In broad-daylight January 2015, the weather was stunningly fine, the air was soothingly fresh, and the mountains exuded a breath-taking sight as he was transplanting his delicate, young rice seedlings on his field.
A week after, however, dark clouds slowly shrouded the mountains, heavy rains poured, and strong winds battered his recovering plants. Typhoon Amang came and harassed his hope for a bountiful harvest.
“Nalumural ako” (I felt devastated), farmer Rodrigo Jose Aspe, 55, of Magarao, Camarines Sur sighed upon seeing his rice field ravaged and severely flooded.
Many other agricultural areas in the province were underwater for two weeks at that time. Surprisingly, from seemingly lifeless, Aspe’s tillering rice plants survived as if nothing happened.
Mang Rodrigo used Green Super Rice (GSR) 5, a multi-trait rice cultivar that can withstand adverse growing conditions, such as drought, flooding, and saline intrusion.
In the wake of the typhoon, Anicia Mancita of the Municipal Agriculture Office advised him not to take any action, just observe what would happen. To Mang Rodrigo’s surprise, his one-hectare rice crop recovered and gave him a handsome yield of over a hundred sacks after three months.
GSR 5, 11, and 22 are the most recommended and used lines in the municipality. “GSR 22 looks like a hybrid variety. It is taller, has broader leaves, and yields up to 5.66 t/ha,” Mancita said.
Albeit still under field-testing and not yet commercially available, “these GSR lines exhibit resilience to adversities as proven by our farmers,” Mancita added.
Mang Rodrigo was among the farmer-cooperators of the project “Consolidating Capacities for Disaster Risk Reduction in Agriculture and Fisheries.” Taking off from the Bicol region, the project expanded to Caraga and Davao regions, and was exported to Cambodia, Laos, and North Korea.
Livelihood resiliency was the project’s ultimate goal. At its third phase of implementation, the project integrated best practices from the two preceding projects that enhanced capacities of the local government units (LGU) in disaster risk management (DRM) as applied to agriculture.
“Like a bamboo, if a community is armed with DRM plans, it can bounce back from disaster,” said Dr. Cely Binoya, project leader.
Under the project, climate-smart technologies, such as the use of GSR, were intensively promoted to small-scale farmers including Mang Rodrigo. The project also introduced the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment, a computer and web-based tool that collects data, assesses damage, and determines location-specific needs after a disaster occurs.
The project was co-implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the DA in the Bicol region. It was funded by FAO and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department-Disaster Preparedness (DIPECHO).
LGUs in the spotlight
Before the start of the project, DRM plans in agriculture by the LGUs were “anemic.”.
“Unlike in infrastructures, people can’t easily see results when you invest in agriculture which is a soft sector of development,” Binoya pointed out.
The project therefore puts agriculture and fisheries in the limelight and pushes LGUs to institutionalize DRM in these sectors.
“It’s not just about saving lives, it’s also about saving their livelihood,” Binoya added.
Local officials and farmers from 12 municipalities in Bicol, including Magarao, undertook disaster risk assessments with emphasis on hazards, vulnerabilities, and capacities as bases in developing a plan of action for DRM in the agri-fisheries sector.
Hands-on mentorship and technical assistance were provided by Bicol University, Central Bicol State University of Agriculture (CBSUA), DA-RFO 5 and PAGASA. Trainings, lectures, and consultation workshops connected to the community-based DRM plans were likewise facilitated.
Keeping the ball rolling
Trained LGU personnel educate other force multipliers. Having been conferred with a Seal of Good Governance in Disaster Management, the Magarao-LGU is now a leading advocate in this initiative.
This year, they are set to engage all of their barangay officials and farmers in their campaigns.
They also have an Automated Weather Station (AWS) with a five-day forecast made accessible to the farmers. Through the internet, barangay officials access information and post important weather advisories on their respective bulletin boards.
“We have a proposal to make weather forecasts SMS-based by which the information goes directly to the farmers through SMS,” said Dante Agorita, municipal disaster risk reduction and management (MDRRM) officer.
The Magarao spirit
Mang Rodrigo, a retired Navy officer, knows basic weather forecasting and monitoring. He actively works with their LGU and helps advise the community on approaching typhoons.
“Farmers in our region are more open to new technologies and they share scientific-based information to us,” said Emily Bordado, chief information officer of DA-RFO 5.
Shared learning and innovation is a significant ingredient in building resiliency among Bicolanos. It builds for them a spirit of hope and faith that weather adversities can be hurdled with robust collaboration.
“It’s a big step that local chief executives are progressive-minded, and that various sectors are inclined and supportive to agriculture,” Bordado reiterated.
Climate patterns may be changing but Bicolanos are adapting by building a climate of hope and resilience. When a typhoon hits their place again, Mang Rodrigo and Magarao farmers are confident that they would outsmart it.