Helping seaweed farming flourish after Typhoon hits Philippines

FAO project helps seaweed farmers regain livelihoods after Typhoon Haiyan. 

Key facts

When Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) struck in November 2013, it severely damaged and destroyed many seaweed facilities and production, crippling the income of Filipino coastal farmers who relied on this as their main source of livelihood. The Philippines is one of the world’s largest producers of seaweed and initial assessments after the typhoon showed that $12.2 million was lost in the aquaculture and seaweed production alone. As part of its recovery and rehabilitation response for the fisheries sector, FAO worked together with The Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to provide livelihood and rehabilitation assistance to 2 000 seaweed farming beneficiaries, including 1 000 households in the four municipalities of the islands of Palawan: Coron, Busuanga, Culion and Linapacan.

For 31-year-old Jessica Paguia, from the Tagbanua indigenous group on the island of Coron, farming seaweed is a family affair and has been their main source of income for the small coastal community for the past 20 years.

“When Yolanda came, our house and all our farming materials were washed out by the typhoon,” said Jessica, looking out at the water that houses their livelihood. “We didn’t know where to start, because we lost everything and have relied on seaweed farming for so many years. Everyone was affected – not only our family.”

“With so many seaweed farmers affected, it was critical to re-establish their assets in order for them to recommence their seaweed culture operations,” says Godardo Juanich, FAO Senior Aquaculture and Mariculture consultant.

The assistance provided by FAO included seaweed farming packages consisting of nylon lines, floats and planting materials, along with home-based seaweed drying facilities, and establishing seaweed nurseries to enable diversification and culturing of seaweed species.

While the damage to seaweed farming was extensive, it also presented an opportunity during the recovery and rehabilitation to introduce better farming practices. Trainings were provided on how to select more suitable farming sites, the preparation of seedlings, seaweed farm maintenance and how to gain access to markets.

“We learnt things like proper cutting, transferring to nursery grounds, and the period it takes for seaweed to reproduce,” Jessica says. “Prior to this, we were just harvesting the seaweed and drying them which caused the seaweed to shrink. We didn’t know that we had to transfer them before drying, so the training helped us to cut our losses.”

In the aftermath of the typhoon, many of the farmers were falling victims to loan sharks in order to buy seedlings and inputs to re-establish their farms, setting up a vicious cycle of paying high interest rates and being obliged to sell back their seaweed products at below market value.

“The inputs and training that we have provided means they will no longer need to get loans from these middlemen,” Juanich explains. “We’re showing farmers how to directly access the markets, and they now know how to produce their own seedlings, thereby allowing them to not be too dependent on other sources for inputs.”

With the kits, materials and training they’ve received, seaweed farmers like Jessica and her family are slowly recovering and re-establishing more productive and resilient seaweed farms.

“Without this support we wouldn’t have a source of livelihood,” she says. “We can now expand our seaweed farms through the variety of techniques that we’ve learnt and adapt our strategies according to climate conditions.”

Jessica doesn’t know what the future holds, but she is sure about one thing: “We are now able to meet our basic needs every day and the materials are also sufficient capital for us to be able to recover from what we lost.”

Support to seaweed farming is part of a FAO’s USD8.2 million Haiyan Recovery and Rehabilitation programme for the fisheries sector and is assisting around 19 000 fishing families across three regions of the Philippines: Eastern Visayas, Western Visayas and MIMAROPA.

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