‘Farmers, fishermen left out in Yolanda recovery efforts’

Oxfam says there's no funding with the UN for coconut farmers and fishermen, who support more than 1 million families and are now dependent on aid

DEVASTATED. This aerial photo shows uprooted coconut trees on a hill near the town of Guiuan in Eastern Samar 3 days after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck on November 8. Photo by Agence France-Presse/Ted Aljibe

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Three months after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) ravaged the Visayas, the poorest coconut farmers, traders, and fishermen are being left out of recovery efforts, according to international development advocacy group Oxfam.

A once thriving coconut industry in typhoon-hit areas supported more than one million families. But after Yolanda destroyed more than 33 million coconut trees, they have no source of income and are now dependent on aid. It takes between 6 to 8 years for coconut trees to grow back. (READ: Coconut, rice farmers worst hit by Yolanda)

“Coconut farmers and traders are integral to one of the Philippines’ most profitable industries and yet they are being left out of the recovery effort. Without cash support and income options, hundreds of thousands of productive and skilled workers will be out of work for years to come,” said Oxfam Philippine country director Justin Morgan.

Even before Yolanda hit, coconut farmers were already among the most vulnerable sector in Philippine society. Around 60% of small-scale coconut farmers lived in poverty. After Yolanda, they now they depend largely on food and cash from aid groups and government.

No funding has been allocated to the United Nations for coconut farmers and fisherpeople, Oxfam cited latest data. The Philippine government has been slow in delivering agricultural and reconstruction support, the group said.

The coconut farmers are also in a race against time to clear the land of fallen trees before they rot in 3 months. Rotting wood and sawdust is a breeding ground for pests like the rhinocerious beetle that can infest the few trees left standing. Watch a video about the plight of coconut farmers in Yolanda areas here

However, land ownership laws hamper coconut farmers from the urgent task of clearing the land. The coconut farmers are required to get permission from landowners before clearing can begin. 

The country’s coconut industry may already be feeling Yolanda’s blow. Exports of coconut oil from the Philippines fell by 18.3% last December. Coconut oil is the country’s top agricultural commodity export, reaping an average of P43.3 billion in annual earnings. (READ: Before Yolanda, coconut exports grew by 47%)

Fishermen’s plight

Fishermen face a similarly dire situation. Yolanda destroyed more than 30,000 boats, leaving fishermen and women with no way of pursuing their livelihood.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has so far only committed to help repair 1,000 boats.

The government’s new “no build zone” measure lessens fishermen’s access to the sea and mangroves so vital to them. The measure bans the building of houses within 40 meters of the coasts as a way to protect communities from sea level rise and storm surges.

“Fast delivery of emergency relief by the international community in the first 3 months has prevented widespread hunger and outbreaks of disease. But unless the Government steps in to provide the poorest farmers and fishers with real practical help, all the gains made so far could be lost,” Morgan said in a statement.

Oxfam cited reports that at the end of December, more than 29% of the typhoon victims were still dependent on food assistance. More than a quarter of people sometimes eat nothing for an entire day.

Non-governmental organizations and the private sector are helping fill some of the gaps. Oxfam has provided chainsaws and sawmills to farmer cooperatives for clearing land of fallen coconut trees. It is helping fishermen rebuild their boats and provides start-up capital for small businesses.

Oxfam has provided relief for almost 550,000 people in the first 3 months of recovery efforts. It helped the Tacloban city government repair broken pipes, thereby giving people access to clean water. The agency gave aid in the form of hygiene kits, rice seeds, cash support, and shelter materials. – Pia Ranada/Rappler.com

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