Fisherfolk of Naborot Island find hope in seaweeds
ILOILO, Philippines – The northern part of Iloilo boasts of pristine islands that attract local and international tourists. While people from these islands hugely benefit from tourism for their livelihood, the fisherfolks in a small yet scenic island called Naborot found hope in planting seaweeds.
About more than 2 years ago, the people of Naborot Island in San Dionisio suffered from Super Typhoon Yolanda’s scourge, destroying all the houses and disrupting their livelihoods in a snap. Yolanda mercilessly swept away the fisherfolks’ boats leaving the people to heavily rely on support from aid organizations and the local government.
“It took us around two months for us to stand on our own. Some organizations provided us fishing boats so we could start working again. We also mobilized whatever resources left and used them to rebuild homes,” shared Gerald Bano, the president of the Naborot Fisherfolks Association or NaFiA.
Seawood as aquaculture commodity
Bano, a school teacher and fisherfolk, stepped up to revive the said association composed of 40 members (27 are women) who consider fishing and fish drying as their primary sources of income. Witnessing how the parents in the island struggled to earn for their families encouraged him to spearhead the seaweeds production to generate income for the community.
Seaweed is one of the most important aquaculture commodities in the Philippines. Fishefolks consider January to June as the peak months for growing and harvesting seaweeds. The coastal areas of Iloilo have also been good locations to put up seaweed farms.
NaFiA has become one of the beneficiary associations of international humanitarian organization CARE to provide livelihood for the disaster-affected communities. CARE has been on the ground delivering livelihood recovery support to vulnerable communities in Northern Iloilo with its local partner Business Fair Trade Consulting (BizFTC).
Bano recalled that it wasn’t a smooth journey as they had to assess the spots suitable for seaweed planting, and train the fisherfolks on how to plant seaweed seedlings. He also promoted investing time and effort for regular visits to remove undesirable algae, barnacles and attached sediments, or to re-tie loose or fallen seaweed.
“CARE helped us link up with other community organizations in Iloilo involved in seaweed production. I invited seaweed experts from the Tiabas Seaweeds Growers Association also in San Dionisio to visit our island and conduct a technical training for our members,” said Bano.
Roadbumps to recovery
NaFiA has received cash support that was used to purchase seaweed seedlings and materials needed such as floater, ropes, storage of dried seaweeds and Styrofoam.
Individual members planted an average of 50 kilos of seedlings, which can be harvested after 60 to 90 days. The fresh seaweed can be sold at P25 per kilo while the dried seaweeds is priced at P65.
The most popular and commercially cultured species of seaweed is Eucheuma Cotonii due to its fast growing characteristics. NaFiA consolidates all the fresh or dried seaweeds from the members and delivers it to a federation of community associations in San Dionisio.
But the fisherfolks’ recovery from Haiyan is hampered by the on-going El Niño, the strongest one on record. Aside from getting less fish, some of their seaweeds are affected by what the locals call “ice-ice” disease due to the extreme heat.
This particular disease condition is caused when changes in salinity, ocean temperature and light intensity give stress to seaweeds attracting bacteria in the water. This leads to decrease in production and quality as seaweeds die or become brittle.
“We have already consulted the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and they instructed us to place our seaweeds a bit deeper under the sea to achieve the seawater temperature between 27 and 30 degree Centigrade, the ideal temperature for seaweeds,” said Bano.
For Delsa Buenavista, a member of NaFiA, the on-going El Nino has been a great challenge. Her seaweeds were also not spared from the “ice-ice” disease.
“I could have produced 80 kilos of seaweeds but because of that, I only managed to have 40 kilos. But it’s okay. I was able to secure seedlings so I could replant. At least I am still expecting to earn. I’ll just keep on trying because others have become successful so I know I can also do that,” shared Delsa
Marly Rivera, another member, was able to produce 80 kilos of seaweeds after her first harvest.
“I think I am lucky that my seaweeds weren’t affected much by ice-ice. My husband and I regularly check our seaweeds to remove the parts affected by the disease. That helped us to stop its spreading and mitigate its effect,” said Marly.
She added: “Sometimes we take turns in checking the seaweeds especially when (my husband's) away to fish or when I need to bring our children to school or do household chores."
Marly considers this new opportunity as a blessing to earn more and save for her children’s future. “My earnings from seaweeds help me to cover school expenses of my children especially that they have to cross islands to reach the nearest school. We don’t have a functioning school here in our island."
“Most of the parents here couldn’t send their children to college. Young people leave the island after high school to find a job elsewhere or stay here to help their parents in fishing. Of course as a mother, I don’t want that to happen to my children. I want them to finish their studies and be professionals someday,” said Marly.
Bano saw a lot of positive changes in his community after the people started to recover from Haiyan and got engaged in seaweed production. He even remarks the role of women in their recovery.
“I could safely say that our women have a huge role in implementing this project. Even our men would agree because they have been closely monitoring the seaweeds every single day while their husbands are away to fish,” he said.
“Also, the people here are more united after the disaster. We helped those who had a hard time rebuilding their houses. We realized that if we worked hard, getting back on our feet is possible.”
Three months since planting seaweeds, the people noticed that seaweeds have become a natural habitat for fish, thus attracting more to come nearer to the shore.
“Obviously, it has become easier for us to get fish as well,” said Bano.
The fisherfolks of Naborot Island believe that running this kind of enterprise takes a lot effort, persistence and patience.
When asked about their preparation in case a relatively strong typhoon threatens their island, the fisherfolks said that consultations with concerned government agencies help them to prepare and plan accordingly.
Bano shared that their local government unit has allotted 20% of their community budget to support their seaweed enterprise once affected by any emergency or calamity.
“It’s good thing that the municipal government of San Dionisio acknowledges the rise of seaweed industry in this town so they have been providing support to community organizations like us to acquire materials and trainings from the Department of Agriculture.”
The people of Naborot are optimistic to push for the success of their enterprise.
“With the generous support we have received, we hope to expand our seaweed farms, provide more trainings to our members, find more buyers and forge partnerships with other organizations, agencies and stakeholders,” Bano concluded. – Rappler.com
With its Community Enterprise Facility project, CARE currently supports more than 280 community-based organizations to establish or implement an enterprise that would support the community towards Yolanda recovery and resilience. This livelihood recovery program is supported by UK’s Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC), the Netherland’s H&M Conscious Foundation and the Global Affairs Canada (GAC).
Dennis Amata works as Information and Communications Manager for CARE in the Philippines. He advocates for disaster preparedness and climate resilience of communities prone to natural disasters.