First Person

What it takes for farmers to start planting again in the Philippines

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Local leaders help Oxfam distribute rice seeds in Leyte, Philippines. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam
Local leaders help Oxfam distribute rice seeds in Leyte, Philippines. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam

Filipino rice farmers like Gorgonio Simborio are in a race against time. When Typhoon Haiyan—known  locally as Yolanda—hit the island last month, it wiped out a third of the country’s rice-growing areas. The window for replanting is small, and one of Oxfam’s highest priorities now is enabling farmers to sow rice during the December planting season. We are rushing to get 400 metric tons of rice seeds into the hands of farmers so they’ll have a chance of a harvest in the first quarter of the new year. For each sack of rice seed planted, farmers can be expected to grow approximately 80 sacks of rice for harvesting.

Gorgonio Simborio. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam
Gorgonio Simborio. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam

One of those farmers is Simborio, left, the father of a young son, who lives in Leyte. Here is his account of the challenges he has been facing:

“Yolanda came just as we were about to harvest. Everything was damaged by the typhoon. I farm one hectare of land and it was badly damaged. I don’t own the land. I’m a tenant farmer.

We all want to start planting as soon as possible because we’re hungry. At the moment, we are relying on relief food. I lost 15,000 pesos  (almost $340) because there was no harvest. I’m trying to fix my house at the moment. It was also badly damaged by the typhoon. My wife is away in Manila working so we can get some kind of income. So for now, I’m a single dad.

“Rice seeds are very important. They make us live. They give us life. . . What harvest I get is always sold because we end up with debts. While we’re waiting for the new harvest we borrow from traders. We don’t keep any rice to eat.

“Getting seeds will make a difference to me and the other rice farmers here. Everyone has been affected by Yolanda and this is the time we really need to plant the seeds so we can have something to eat in a few months’ time.”

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