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Yolanda, A Wake Up Call for Climate Change Actions for Agriculture & Peasant Communities

13 November 2013

Super typhoon Yolanda with its more that 300 kph wind was deemed the strongest typhoon in known history. Despite all preparations, close to 10,000 Filipinos have been reported dead or missing with portions of Leyte and Samar provinces still cut off from the rest of the country. Reports picture the dead scattered around the hardest hit communities and looting and lawlessness fast spreading as survivors grapple with their dire reality and government unable to match the needs. There are even reports that some small islands may have disappeared entirely.

“These are just the immediate effects,” warns Nori Ignacio, Executive Director of SEARICE (South East Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Initiatives). “The long-term effect for food security as farms affected have mostly been destroyed. While the hardest hit communities in the Visayas are not the biggest of food granaries for the country, nonetheless, the effect of their massive destruction will have severe impact on food security for the immediate localities.”


She add that “…while the NDRRMC is yet unable to give a complete picture of destruction of crops and farm areas but if the widespread destruction of housing areas are to be the basis, we expect far more destruction in the farming and fisherfolk communities. Latest estimates from the Department of Agriculture (DA) puts the potential damage for the agricultural sector at Php6.88B. Leyte, one of the hardest hit areas, has the biggest number of farms across Eastern Visayas with over 148,000 farms covering over 278,000 hectares. Eastern Samar on the other hand ranks 3rd in the region with the most number of farms with over 101,000 farms (NSCB). An immediate and continuing food shortage is imminent”, she adds.

The typhoon hit just at the beginning of the main rice-planting season, and FAO estimates that over one million farmers have been affected and hundreds of thousands of hectares of rice destroyed. Severe impacts on coconut production in affected areas are expected, and there has also been wide-scale destruction to storage facilities and rural infrastructure. Along the coast the storm surge wiped out many fishing communities, demolishing boats and equipment. So repair and reconstruction of irrigation systems, rice fields, seeds, farm implements, among other things, should be included in the rehabilitation efforts that will follow soon.


That this should happen amidst the ongoing global climate change talks in Warsaw, Poland (19th UNFCC COP-Conference of Parties Meeting) is a reminder for leaders from nations all over the world who are still mulling over actions that need to be done to adapt to and mitigate climate change impacts. In last global meeting in Doha, the lead Philippine negotiator broke into tears making a plea for urgent actions as the country was then devastated by typhoon Pablo, which was far less destructive than Yolanda now. “In Warsaw today, Commissioner Sano expressed anger and frustration and has gone into a hunger strike until substantial decisions are reached. A growing number of groups has express solidarity,” Ms. Ignacio reports.


SEARICE calls on the Philippine Government to prioritize climate change adaptation measures by integrating and implementing the conservation and development of plant genetic resources into the existing pertinent provision of the national and local climate change adaptation plans focus on for food and agriculture. A crucial component of which is developing climate-resilient crops which SEARICE is also working on in collaboration for farmer breeders in the region. SEARICE also calls for the full implementation of the organic agriculture law, which would ensure safe seeds and planting materials and safe food for the Filipino people.


This need to invest on farmer-led efforts of maintaining agriculture ecology has been recognized in many recent studies. The 2013 UNCTAD Trade and Environment Review recommends that “… current efforts to reinvest in agriculture should take into account the need to improve the resilience of food systems so as to reduce their vulnerability to extreme weather events…” The report argues that agroecology can result in modes of production that are not only more resilience, but also both highly productive and sustainable, enabling them to contribute to the alleviation of rural poverty, and thus, to the realization of the right to food.


SEARICE also calls on delegates to the global negotiations in Warsaw to support the Philippine delegation position pushing for pursuing the work program for the loss and damages where we can draw compensation for affected communities; including small farmers for damages cost by climate-induced natural disasters. Another important PhilDel position is to continue to push for technology transfers but cautious to protect against plan breeders’ rights protection of environmentally sound technologies (ESTs)


Funding for climate change actions is wanting. SEARICE joins a growing number of groups for moving the People’s Survival Fund to a regular budget item in the next national budget so that it actually gets allocation for use in funding climate change adaptation. The PSF must be removed as an item in the unprogrammed funds to a regular item in the national budget.


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