Nueva Ecija farmers recover from Lando amidst El Nino

Nueva Ecija farmers recover from Lando amidst El Nino

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Dennis Amata, CARE Philippines

The Philippines is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world and the Filipino  farmers are directly affected by typhoons and dry spell.

Five months ago, the province of Nueva Ecija seemed like a vast sea. Rice and high value crops were instantly destroyed by typhoon Lando (internationally known as Koppu) after the category 3 typhoon brought heavy winds and poured intense rains that caused widespread flooding across Central Luzon.

“We were about to harvest rice, onions, cabbage and string beans. Unfortunately, we lost everything. That was really devastating on our part because we invested so much,” shared Mario, a 49-year-old rice and onion farmer from Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija.

“The farm lands were flooded and also covered with rocks coming from the mountains so we obviously struggled to replant,” he added.

Mario is one of the three million individuals affected by Lando, most of them are relying on agriculture and livestock as their primary source of income. According to the Department of Agriculture, the cost of damage to agriculture in areas affected by the typhoon rose to Php6.4 billion. Lando was described “the worst storm that hit the Philippines in 2015” by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

A few months after the typhoon, the farmers had to face another challenge when they bear the brunt of the El Nino. But the farmers have showed undisputable resilience when they start getting back on their feet amidst the challenge.

“Farmers in my village worked hard to clear the lands and started planting onions again. Though huge part of the farm lands would take time to be rehabilitated for planting, we managed to have a livelihood through the support we received,” Mario said.

To address the needs of the affected people in the municipalities of Laur and Gabaldon, a consortium of international non-government organizations reached the vulnerable and most affected communities. Action Against Hunger (ACF), CARE and Save the Children have worked together to implement a cash transfer program that enables the affected people to restore or kick start income generating activities. The program is funded by the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).

“I have received Php3,900 from the Consortium. I immediately invested it in fertilizer as I started planting onions again,” said Mario.

Mario, who is practically moving heaven and earth to solely raise his four children, is expecting to harvest onions next month. He said his earnings from the support would really help him cover his children’s school expenses.

In Laur, Karen Pascua --a 35-year-old onion farmer-- said the recovery wasn’t an easy journey but she said she’s determined to continue working hard for her four children.

“As we all see, our rice and onion fields were severely damaged by the typhoon. We used to have a river beside our barangay and now it is full of rocks and seems like a desert. Onion production undesirably decreased. We also noticed that the onions have become smaller perhaps because of the heat and soil. But good thing we have received cash support to re-establish or start another livelihood,” shared Karen.

Karen had to take over the responsibility of earning for their family after her husband needed to stop working due to his infected foot. Aside from working in the onion field, Karen is now raising two goats after receiving the cash support.

“Raising goats isn’t really difficult. I just feed and let them roam around. I am able to do household chores and work in the field as well. One of the goats is already pregnant. I am planning to raise more goats so I could sell them for additional income,” added Karen.

The farmers are well aware of the possibility of experiencing relatively strong typhoons in the future aside from the El Nino they are dealing with right now.

Sessions on community risk assessment and basic disaster risk reduction concepts with community leaders and members were carried out by the Consortium to equip the cash transfer beneficiaries with ideas to mitigate risks to their livelihoods.

“The farmers didn’t give up even they are experiencing extreme heat. Farming has become part of their system. Most of them are casual farm labourers and do not own the land but we witnessed how they strived hard to be able to restore their damaged farm lands. We closely worked with the farmers to keep their livelihoods sustainable,” said Athena Gepte of CARE International, the Consortium Coordinator of the ECHO project in the Philippines.