By MAVIC CONDE
LEGAZPI, Albay – Flood is a common culprit in typhoon-devastated rice farms.
Melchor Hilado, a farmer in sitio Lupni in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, said the recent typhoon Odette caused flood, which mixed with debris from road construction materials, and swept their rice fields.
“Our flowering rice crops stopped growing,” Hilado said. “When the mud dries up, we’ll start removing the debris, which came from a road construction project for the community and for airport access.”
Hilado, also a farmer-trainer for Asosasyon ng mga Mangunguma kag Mamumugon sa Lupni (AMMLU), said at least 14 hectares of rice crops were destroyed, including his which is almost a hectare.
Their community seed library, where 46 rice varieties were stored for trial farming, was also swept by flood.
They do trial farming as part of MASIPAG, a network of 50,000 smallholder farmers in the country who breed locally-adapted seeds by trial farming. MASIPAG provides free training as well as rice varieties for members to test, store, and distribute, if not exchange for free with fellow MASIPAG members.
Kabankalan farmers like Hilado are focused on their immediate needs which are food and water, and house repairs. These Odette-affected farmers have received food aid from the local government and from private donations through their farmers’ network. As of this writing, according to Hilado, the relief packs they got from the local government were good for two days.
Hilado lamented that only one village official had once visited their ruined rice fields, and there wasn’t a word on how the government could help.
Gilberto Premediles, a farmer and committee coordinator for Climate Change Disaster Risk Reduction of the Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group (PDG), is facilitating a clean-up drive for muddy wells. The PDG is a non-profit organization that helps capacitates farmers in Negros in terms of agrarian reform.
In its call for help, PDG posted on Facebook, “Climate crisis is getting more real, and what’s more real is the devastation getting stronger each year, with most of the vulnerable communities heavily affected. Super-typhoon Odette (International name Rai) slapped its strength on farming and fishing communities in the Visayas.”
Saving seeds as part of disaster response
PDG’s Premediles said they will meet with MASIPAG next week to discuss a quick action plan on how to deal with the impacts of Odette. The meeting, he said, will also be the time where members bring seeds for free use and exchange, as well as provide situation updates.
This kind of mutual aid extends to disaster response, especially that extreme weather events have been wreaking havoc on crops and superstorms are getting more frequent in the Philippines. Vulnerable Filipinos like farmers have been bearing the brunt of the most disastrous typhoons since the last two decades.
In 2019 and 2021, Kabankalan farmers were able to provide rice and vegetable seeds as aids for disaster-affected farmers in Luzon, Bohol, Cebu, and Negros.
“Giving fellow farmers seeds is a big help, and it makes us happy to be able to,”Hilado said.
Now, it’s them who need help.
This practice of mutual aid has also been done by vegetable seed savers in Benguet. Harry Paulino of Cebu Seed Savers (CSS) shared during an interview with a local radio program that when typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut) destroyed the crops of the Benguet Association of Seed Savers, their members got access to seeds because of their community seed library.
The CSS are one of the two groups formed in Cebu after getting trained by the Global Seed Savers Philippines, a non-profit organization that first worked with the municipal agriculture office of Tublay to create a community seed library in Benguet.
Paulino said in an email that the CSS members are just as much affected by typhoon Odette with their destroyed homes, if not partially, and crops and poultry.
For Karen Lee Hizola of the GSSP, their experience with typhoon Ompong gave them the idea that seed libraries should also be part of the government’s disaster response.
Doing so would mean seizing the opportunity to contribute to the country’s domestic efforts on climate change mitigation, which according to the Climate Action Tracker, should be the “explicit and distinct focus.”