IAPS Dialogue: The online magazine of the Institute of Asia & Pacific Studies

The Two Faces of Intervention in the Visayan Coconut Industry

Banana trees destroyed by Typhoon Bopha are seen at a plantation in Compostela town, Compostela Valley province, in southern island of Mindanao on December 4, 2012. Typhoon Bopha killed 43 people in one hard-hit Philippine town December 4, local television station ABS-CBN reported from the scene. AFP PHOTO/Karlos ManlupigKARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/Getty Images ORG XMIT:

Written by Gerwyn Enerlan.

Eastern Visayas is one of the top producers of coconut fruit in the Philippines, ranking first or second in national production. From 1990-2013, the Philippine Statistics Authority noted that the coconut production of the region continuously rose from 35 million metric tons to 46 million metric tons, an increase of 24 percent over a decade. Leyte is the top producer in the region, contributing 59 percent of the regional production of coconut fruits. However, the devastation brought by Super Typhoon Yolanda was deeply felt by the workers in the agricultural sector, especially coconut farmers. The region experienced a significant decline in coconut production, which gravely affected demand at local and national levels. It was estimated that around one million workers directly involved in coconut production were severely affected, with 33 million lost coconut trees.

The government’s bureaucratic processes resulted in inefficiencies in the delivery of post Yolanda assistance. This inefficiency was characterised by the improper implementation of clearing operations and the slow response to the financial need of the farmers.

The damage to the coconut industry prompted the national government, led by the Philippine Coconut Authority and Department of Agriculture and Non-Government Organizations, to take action. The government conducted clearing operations across the region to avoid pest infestation in the farmlands. Knowing the extent of the damage to the coconut industry, Non-Government Organizations coordinated with the government to provide aid. In the case of Leyte, OXFAM International took the lead in providing personal and community assistance in areas known for their coconut production, such as the town of Julita, Burauen, and Jaro.

However, the interventions by the government and non-government organisations vary in terms of their implementation, accessibility, and efficiency. In the first three months after the typhoon, both government and NGOs conducted clearing operations on roadways to hasten the delivery of assistance to affected communities. Within three months of responding to the needs of every community, assessments on the condition of the livelihood of different sectors were conducted, including the coconut farmlands. Knowing the devastation Yolanda caused to the coconut industry, PCA implemented their clearing operations, which involved cutting severely damaged coconut trees to help coconut farmers in rehabilitating their farms. The scope of the clearing operation included farmlands that were within a 500-metre distance from the highway. Farmlands that were not within the limit set by the clearing operations were not included. The operation was conducted throughout the region, which was daunting on the part of the PCA because of limitations in manpower and equipment. Due to the scale of the operation  and the limited resources, felled coconut trees were left behind to rot, something that farmers wanted to avoid. Farm owners could not use the lumber due to improper cutting methods done by the chainsaw operators.

Other than clearing operations, the PCA in cooperation with local government distributed coconut seedlings to identified farmers in each town. The PCA also provided cash assistance to the farmers but  the assistance, between 10,000 to 15,000 pesos, required farmers to hire workers with their own money to help clear their farmlands, and only then would the PCA reimburse the amount. This prevented farmers from clearing their farmlands and planting new coconut seedlings. Most of the farmers resorted to planting cheaper vegetables and root crops in order to provide for their needs.

In contrast OXFAM implemented their interventions differently. Their clearing operations involved community organisation (the barangays were required to create a coconut farmers association). This association was trained on how to function like a cooperative, to sustain the operation for a much longer time. The NGO provided training, equipment and financial assistance to be used for the clearing operation and the rehabilitation of farmlands. The association were given three chain saws and one saw mill, to start operations. Administrative officers were trained on how to properly handle funds, which amounted to 80,000 thousand pesos to be given in three tranches. The provision of the funds required proper book keeping which was monitored by the local NGO officers. During their operation, the association would be the one to hire and train the labourers. In order to sell the lumbers produced by the association, OXFAM linked the associations with several INGOs which were constructing shelters or providing shelter assistance.

OXFAM also provided cash for an asset recovery programme worth 10,000 pesos to small farmers with farmlands that were below three hectares. The CFAR was given in two tranches, the first tranche amounted to 6,000 pesos to be used for clearing  farmland. The second tranche was 4,000 pesos after the clearing was completed to be used for planting or other necessary expenses for farm production. The purpose of the CFAR was to provide the initial push for the farmers to start farming.

We can now see how the government and NGOs function differently in the provision of assistance to the coconut farmers. The government’s bureaucratic processes resulted in inefficiencies in the delivery of post Yolanda assistance. This inefficiency was characterised by the improper implementation of clearing operations and the slow response to the financial need of the farmers. The government should consult the beneficiaries on how to implement the assistance to avoid wasting resources. But it must be understood that the government faces its own limitations in terms of the resources and the manpower to properly deliver assistance. This should also become a concern on the part of the government on how they should address such internal issues.

The government can learn a lot from NGOs on what methods are effective in terms of delivering assistance. Consulting the beneficiaries is the most important thing that they can do. This will address the need for communication and feedback between the government and beneficiaries. Yet, even though the assistance provided by the NGOs was effective, the limited implementation in the region may not be enough to recuperate the coconut industry. The burden of revitalising the trade still falls on the shoulders of the Philippine Coconut Authority and other concerned agencies. It is estimated that it will take between six to nine years for the industry to get back to where it was. Three years after the horrifying disaster of Yolanda, there is still much to be done for the coconut industry of  Eastern Visayas.

Gerwyn Enerlan is an Economics Instructor in the Division of Social Sciences, University of the Philippines Visayas Tacloban College. This article forms part of the IAPS Dialogue edition entitled ‘Yolanda: Building Back Better,’ run in conjunction with the ESRC/DFID ‘Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research’ project entitled Poverty Alleviation in the Wake of Typhoon Yolanda’. Image credit: CC Baltimore Sun.