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Leading cassava farmers after Haiyan

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

Aside from being a farmer, Marites Acebo has been a coconut wine producer for more than 20 years. It has become her family’s bread and butter and even supported her children’s college education. But things abruptly changed. Marites never expected that life could lead her to a difficult road ahead.

When super typhoon Haiyan devastated most parts of Central Philippines on 08 November 2013, the coconut industry in the Visayas Region was also crippled as more than 90% of coconut trees were heavily damaged or totally destroyed.

“People in my village here in Barugo, Leyte largely depended on coconuts as their primary source of income. Like me, I make wine out of coconuts for a living,” shared Marites, a 43-year-old mother of five.

“After the typhoon, all our coconut trees were destroyed. We suddenly realized that Haiyan even swept away our dreams and hopes for our families because we didn’t know where and how to restart,” she added.

For six months, Marites and other farmers in her village struggled to regain their livelihoods. The men continued to work as farm laborers while women started planting various vegetables and nuts primarily for food consumption while waiting for the coconut trees to bear fruits again which will take 7-9 years.

But the situation didn’t remain gloomy for Marites and the people of Amahit. They eventually received an opportunity to help her community recover from the typhoon’s onslaught.

“I was contacted by Fatima Multi-Purpose Cooperative (FMPC) since they had programs in our community before. They explained to us that they are in partnership with CARE to support communities affected by the typhoon,” she said.

Marites was tasked to facilitate the formation of a community-based association in her village Amahit. She immediately mobilized the farmers and oriented them about the project that would specifically focus on cassava production.

Cassava is a woody shrub extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical countries such as the Philippines. Its edible starchy tuberous root is a good source of carbohydrates and considered a major staple food in developing countries.

To support communities heavily affected by Haiyan, CARE implemented the Community Enterprise Fund program that provided financial and training assistance to community-based associations. This is to restore their damaged livelihood and provide economic opportunities to the affected people. In Leyte, CARE has partnered with FMPC to carry out the livelihood projects. The initiative is supported by the Canadian Government through the Global Affairs Canada.

“At first, they were hesitant to join because they weren’t sure if we would have regular buyers of cassava. In our village, farmers only planted cassava for our families and for our livestock. We didn’t consider it as a serious industry,” said Marites.

But after ensuring that FMPC would be their buyer and there’s already an existing market in the region for cassava, the farmers entrusted Marites their confidence to lead the association towards recovery. This eventually led to the establishment of Amahit Farmers Association (AFA) composed of 53 members (10 are women; 43 are men).

Through the guidance of FMPC and CARE, the AFA was able to prepare a business proposal for a community-based cassava farming and production enterprise. The association received financial assistance from CARE that was greatly supported by a series of skill-building trainings.

“CARE conducted a lot of trainings for us including the management of our enterprise and various practical techniques to improve our production,” said Marites.

“It was a huge help for us because majority of the farmers here didn’t finish studies. The trainings gave us additional knowledge specifically on financial management. I think that’s the most basic yet important topic,” she added.

Each farmer received 8,000 pesos (218.16 CAD) to plant cassava. They also participated in trainings on enterprise and financial management, productivity, marketing etc.

But the farmers of Amahit faced another hurdle as they bore the brunt of the strongest El Nino on record. Four months ago, their cassava was affected by the extreme drought that led to dramatic decrease in yield.
“Because of El Nino, our cassava didn’t grow fully. Obviously, the quality was significantly affected so we had to wait for a few months to replant. It was very unfortunate because even our farm irrigation dried up,” said Marites.

The farmers became frustrated after what happened but Marites continued to encourage her members to move forward.

“We are very thankful that CARE and FMPC were still with us and helped us bounce back. We were also linked by CARE with the Department of Agriculture (DA) to learn more ways to properly grow cassava,” said Marites.

When the effect of El Nino subsided and Amahit got to experience rain, the association started replanting cassava. Most members were also able to harvest cassava after four months. Each farmer harvested 600 kilos while Marites was able to

harvest 4,000.

Through CARE’s assistance and initiative, the AFA is now a registered community association at the Department of Labor and Employment. Because of this, the association is already recognized by the government and could easily access government services and support.

“Right now, we are very fortunate to receive support from the DA. They granted us a solar cassava dryer and gripper that would really help us in cassava processing,” said Marites.

Marites shared that they are planning to engage in cassava processing that would provide more income to the members. They are looking forward to produce cassava pie, cake and chips for selling.

“The women are really interested in leading the cassava processing activities while men are more comfortable in planting and harvesting,” she said.

Marites shared that more women in her community are now interested in joining the association. She thinks it’s a good start for our women to have additional sources of income.

Because of Marites’ hard work, commitment and ability to effectively lead farmers in her village, she was selected to be part of CARE’s Community-Based Development Facilitators or CBDF. A CBDF carries out CARE’s enterprise trainings with the local government unit representatives in other assisted communities.

“I didn’t expect that CARE would trust me to become a CBDF. At first, I was reluctant because I wasn’t able to finish my studies so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it. But CARE told me that it’s not about educational attainment. The heart to serve is much more important,” shared Marites.

Marites accepted the new role and attended more trainings from CARE to prepare her for this endeavour.
“Actually when I was preparing my materials at home for the training I would conduct, my daughter asked me about my activity. I told her that this time I would be the one to conduct the training for farmers in other communities,” started Marites.

“My daughter told me that she thought I could only make coconut wine. She didn’t expect that I could even lead an association and be able to become a trainer someday. She said she is very proud of me,” added Marites.

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