More than a hundred farmers and disaster survivors from Eastern Visayas provinces today demanded agriculture secretary Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Pinol to implement emergency rehabilitation measures to revive the agriculture and fisheries sector in the region that was severely devastated by supertyphoon Yolanda and subsequent natural and man-made calamities.
Groups from Eastern Visayas are on the second day of their Caravan against Hunger and Militarization in the National Capital Region that aims to raise public awareness on the current regional situation.
“The previous Aquino administration neglected us and plundered disaster fund and resources intended for calamity victims. Now, we are challenging the Duterte presidency to respond to our most urgent demands,” said Nestor Lebico, spokesperson of Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (SAGUPA-SB), the regional chapter of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in Eastern Visayas.
Eastern Samar, Western Samar and Northern Samar provinces are among the DA’s priority areas. The agency, under Pinol, has earmarked billions of funds for increased food production and poverty alleviation in the said provinces under the Strategic Areas for Agriculture Development program (SaAD) but government aid and rehabilitation efforts are not reaching the intended beneficiaries. In fact, farmers have registered 85 to 90% production losses due to successive typhoons, drought and infestations affecting coconut, abaca and palay.
Address hunger, stop militarization
Lebico said farmers in rural communities in Samar and Leyte provinces continue to experience worsening hunger, three years after Yolanda struck. Based on conservative government estimates, hunger incidence in the region is at 45 percent.
“The Duterte government cannot turn a blind eye on the grim realities in Region 8. Before Yolanda, Eastern Visayas is the poorest region with the highest hunger incidence. The situation took a sharp turn from bad to worse. Now, more than 90 percent of the 4.1 million people in the provinces of Leyte, Southern Leyte, Samar, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar and Biliran are poor and hungry.
“Recovery is impossible as long as the agriculture and fisheries sector in the region remain neglected,” the peasant leader said, adding that the agriculture sector accounts for almost 45 percent of the region’s employment.
“We have no lands to till, no government support and services for farmers and fisherfolks. Coconut farmlands are infested with coconut scale insect or cocolisap. Abaca is infested with bunchy-top virus. People who are trying to start a new life in the hinterlands cannot live in peace because of intense military operations. It’s like we are stuck between purgatory and hell,” Lebico said.
No genuine rehab for coco farmlands, agri
Coconut farming is the main livelihood in Eastern Visayas. In 2014, Yolanda destroyed 11.3 million of the 12 million coconut trees in the region, damaging 80 percent of 1.1 million metric tons of crops. “Whatever was left of the coconut farmlands in Samar and Leyte was infested with cocolisap,” Lebico said. “Coconut production in the region has fallen from 2,000 nuts per hectare to only 200-500 nuts,” he added.
First discovered in 2010, the cocolisap has infested large areas of coco farmlands in Luzon and Mindanao by 2014 and last year, cocolisap started to infest Eastern Visayas.
According to IBON, the value of coconut production has steadily dropped from Php6.4 billion in 2013, to Php4.7 billion in 2014, and Php4.6 billion in 2015. The value of palay production in the region has also declined by 2.7 percent in the same year. Decline in fisheries is also evident with Eastern Visayas posting a 22.7% decline for example in the value of aquaculture fisheries production in 2015.
KMP secretary general Antonio Flores said the government and the DA must heed the demands of Eastern Visayas farmers for the distribution of free organic farm inputs, seedlings distribution, much-needed technical assistance and equipment to farmers and fisherfolk, a two-year moratorium on payment of irrigation fees, and the genuine rehabilitation and development of the agriculture sector and fisheries sector in the region. ###