Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm ever recorded at landfall, tore through the Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013, killing more than 6,000 and leaving millions without homes and livelihoods.
It was a stark reminder that climate change is causing an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events with the power to destroy not only lives, but also vital sources of food and income.
With 235kph winds and storm surges reaching six meters high, some of the worst affected were the vulnerable coastal communities of Central and Eastern Visayas, where the pre-disaster rates of poverty were already above the national average of 25 percent.
“When Typhoon Haiyan hit us, our plants were damaged and our house was flooded. I was deeply saddened, even the whole barangay (community) was sad too. In my mind I wondered, “What are we going to do now?” recalls 63-year-old Juan Albero, who lives with his wife and five grandchildren in Sogod.
“I could not get seeds or seedlings from anywhere, and I had no money to buy new seeds. I had lost hope that I could plant different types of vegetables again,” says Juan, who grew peppers for a living.
Many families throughout Sogod relied on coconut palms for their livelihoods, which were destroyed during the typhoon and will take up to seven years to regrow.
"If not for the project, my vegetable garden could not have expanded. Today my vegetable garden is very helpful because I can sell my produce that is beyond my household’s food needs.”- Juan Albero, farmer
In response to the disaster, WorldFish and the CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems launched a rehabilitation project in the region to develop aquaculture and homestead vegetable gardens. Vegetable seeds were distributed to 200 households across four communities and training was provided on horticulture.
“Now I have even more vegetables than I had before. I now have bitter gourd, string beans, bottle gourd, eggplant, sponge gourd and peppers,” says Juan, who received both training and seeds from the project.
Farmers were supplied seeds under the condition that they repay 20 seeds for every seed they received, allowing a sustainable distribution of seeds to other communities.
A species of tilapia called GIFT Malaysia, genetically improved through selective breeding to be more disease resistant and grow faster even in poor water quality, was also supplied to a key fish hatchery in the area, which has in turn supplied local farmers with high quality fry.
Thirteen farmers received fingerlings from the hatchery in August 2014 and by October each farmer had harvested an average of 266kg of tilapia, valued at PhP18,620 ($USD433).
These livelihood strategies are helping communities quickly recover their incomes in the wake of Haiyan, cope with rising food prices and provide their families with nutritious meals.
“If not for the project, my vegetable garden could not have expanded. Today my vegetable garden is very helpful because I can sell my produce that is beyond my household’s food needs,” Juan explains.
Juan harvests three crops per month and even supplies a local restaurant with peppers, netting him a monthly income of PhP2,100 (USD$47).
“I use my additional income to buy rice, fertilizer for gardening, and pesticide spray. It also helps with my grandchildren’s education… The extra income has really been a big help to my family and me,” he says.
“We are now able to give vegetables to our relatives and neighbors. I also gave seeds and seedlings to them so that they can start their own vegetable garden,” he adds.
In the future, alternate livelihoods like fish and vegetable farming can increase the resilience of typhoon-affected communities to the impacts of climate change, like changes in seasonality, rainfall patterns and severe weather.
“People should learn how to grow seedlings, and produce and store seeds from their own garden so that gardening of vegetables and other plants will continue even without outside support,” says Juan.
To facilitate the spread of vegetable farming, the project held ‘knowledge fairs’ in the area for project farmers to share their experiences with neighboring communities.
While the project ends in December 2014, the local government of Sogod is supporting the expansion of horticulture training and seed distribution to another 43 communities in the area in 2015.