For Lilia Godoy, 63, Typhoon Rolly (international name: Goni) is not something she can easily forget.
Her village of Carangcang was devastated by the typhoon although it did not experience flooding like most of their neighboring villages in Magarao.
“Many houses here were destroyed. Our neighbor, until today, it’s sad to say that due to the lack of resources and they have no livelihood, their house still has no roof,” Godoy said around 9 months since the typhoon struck. “And there are still many like them who have not recovered yet.”
Thirteen of the 15 villages in Magarao were affected by flooding and of the over 5,000 households, more than 3,400 were either destroyed or damaged by the typhoon.
Throughout the Camarines Sur province, ‘Rolly’s’ damage to agriculture was P1.1 billion or $21.8 million, according to the Office of Civil Defense.
“Our plants and produce were also affected,” she said. “Every time there is a typhoon, recovery takes at least three months. We work hard because not to do so would mean we lose a living.”
Godoy is member of Quigona Hydroponically-Grown Seedlings, a small organization of mostly women farmers in Carangcang village in Magarao town.
She is in charge of the production of the seedlings.
“When they (the seeds) are already grown, we transplant them to paper cups with cocopeats. It’s very easy and it’s relaxing. It also helps us earn some income,” Godoy said.
Hope after ‘Rolly’
After Typhoon Rolly, a representative from Rice Watch Action Network (RWAN) approached them with the offer to help them get started with growing vegetables through a project funded by Oxfam Pilipinas.
Hazel Tanchuling, the executive director of RWAN, said that when conceptualizing the response with Oxfam, they considered how farmers can participate in farmer-to-farmer response.
“Our problem was that if we were to give seeds to the farmers, what would happen is we would buy a lot of seeds from the company and then allocate and distribute it. That’s the easiest way to do it,” she said. “But what we wanted was to make the response more sustainable with a lasting impact on the farmers.”
So instead of seeds, RWAN and Oxfam distributed seedlings.
“There are cases that if we distribute seeds, the feedback we get from farmers is that they don’t grow. There’s also the risk of some farmers not planting the seeds at all,” Tanchuling said. “It’s the company that supplies the seeds that earns.”
Through hydroponics, soil-borne diseases are avoided because seedlings are grown through cocopeats in small paper cups. The plants are also first grown in a nutrient solution instead of soil.
To jumpstart the seedling vending enterprise, RWAN trained community members in hydroponics and business, and monitored their production.
The farmers in Quigona received seedlings from a community of Milaor town farmers, who also received help and training from RWAN and Oxfam.
These locally-acquired seedlings are passed on from community to community, true to the vision of RWAN of having a sustainable farmer-to-farmer response system.
From Sta. Magdalena and Irosin in Sorsogon, seedlings were transported over 200 kilometers to Milaor town in Camarines Sur. After they were grown in Milaor, the local farmers then shared their seedlings with the Quigona farmers.
“The climate types in Sorsogon and Camarines Sur are similar so the adaptability of the seeds is ensured,” said Gary Perlado, area development staff for RWAN. “Farmers are also familiar with the varieties of the crops that they need to plant each season.”
Godoy, upon hearing this proposition, did not hesitate to say yes to the opportunity to earn more income. The group now supply farmers from other communities, while also earning through selling their seedlings online through.
While Godoy has known all her life how to take care of plants, some of their members started with zero knowledge.
“After three weeks or one month, we can already sell the plants we grow through hydroponics,” said Ely Azuela, 39, who is the organization’s president.
They also now teach other farmers outside their organization how to hydroponically grow produce.
Azuela said that through their monthly meetings, the farmers are also able to learn from each bother.
Becoming Typhoon Proof
“Agriculture is highly sensitive to climate factors, so there is a need to put in place early systems and other support including insurance for farmers,” Tanchuling said.
The seedlings in Quigona’s hydroponics nursery can be easily stored in a safer place in anticipation of a storm.
“We can transfer them from the nursery to a safe house so they won’t spoil,” Azuela said.
For Azuela, living in a region that is in the usual path of a typhoon leaves him no other choice but to be more resilient.
“I have no plans of leaving Bicol. This is what my parents gave us. I love our village and I do not plan to leave the land that we plant our vegetables on. We will not have other sources of income anywhere else,” Azuela said.
For this year’s World Humanitarian Day, we are highlighting the need to address the climate crisis, which has already affected millions of people, especially those from vulnerable groups. To help address climate change, Oxfam Pilipinas and its partner organizations continue to implement renewable energy and sustainable solutions.