Story by: Dennis Amata (Communications Manager, CARE Philippines)
Coconut farming was the main source of livelihood of people in the upland village of Quezon Junior in Ormoc, Leyte, Philippines. But the people suffered a major blow when their coconut plantations were harshly wiped out by typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November 2013.
“Most of the people here are coconut farmers. But since coconut trees were heavily damaged by the typhoon, we had to look for other crops to plant,” shared Julieto Yahot, the president of Quezon Junior United Farmers Association (QJUFA).
This marked the beginning of seriously considering cassava as their alternative to coconuts. Cassava (scientific name: manihot esculenta) is a tuberous starchy root, high in carbohydrates, and essential to tropical diets. The roots, often compared to large yams, can weigh several pounds.
“We also tried planting cocoa but it failed to grow because of the extreme heat we experienced after Yolanda. We thought of planting cassava because we know it’s a disaster-resilient crop that could withstand both drought and strong rains,” said Julieto.
The QJUFA became one of the community associations financially supported by CARE through the Community Enterprise Facility project in partnership with the Rural Development Initiatives in the Islands of Leyte. They are further assisted by CARE through the on-going post-Haiyan Reconstruction Assistance Project funded by the Government of Canada (Global Affairs Canada) which provided them necessary trainings for success and sustainability.
The farmers of QJUFA also saw the opportunity of pursuing cassava production because of an existing stable market. Currently, the Fatima Multi-Purpose Cooperative (FMPC) in Leyte is consolidating dried cassava from different farmers’ association to sell to a large food processing company.
“Having the presence of a big buyer around is a morale booster for our farmers. It helps us look forward to harvesting that’s why most of us regularly check our plantation,” shared Julieto.
“Right now, we observe continuous increase in our cassava production. More farmers in our community became interested after knowing there is a steady market. From 25 members, we now have 82.”
The association has also expanded its communal cassava plantation up to 12 hectares.
Cassava production doesn’t just provide jobs to men but it also allowed women to have income-generating opportunities. Women hugely participate in cassava chipping and drying in which they also get paid by the association for their labour.
The association also walks the extra mile in innovating. They process cassava and other crops that also provided additional income to their members. Most of the women members are now involved in producing cassava juice, cassava cake, and turmeric/ginger tea that they sell in their neighbourhood or community markets. The association also set up its own vermicomposting facility to produce organic fertilizer.
QJUFA’s journey to recovery may look seamless but the farmers admitted that they went through hurdles that also tested their persistence.
“Though cassava is a resilient crop to changing weather, our main problem occurs after harvesting. We need to dry chipped cassava in order to sell. Normally, drying takes three days if it’s sunny. But that becomes a week of drying during rainy season,” explained Julieto.
“It is bad for cassava to get wet during drying. It may lead to mould growth that increases spoilage. Aside from that it also delays our production process.”
Julieto shared that they are now requesting solar dryer from the Department of Agriculture that they may use during rainy season. Right now they are using the flatbed dryer with UV plastic sheet as roofing which they built from the support from CARE.
Also, in partnership with FMPC, CARE has provided various relevant and useful trainings for the officers and members of QJUFA to sustain the project. CARE has conducted trainings on enterprise management that includes productivity and marketing sessions, financial literacy, gender and development, disaster risk reduction and cassava production.
“The trainings helped us to better manage our association and our enterprise. After attending those trainings, I notice the improvement in my members’ skills and outlook. They interact more with each other and negotiate better with buyers and customers,” said Julieto.