| Thin Lei Win |
BASEY, Philippines (Reuters) – Coconut farmer Pacalan Wenefredo has taken to growing rice.
Fisherman Napoleon Caramol is planning to raise livestock. Housewife Felipa Balbuana, a mother of four, has signed up for her first job in years, sewing backpacks.
Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm on record to hit land when it slammed the Philippines on Nov 8 last year, have had to adapt in a bid to rebuild their lives in the wake of the storm that killed or left missing about 7,000 people.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates 5.6 million workers in a nation of about 100 million saw their means of earning a living ruined or seriously impaired by the disaster – and about a third of those affected were already poor.
Crops were destroyed, boats ripped apart, and houses flattened as the typhoon powered across the central Philippines, packing winds of up to 315km an hour (195 miles) and causing seven metre (23 feet) storm surges.
Wenefredo, 59, had worked for 20 years on land held for generations in his family in the inland village of Cancaiyas in central Philippines to produce copra, the dried kernel used for making coconut oil but Haiyan destroyed 80 per cent of his trees.
The Philippines is one of the world’s largest producers of coconuts, with exports averaging $1.5 billion annually in recent years and the government estimates the damage cost $38 million which is a fortune for many small scale farmers.
Aware it could take six to eight years for newly replanted coconut trees to reach maturity and return to full production Wenefredo turned to rice farming using cash assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
It is much less profitable but Wenefredo said he had no choice. He has just sold his first harvest, halving his income, but he needs money to repay debts incurred before the storm.
“We will continue with the rice farming. It is our only source of living at the moment,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, sitting on a bench in the stiflingly hot living room of fellow coconut-farmer-turned-rice-farmer Gerry Baclayo, 44.
Baclayo nodded in agreement.
“Less than half of our needs are covered by the income … we do extra labour work,” he said. “We borrow money, sometimes without interest, sometimes with 10 per cent interest, so we can buy fish because it’s hard to eat just rice.”
In its path of destruction, Haiyan damaged about 33 million coconut trees from a national total of about 300 million, and affected the livelihoods of more than a million farmers, according to the Philippines Coconut Authority (PCA).
The ADB estimates Haiyan drove an additional one million people below the poverty line with more than 1.3 million people needing emergency relief in the aftermath of the disaster, according to the ICRC.