From the ground: Views of Filipino agricultural workers on climate change

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 18) — The impacts of climate change can be seen through numbers.

Paeng, one of the most recent storms to hit the Philippines, affected at least 146,000 farmers and fisherfolk across the country.

The severe tropical storm damaged more than 136,000 hectares of crop areas with the rice sector covering 60 percent of the total loss. Estimated cost of agricultural damage was pegged at ₱6 billion.

Paeng was the 16th tropical cyclone to enter the country and the fourth for October. Before it, Tropical Depression Maymay and Typhoon Neneng left over ₱590-million worth of agricultural damage.

With all of these data and reports from the ground, are farmers and fisherfolk really unaware of climate change?

'Scientists' in their own right

In a public briefing in September, the state weather bureau said current effects of climate change in the country are the sea-level rise — which is three times faster than the global average — and less frequency of typhoons but with increasing intensity.

As around 20 tropical cyclones affect agricultural workers yearly, some of them are making their own measures to combat potential devastating effects to their livelihood.

Lauro Diego, a farmer from Limay town in Bataan, is training his peers about organic and sustainable farming, which he said can produce higher yields and help the country attain rice self-sufficiency. He argued conventional farming depends on synthetic inputs that can destroy the land they till.

WATCH: PH still far from achieving 'rice sufficiency'

Diego said organic farming practices include breeding seeds, most especially palay, that can withstand floods, droughts, and other weather uncertainties brought by climate change.

"Meron akong partikular na kasiguruhan sa binhi ng palay at ngayon ay patuloy na nagpapalahi ng palay mula sa locally-adapted varieties at locally-adapted selections upang maka-produce pa ng lalong huhusay na variety na hindi aasa sa sintetikong pataba at sintetikong pestisidyo," the farmer said.

[Translation: I have certainty in these palay seeds and I continue to breed palay from locally-adapted varieties and locally-adapted selections to produce better varieties that would not depend on synthetic fertilizer and pesticides.]

Diego, a member of farmer-led network Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) and chairperson of its Provincial Consultative Body in Nueva Ecija, joins other group initiatives such as farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange and seed exchange to boost efforts in capacitating small-scale farmers.

For him, this proves that they are scientists in their own right.

FARMERS' TRAINING. Farmer Lauro Diego is teaching his peers organic and sustainable farming practices as a way to defend their livelihood from the devastating effects of climate change.

"Kaya nga po kami bilang magsasaka eh tinatawag na rin kaming magsasakang siyentista dahil nga nagsusuri kami sa mga tanim namin. Pinipili nga po namin ang mahuhusay na barayti na aangkop sa kalagayan ng panahon," the farmer said.

[Translation: That’s why as farmers we are called farmer-scientists because we study our crops. We choose the best varieties that suit weather conditions.]

The same can be said about fisherfolk, shared Rhea Yray-Frossard, fisheries management and campaign research manager of marine conservation group Oceana.

RELATED: Tuna fishers turn tides through sustainability

"Nandyan na sila sa dagat since they were born at pina-pass on na siya (their expertise) from generation to generation. It’s ironic lang na pinakaimportanteng sektor, frontliner ng food security is isa sa mga pinakamahirap na sektor sa ating bansa," Frossard said.

[Translation: They are already in the seas since they were born and their expertise is passed on from generation to generation. It’s ironic that the most important sector, the frontliner in food security is one of the poorest sectors in the country.]

Policy shortcomings

For Oceana’s part, Frossard said they set up a virtual classroom for small fishers in 2021 which was attended by 160 participants and 57 fisherfolk groups.

"It’s a venue, listening to their issues at the same listening to the good examples ‘yong mga efforts na ginagawa nila [of efforts done] on the ground that we can share to other stakeholders na pwedeng suportahan [that we can also support]," she said, noting that the classroom has now turned into a meeting platform.

Fisherman Rowel Saldajeno, president of Funda-Dalipe Fisherfolk Association in San Jose de Buenavista town in Antique, said he learned different policies related to fisheries during the sessions.

MUNICIPAL FISHING. Rowel Saldajeno, a small-scale fisher in Antique, poses with his catch for the day.

One of them is on the fisheries management areas (FMAs), established through a Fisheries Administrative Order in 2019 by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, which is also the main topic of the classroom series.

According to Frossard, who is also a lawyer, the policy provides the ecosystem-based approach to sustainably manage fisheries, delineating the country’s territorial waters into 12 areas where scientists have identified top fish species.

Saldajeno is in FMA 5 where big-eye scad or matang-baka is usually caught. He said aside from climate change, factors like continuous illegal logging which can destroy coral reefs, reclamation projects, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing affect the country’s fish stocks.

Fishers’ group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA) has been raising the alarm on 187 reclamation projects across the country that threatens marine biodiversity.

Oceana has also launched a similar campaign in Cebu, one of the islands with a high number of reclamation projects.

READ: Bye, sunset? Senators raise concern over Manila Bay reclamation projects

Along with Oceana, Saldajeno also called for the full implementation of the vessel monitoring measure to augment the surveillance of commercial boats encroaching in municipal waters and further protect marine resources.

"Di naman po tayo against sa commercial [vessels], para [lang] malaman natin kung saan sila nangingisda… kung malaman natin na kung nangigngisda sila sa isang lugar at diyan ‘yong maraming isda, mapangalagaan ng gobyerno at maprotektahan para magiging marami," said the municipal fisher.

[Translation: We’re not against commercial vessels, we just need to know where they are fishing, especially if we learn that they fish in an area where stocks are plenty, it can be protected by the government to let the fish breed.]

According to Republic Act (RA) 10654 or "The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998," municipal waters are the designated 15 kilometers from the shoreline reserved for the preferential use and access of municipal and artisanal fisherfolk.

"We really call for implementation of fisheries laws, environmental laws," Frossard said. "The Philippines is internationally recognized for good environmental laws but sadly the implementation is very questionable."

Integration urged

When farmers and fisherfolk were said to be unaware of climate change, PAMALAKAYA national chairperson Fernando Hicap urged leaders to integrate in communities to learn about their actions on climate mitigation.

'ATIN ANG PINAS'. Along with other fisherfolk, Fernando Hicap (center), national chairperson of fishers’ group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA) advocates against Chinese incursion in the West Philippines Sea.

Hicap said the government must heed their calls as they experience the brunt of climate change that also affects food security, saying a "comprehensive mitigation plan" must be made from the mountains down to the seas.

"Dumadami tayo eh, ‘yong population ng Pilipinas, tapos ‘yong mga pinagkukunan natin ng pagkain natin ay lumiliit dahil sa mga conversion ng mga lupang agrikultural, conversion at privatization ng pangisdaan tulad ng reklamasyon," Hicap said.

"Kapag tuloy-tuloy na ginagawa nila [ito], talagang ‘yong pagsirit ng [presyo ng] pagkain sa atin ay nakakabahala," he warned.

[Translation: Our population in increasing and our food sources are becoming limited because of conversion of agricultural lands, conversion and privatization of fisheries like reclamation. If they let these continue, increasing food prices will be a constant worry.]

Meanwhile, Eliseo Ruzol Jr., MASIPAG’s national information-communications officer, said there is a "level of disjunction" with the government claiming farmers to be ignorant about climate change but is supplying inputs that are not climate-resilient.

"Kung talagang gusto nilang magkaroon ng 'alam' ang mga farmer sa climate change ay suportahan nila nang maayos, bigyan nila ng adequate support ‘yong organic [agricultural program]… kasi dun talaga nila masasapul ‘yong nilalayon nilang pag-address ng climate change," Ruzol said.

[Translation: If they really want farmers to have knowledge about climate change, they should support them well, give adequate support to the organic program or organic agriculture program… because it will really help address climate change.]

The National Organic Agriculture Board, established through the Republic Act 10068 or the "Organic Agriculture Act of 2010," is the policy-making body responsible for implementing the country’s organic agricultural program which promotes sustainability and environmental protection, among others. Its funding is under the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Currently, the Senate is holding marathon hearings to finish the deliberation on the proposed ₱5.268-trillion budget for 2023.

The DA is set to receive ₱160 billion for its 2023 spending plan while the Department of Environment and Natural Resources proposed ₱23.13 billion.

Zooming out, the global community is holding talks to address previously agreed targets to curb the effects of climate change. Filipino groups called on the country’s delegation to push for agroecology, which they deemed a "viable, feasible, and an alternative climate change adaptation and mitigation strategy."

"Agroecological ways of farming create resilient, fertile, and more carbon-absorbent soils, focus on the efficient reuse of water and natural manure, provide healthy and nutritious food, increase crop yield, stimulate local economy and fair pricing, increase the capacities of small-scale farming communities, and help address loss of livelihoods, poverty, and food insecurity amongst the most vulnerable populations," their open letter read.