ACTED: Alternatives to coconut - Improving disaster resilience in the Philippines

Source(s): Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED)

42 million headless coconut trees

In the Philippines, coconut trees are nicknamed "The Tree of Life". Indeed, coconut trees are not just images from pretty postcards. You can get nearly everything out of a coconut tree, from diverse sorts of food to solid furniture, oil, medicine, paper and even clothing. 25 million Filipinos are directly or indirectly dependent on the coconut tree industry. When typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, it affected more than 14 million people, and destroyed millions of trees. Eastern Samar was one of the worst hit areas, with more than 42 million coconut trees beheaded.

In this desolated landscape of headless trees, Filipinos worked hard with the support of the government and the humanitarian community to rebuild their homes and ensure access to water and sanitation. But for more than one million farmer families, the question of how to build back their main source of work and income, coconut agriculture, remains a huge challenge. Replanting is not enough, newly planted coconut trees take between 6 to 8 years to be productive. Farmers need to diversify their production, find new possibilities of income.

A need for improved agricultural and business skills

When your family and most of the families around you have been cultivating coconut trees for ages, in an isolated area, it is difficult to imagine what else you can plant, and difficult to have access to different quality inputs. This lack of access and knowledge led to inadequate investment in storage and technology services (e.g. collection centers, livestock housing etc.), incorrect usage of inputs and technologies, which has decreased productivity and production quality, hampered soil quality and incurred higher production costs for farmers. This could also lead to markets becoming overcrowded with a single type of new product.

Besides the production itself, limited business skills, market linkages with buyers and sellers, and access to information about the market (supply and demand, price, market actors, and quality standards) is a challenge. Market structures and mechanisms are weak. Production is small scale and the area is difficult to reach so it does not attract bigger market players. Moreover, farmers are not well organized and they do not buy inputs in bulk amount or sell collectively. This gives them low leverage to negotiate prices or terms. They either have less access to services or are less confident to individually go and seek advisory services from the department of agriculture or other local government bodies. Market actors are also reluctant to work with individual farmers due to high transaction costs and risks, and low level of production and productivity.

A bridge between farmers and markets

ACTED, People In Need and HELVETAS (part of the European NGO network Alliance2015) have recently started to support farmers to diversify their livelihoods, with support from Swiss Solidarity and the French Development Agency. Teams will first conduct feasibility studies and market assessments in the area, which means exploring the existing types of agricultural practices, what techniques farmers are using, what is possible in terms of other agricultural practices that would be marketable, and how can existing farming practices be improved or what new techniques can be introduced.

Secondly, the project will support the training and capacity building of Local Lead Farmers who can provide continued agricultural support and expertise to their communities. Local Lead Farmers will be experienced and skilled local farmers who will act as the link between poor farmers and the private sector to help farmers enter and successfully engage in markets. Local Lead Farmers will support farmers to organize into Farmer Groups, identify markets and provide farmers with the technical and business know-how to be successful in markets. Local Lead Farmers act as trainers, extension workers and they embody the link or bridge between farmers and markets. Through the capacity build-up of local Lead Farmers, ACTED will support 12,000 farmers’ families recover sustainably by facilitating and supporting stable income generating opportunities, and improving their resilience to the effects of climate change.

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