Jona F. Camacho, 42, treaded the muddy trail leading to her makeshift house where her three children happily greeted her, kissed her hands then scrambled over the green mangoes which she bought for snacks. Camacho knew it won’t suffice, but for now that’s all she can afford from what was left in her wallet after attending the Business Planning Workshop and Coaching, sponsored by the Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP) in Virac, Catanduanes.

Camacho, president of the Sustainable Livelihood Program Association (SLPA) in Brgy. Kilikilihan, San Miguel, Catanduanes, was one of the abaca farmer-leaders invited to attend the said activity to help abaca and mangrove crab farmers like her who were heavily devastated by typhoon Nina on December 25, 2016. Like other attendees who joined the business planning workshop, Camacho was hopeful that PRDP would save them from looming poverty once the abaca supply in the province are depleted.
“Kapag naputol na po ang mga abaca, matagal pa bago yun tumubo ulit. Ngayon, meron pa kasi inuuna nga yung mga putol kaya nakakakuha pa kami pero pag nawala na yun… Sa next year ngani hindi namin alam kung saan kami kukuha ng kabuhayan kasi yun lang ang pinagkukuhanan namin ng hanap-buhay (It takes time to revive damaged abaca trees. Now, we still harvest the truncated abaca trees but we’ll have no more left once we have exhausted them. We are uncertain about our source of income next year because it’s our only means of livelihood here),” she said.
PRDP offered to provide funds amounting to about P55 million originally committed by Department of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol for the rehabilitation of abaca in Catanduanes. Known as the “abaca county,” Catanduanes is the country’s biggest abaca-producing province with a total of 11 municipalities and 212 barangays engaged in abaca production. The province contributes around 92.3 percent of Bicol’s abaca production, with the highest reported productivity of 600 kilograms per hectare. PRDP’s Abaca Value Chain Analysis shows that as of December 2013, about 12,734 farmers cultivate an abaca production area of 33,051.25 hectares.

 

However, based from the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority’s (PhilFIDA) Crop Damage Report as of December 28, 2016, typhoon Nina’s wrath damaged 100 percent or 23,195.42 hectares of abaca farm area in Catanduanes. Among the hardly hit areas are the municipalities of San Miguel, Virac, Bato, Baras and San Andres. In Camacho’s home town, 3,895.92 hectares or 90 percent of abaca farm areas were devastated by the typhoon. Cherryl T. Tatel, Officer in Charge of the Municipal Agriculturist Office of San Miguel, said that the total cost of abaca damage was calculated at P136,357,200.

“In four to six months, wala nang abaca and it would take two to three years bago ma-replenish,” Tatel said.
This was supported by PhilFIDA-Catanduanes Provincial Fiber Officer Lorgen Z. Garcia, who admitted that the remaining supply of abaca is projected to last until April 2017. She said that immediate rehabilitation is necessary or else abaca farmers, particularly in the landlocked municipality of San Miguel, will lose their only source of income.

PRDP has an approved enterprise development (I-REAP) sub-project under procurement in Virac, Catanduanes in support of its commodity value chain for abaca. Complementary to the Project’s development objectives, the P19.45 million-worth Abaca Fiber Processing and Trading Enterprise in Virac, Catanduanes to be implemented by the Pinoy Lingap Damayan Multi-Purpose Cooperative (PLDC) targets to raise the annual income of its 3,483 abaca farmer members from P4,260 a month per farmer on the first year of operation to P5,142.32 per month on the 10th year. Currently, PLDC has a target volume of 30 to 40 tons per week to support its business. Yet, with the state of the abaca plantations in the province, implementing the said I-REAP sub-project is quite a challenge.

“We have an approved I-REAP sub-project. In a few months, mawawala na supply, we really have to do something about the supply (We have an approved I-REAP sub-project. In a few months, supply will be depleted, we really have to do something about the supply),” PRDP South Luzon Director Shandy M. Hubilla said.
On February 21-23, 2017, the PRDP South Luzon I-REAP team headed by Manolo Luis T. Herrera, along with I-REAP-Bicol Business Development Officer Victoria Eugene S. Florece and their staff oriented the participants about the I-REAP process and conducted proponent group profiling to determine prospective partners in integrated abaca farming to commence the rehabilitation of abaca plantations in the province. Herrera said that it takes 18 months to two years for abaca to recover thus, I-REAP has to integrate income generating projects like livestock or cash crop production for the abaca farmers on the first year while replanting and rehabilitating the abaca plantations.

The PRDP I-REAP team will assist the qualified proponent groups in preparing business plans for microenterprise sub-projects worth P3 million below. Sixty percent of the total enterprise project cost (TEPC) will come from World Bank, 20 percent will be sourced from the Department of Agriculture (DA), and 20 percent will be taken from the Provincial Local Government Unit’s development fund. Meanwhile, the proponent groups are required to give a counterpart worth 20 percent of the TEPC.

Camacho hopes that her cooperative will be one of the qualified proponent groups to benefit from PRDP’s abaca rehabilitation project. After the typhoon, her husband, an abaca farmer, could still harvest 10 kilograms of abaca per day which they sell for P65 per kilogram. She estimates that their stocked abaca fiber would only last until December this year.

“By next year, talagang tios na digdi samuya kasi kung di man nagbagyo di man kami matios, sana lang, siguro yung iba man na pagkakitaan pwede man pero di yun masapat sa ayog samuya na kadakol (By next year, we might experience extreme poverty. If only we’re not hit by the typhoon, we won’t suffer. Other livelihood activities may work but they won’t be enough to support a big family like ours),” she said.

Camacho budgets her husband’s income to their household needs and their six children’s allowances. Her eldest is a grade 11 student taking up Beauty Care in Manila. She also has twin daughters who are in grade 8, and two sons who are in grade 5 and kindergarten, respectively. Her youngest son is only three years old.
Tatel said that the PRDP-led abaca rehabilitation will be very beneficial to the abaca farmers not only in San Miguel but in the whole province.

“Makakatulong ang project na ito kasi after four to six months na mag-harvest sila ng mga na-recover na fiber, (sana) na ma-rehab naman kasi yung time na mahal yung abaca, parang wala na silang time na magtanim, mag-rehab, harvest lang ng harvest. Ang program na ito ay makakatulong upang magkaroon sila ng income at the same time yung kanilang lupa mapupunuan ng bago (This project will be very beneficial to the abaca farmers. After four to six months of harvesting the recovered abaca, it’s time to rehabilitate the abaca plantations because after the typhoon, they didn’t have time to replant),” she added.

The PRDP I-REAP team targets to have the microenterprise proposals approved by the Regional Project Advisory Board by April 2017 for immediate issuance of No Objection Letter 1 or approval to procure. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA-PRDP RPCO V InfoACE Unit)