Restoring coconut farmers’ livelihoods in the Philippines

FAO helps coconut farmers implement ecologically-sound methods of upland and contour farming. 

Key facts

Coconut is one of the most important crops in the Philippines with the country being the second largest coconut producer in the world. After Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) struck the country in November 2013, an estimated 44 million trees were damaged or destroyed, affecting around 1 million coconut farmers. In response, FAO implemented the Coconut-Based Farming Systems programme which was part of the Organization’s USD 39.7 million Typhoon Haiyan Strategic Response Plan aiming to address the recovery needs of affected farming families. Through the programme, activities were designed to enable small-scale coconut farmers to plant short term vegetable cash crops and annual crops to provide alternative livelihood sources, while also integrating climate-smart farming technologies. From the identification of the specific needs of coconut farming communities to the implementation of projects, FAO worked in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, the Philippine Coconut Authority, Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples and local Government units to support coconut-based farming systems.

By providing alternative coconut-based farming livelihoods in the targeted communities, the programme helped restore agricultural production, increased access to alternative certified seeds and quality planting materials, improved crop varieties and animal breeds, and introduced new methods of agro-ecology.

Introducing the concept of ‘contour’ farming
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, 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, FAO and its partners 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.

Establishing climate- smart farmer field schools
Through the same programme, FAO established 68 Climate-Smart Farmer Field Schools and conducted several capacity building and training sessions in the southern tip of the island of Mindoro.  The island was hit particularly hard by the typhoon and many living in this remote mountainous region belong to indigenous tribes that were already highly vulnerable before the typhoon, with little resilience in terms of food security and agricultural productivity.

The project introduced the concept of integrating climate resilience and crop diversification, along with providing new methods for agro-ecology, weather monitoring, and enhanced practices on soil and pest management. It also retooled farmers in alley cropping and vegetable production.

Before Typhoon Haiyan, many indigenous tribes were involved in kaingin farming (slash-and-burn farming), a traditional method of farming that has led to deforestation in the mountainous regions of southern Mindoro. “We hadn’t thought about our way of farming affecting the climate until we attended the farmer field school,” said  67-year-old Manuel Orosa Sr, a farmer and tribe leader of the Hanunuo Mangyan indigenous group.

“We learnt how to farm on hilly land using contour lines so that the fertility of the soil is preserved and the health of plants is ensured,” Manuel continued enthusiastically. “You can plant a wide variety of crops on a contour farm like vegetables, corn and rice.”

The training culminated in the preparation and presentation of farm sustainability plans by the participants, which has enabled farmers like Manuel to feel more confident about how they can continue to maximize the use of their land.

“The training has taught me how I can use the land continuously and this is a big help not only to me and my family, but also to our tribe and community,” Manuel concluded. 

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