For 18 months, farmers in the Philippines have had to contend with dry spells and drought resulting from a strong El Niño that left USD 325 million in damage to crops. Generating food and income was a challenge for over 400 000 affected farming households, more than half of them residing in poverty-stricken areas in Mindanao. In addition to internal funding, the FAO response in the affected areas was made possible thanks to the combined contributions of the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, the Government of the Kingdom of Belgium - through FAO’s Special Fund for Emergency and Rehabilitation Activities - and reprogrammed savings from other FAO emergency response and resilience projects funded by the Governments of Ireland, New Zealand and Norway.
Following the initial phase of its El Niño response in Central Luzon and Central Mindanao, FAO has expanded its operations to reach an additional 5 500 agriculture-dependent families from four provinces in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Region XII SOCCSKSARGEN.
“We have just completed the distribution of certified rice seeds, corn seeds, fertilizer and vegetable seeds in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao,” said FAO Representative in the Philippines José Luis Fernández.“These inputs will allow families to re-start their livelihood activities and grow food for household consumption.”
The Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) estimates that in these four provinces alone, 101 000 ha of farm land were affected by El Niño, resulting in USD 17.9 million worth of production losses between February 2015 to July 2016.
The expanded FAO response, mobilized at the request of the DA’s Regional Field Office XII and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DAF-ARMM), complements Government efforts to address the impact of El Niño across 16 regions of the Philippines.
“We were affected by drought especially because the El Niño was so long and it happened at the same time as the rat infestation. Many of the farmers here experienced a 30 to 40 percent reduction in yield,” narrated Rahib Mamaluba, a farmer-technician from Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
To build the disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation capacities of beneficiary communities, FAO is also conducting training activities on drought management, improved crop production and resilience to climate-stress. This is expected to equip more than 100 DA and local government agricultural technicians and local farmer trainers to replicate the workshops in their respective barangays, native Filipino term for a village, district or ward.
“This gives us courage because even before a calamity strikes, we already have an idea how to prepare,” explained Jalani Pagital, a farmer from Datu Salibo, Maguindanao.
In an earlier project that ended in June 2016, FAO also worked closely with DA and DAF-ARMM to provide similar assistance to 5 000 farming and fishing households in Maguindanao and North Cotabato whose livelihoods were disrupted by a combination of natural and man-made disasters, including displacement due to armed conflict, drought and flooding. Women were also trained in alternative livelihoods such as water hyacinth crafts production as well as post-harvest and value-adding techniques to help supplement their families’ incomes in order to fast-track household-level disaster recovery.
“Because of the assistance we received and what we have learned from the training, I hope that someday there will no longer be poor farmers in our community,” Rahib added.
FAO in Mindanao
FAO supports the Government in restoring livelihoods and increasing the resilience of farmers and fishers in Mindanao’s conflict-affected and El Niño-hit areas. This includes the provision of farm and fisheries inputs, value adding technologies, start-up resources and training on farm-level vulnerability assessments and risk reduction planning. Currently, FAO is also implementing its strategic plan for agriculture and agribusiness that will maximize distinct and unique agribusiness opportunities both in key cities and rural, conflict-sensitive areas.
More support on the way
Under an on-going USD 3 million project funded by the Government of New Zealand, FAO is set to provide crop, livestock, poultry and fisheries production inputs to an additional 10 475 farming and fishing households in North Cotabato. Communities will also benefit from training in climate-smart practices, disaster preparedness, alternative livelihoods and product value-addition. The delivery of assistance will be phased until October 2017.