Seaweed farmers in Philippines face battle with El Nino

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PALAWAN, Philippines: Minda Sumaraga and her husband had spent nearly a month growing their crop of seaweed. Then, on the morning of Nov 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan tore across the Philippines taking their crop with it. 

“Of course their seaweed was the first thing that was destroyed and then the boats of the fishermen washed away,” said David Agnes, Barangay Captain in Palawan’s San Isidor Island. “For all the farmers, the crop was destroyed and all of their livelihood was gone
. The biggest effect of the typhoon is the hardship to their livelihoods.”

The Philippines is one of the top five producers of seaweed in the region, and there are 3 million people who rely on it for their livelihood. It is estimated that when Typhoon Haiyan landed, it destroyed about US$12.2 million in aquaculture and seaweed production.

This year, another natural disaster looms. Seaweed farmers like Minda face a battle with El Nino, a naturally occurring weather phenomenon where the water in the Pacific Ocean heats up more than usual.

Said Jose Luis Fernandez, Food and Agriculture Organisation Representative for the Philippines: “El Nino has an impact on the temperature of the sea and goes higher than what is optimal for seaweed production. It has an impact on the production in terms of quantity and in terms of quality, and also the spread of diseases.”

JOBS, LIVELIHOODS UNDER THREAT

Now, with no income coming from their seaweed crop, Minda’s husband, Daniel, needs to earn a living as a carpenter at a nearby resort.

Said Minda: “It’s big money if it’s not washed away. It’s a big help for us – when it fell we lost our income and we now have to earn our money differently.”

It has taken more than a year for seaweed farmers to start re-growing their crops here. But the crops now are not as big as they used to be. The seaweed is eventually sold here in the market for a mere 100 pesos (US$2.20)/kg. With crops getting smaller, it is another island-based livelihood that is being threatened.

Fernandez said seaweed production is an activity that attracts coastal communities because it requires a low investment capital, the production period is very short, and the income from it is quite high.

In good weather, a seaweed farmer with a hectare of seaweed culture area, can earn 200,000 pesos (US$4,400) in four harvests a year. So while farmers may struggle against the effects of natural disasters and climate change, they will persevere as the demand for seaweed increases.

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