Philippine coconut farmers struggling to recover from typhoon

Small-scale producers need help to recover livelihoods while replanted trees mature

27 January 2014, Manila/Tacloban – Coconut farmers in the Philippines are in urgent need of assistance to recover their livelihoods nearly three months after Typhoon Haiyan tore through the country, FAO warned today.

The typhoon flattened millions of trees when it made landfall in November and the country’s second largest coconut-producing region, Eastern Visayas, was one of the areas most affected.

In this region alone some 33 million coconut trees were damaged or destroyed and more than a million coconut farmers impacted. The Philippine Coconut Authority has estimated losses at $396 million.

“Coconut farmers are replanting, but what makes the situation so dire is that newly planted trees take between six to eight years to reach maturity and return to full production,” said Rajendra Aryal, acting FAO Representative in the Philippines.

“It is critical to develop alternative income sources for these small-scale farmers until their coconut trees become productive again. Crop diversification and intercropping can provide key access to income and restore self-sufficiency, building the resilience of communities to withstand future disasters.”

Coconuts are one of the most important crops in the Philippines. The country is the second largest coconut producer in the world, accounting for 26.6% of global production.

The devastation created knock-on effects along the entire value chain, affecting people who were engaged both directly and indirectly – from farm owners, workers and traders to those involved in transport and logistics.

Risk of increased vulnerability

“Coconut farming is my main source of income, and when the typhoon hit I lost all my trees,” said Domingo Brivia, a small-scale coconut farmer from Barangay Tacurana, on Leyte island, Eastern Visayas.

“If I don’t get some kind of support soon I’ll have to borrow money, but the interest rates are so high that I’m scared,” he added.

Brivia and other farmers like him face interest rates as high as 120% if they resort to borrowing. As land-poor tenants having lost whatever possessions they had, they cannot resort to selling their assets to survive.

Recovery plan

FAO is working closely with the Philippine Coconut Authority, humanitarian partners and local organizations to develop a recovery plan for the sector in Eastern Visayas.

This will include clearing felled trees through coordinated cash-for-work programmes, introducing crops that can be grown alongside replanted coconut trees, and providing alternative livelihoods for affected coconut farmers.

“The priority for us is to support coconut farmers who now have no access to income,” said Dante Delima, Under-Secretary for Operations at the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture, the coconut authority’s parent body.

FAO appeal

Recovery efforts are also still needed in other sectors, FAO warned.

Remote farming communities in upland areas who have received little or no humanitarian aid, fishers and coastal communities, and backyard livestock-keepers who lost their animals are all in urgent need of support.

FAO has called for $38 million to support more than 128 000 severely affected households in the Philippines and has so far received $12 million.

The Organization has provided around 44 000 of the worst-affected farming households with rice seed and fertilizer to plant in time for the December-January planting season. This will yield enough to feed around 800 000 people for one year.

“We need to build on these achievements making sure that the good work carried out in the wake of the typhoon is not rolled back,” said Aryal. “This requires continued and generous support from the donor community to ensure that affected farmers and fishers can restart their lives.”

FAO’s work in the Philippines has been made possible with support from the Governments of Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, Norway, the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID), the United Nations' Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the general public, as well as with the mobilization of FAO's own emergency funding mechanisms.

Typhoon Haiyan struck the Central Philippines on 8 November 2013, killing more than 6 000 people, affecting a further 14 million, and causing damage to an estimated 600 000 hectares of farmland.

Photo: ©FAO/S.Guyetsky
Some 33 million coconut trees were damaged or destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan in Eastern Visayas.