their family’s needs.

“After Yolanda, we lost our livelihood but we still had debts to pay,” said Marcelina. “The hardest part was trying to earn money to feed my family.” Restoring livelihoods and building the resilience of coconut farmers was a paramount consideration in the aftermath of the typhoon and this meant providing farmers with a stable source of alternative livelihood that can be sustained even with limited land resources and capital.

In response to this challenge FAO, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, the Philippine Coconut Authority and Local Government Units, established 129 Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) sites to enable coconut-based farming communities to plant vegetables and other cash crops to complement their main crops like coconut and corn. By planting short-term, medium-term and permanent crops, farmers are able to gain alternative livelihood sources and make use of idle land under coconut plantations.

The sites were built in the Haiyan-affected areas of Region VI and VIII, and trainings were conducted on the establishment and maintenance of the sites with community-based organizations and farmer cooperatives. “It’s hard work but it’s much better than our traditional way of farming, says Marcelina, who is a member of the Liberty Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative. “We can now achieve more productivity in these hilly areas we didn’t think we could farm.”

SALT (also known as contour farming) was adopted in these areas because it is an ecologically-sound method of upland and contour farming that is specifically developed for smallholder farmers with few tools, little capital and limited farming grounds. To further emphasize the importance of adopting climate-smart farming technologies, one SALT demonstration farm per municipality was established and used as a venue for a climate-smart farmer field school.

Marcelina has applied her training and developed her own SALT site on a portion of land near her house. “It brought a major change to the way I was farming. I’m now planting pineapples. I have 100 pineapples already,” she says proudly. “And I’m using the method I learnt from the training to plant madre de cacao as hedgerows because these plants are good for maintaining the fertility of the soil.”