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Farmer-leader harvests the fruits of labor

Story by Dennis Amata, Information & Communications Manager, CARE Philippines

Rhodora has lived in the mountains of Antique, Philippines since she was born. Her parents used to be upland farmers so she also learned how to survive in a community away from the hustle and bustle of urban living.

“We just have a simple life here in the mountains. Most of us are upland farmers relying on vegetables, root crops and fruits to live. It’s also difficult sometimes because we don’t earn much money,” she shared.

Just like most of the people affected by typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, Rhodora has also her fair share of terrible experience as the typhoon whipped her house to destruction and uprooted her fruit bearing trees in her village Osorio.

“It was something we couldn’t forget easily. We also lost access to the town proper due to our remote location and the road leading to our village became unpassable,” she said.

The people of Osorio in the town of Culasi struggled to get back on their feet when Haiyan destroyed their livelihoods. According to the municipal data, 17% of its people have income less than the poverty threshold. The typhoon destroyed primarily the abaca (tree-like herb) and banana plantation located in the mountains leaving people with no stable sources of income.

Rhodora, a 48-year-old mother of three, remains optimistic as she also leads a community group called Osorio Farmers’ Association (OsoFA). She believes that through her association composed of 113 members (66 are women), they would be able to spearhead livelihood opportunities for their community members.

But Rhodora knew that this wouldn’t be easy as they had to deal with various problems and issues. Abaca production has been the people’s primary source of income since Osorio has a total of 63 hectares of abaca plantation distributed among its upland areas. Abaca or Manila Hemp is indigenous in the Philippines. It is grown commercially to extract fiber that is processed into clothing fabric or high-quality cordage or ropes in a ship’s rigging.

Just like in other villages in Culasi, abaca farmers are victims of exploitative pricing, low production volume and low productivity of farms.

“Most of the abaca farms in our village were not harvested because many farmers didn’t have the money to fund their processing needs,” she said.

Osorio has the largest abaca plantation in the town of Culasi but the large number of plantation remained unprocessed. It has also become one of the reasons why our men opt to work as “sakada” – local term for migrant workers in Antique who travel to another province as labourers in sugarcane plantations.

“It’s hard for our families because the men had to leave their wives to work in another place for six months. The women bore the burden of watching over their children while their husbands were away,” said Rhodora.

Rhodora revealed the struggles of women whenever their husbands couldn’t send money to them.

“Before our husbands leave for Negros Occidental, we already requested for cash advance from their employers. So when they’re already there, the employers deduct money from our husbands’ salary until nothing’s left in their pockets,” she shared.

“As mothers, we had no choice but to also work and look for various ways to earn. Some women in my village went to another province to work as house helpers,” she added.

Though we already had our association that time, we also couldn’t do something about it because all of us were affected by the typhoon and still slowly recovering. Good thing that CARE found us,” shared Rhodora.

CARE has implemented the Community Enterprise Facility (CEF), a livelihood recovery assistance project in Antique where community organizations are supported through financial grants and trainings to boost the abaca industry in the province and provide economic opportunities to people affected by the typhoon.

In partnership with Antique Development Foundation (ADF), CARE has worked with OSOFA to start a community enterprise on abaca processing and marketing. CARE provided the farmers financial support for their abaca processing activities as well as the capital for the association to buy raw fiber from its members.

Through the CARE project, OSOFA has become an abaca consolidator of the raw fiber from its members who are all abaca farmers. The farmers have their own farms and upon harvesting and processing, they can now easily sell the fiber to the association and get instant cash.

“CARE has also provided us with various trainings especially on enterprise and financial managament so we could be capable of sustaining our livelihood,” said Rhodora.

CARE also helps OSOFA to partner with the local government unit for the information and education campaign about the abaca industry development and the value-chain industry.

“We are targeting to increase our production volume from 6 tons a year to at least 36 tons per year,” said Rhodora who also referred to Manila Cordage Company (MCC) as one of their biggest buyers of abaca fiber.

The demand for abaca fiber now in the market is pretty high. MCC requires a minimum of 300 tons per month for the 3rd class fiber (commonly used to produce ropes).

Rhodora now sees that their hard work starts to pay off. Most of the men in their community have decided to stop working as “sakada” and instead stay with their families because they already have stable livelihood — which is abaca production.

“People in our village now have interest in planting, harvesting and processing abaca because they see that others get to earn from it. Like in my case, I get to save support my children’s education and even provide their basic needs,” said Rhodora.

She is also happy to see that because of the CARE project, the men don’t have to leave their wives anymore and children get to spend Christmas with a complete family. The women now also join their husbands during harvesting and help them in extracting fiber.

Rhodora has high hopes in the development of abaca industry in her province. She sees so much potential and believes that her province could be one of the country’s top suppliers of abaca fiber.
“Just give us two years, I think we’ll be able to do it,” shared Rhodora.

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