They’ve worked hard and persevered. They rebuilt what the typhoon destroyed. What’s more, this community that suffered extreme poverty for generations is now growing back even better than before.
If you would have asked the families that live in Barangay Osmeña, a farming and fishing village on the island of Samar, such an outcome might have seemed unlikely in the immediate aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (internationally known as “Haiyan”) in November of 2013.
Yolanda was one of the strongest typhoons in the history of the Philippines:
- Wreaking havoc with winds of 195 mph
- Creating storm surges of up to 20 feet
- Laying waste to several communities
- Washing away homes, livelihoods – and even loved ones.
Today, nearly a decade later, many households in the Philippines are still struggling to recover. The family of Paterno Padua was one of those – until Food for the Hungry (FH) provided the tools and training to grow a brighter future, for him and his entire community.
A Livelihood Lost
Even before Yolanda hit, Paterno struggled to make ends meet.
He’d worked as a fisherman all his life, and the trade was all he knew. But fish populations were dwindling, leading to smaller catches, less food for his family to eat, and reduced income. His wife is a skilled seamstress who crafts school uniforms for the children in their community, her work is only seasonal. After the start of the school year, there are few opportunities to sell uniforms.
As the family felt the squeeze of this financial gap, they didn’t have the money to buy enough food, and certainly couldn’t pay their daughter’s school fee. And Paterno, who suffers from a kidney condition, couldn’t afford to go to the doctor for his important regular checkups.
Paterno was desperate to find an alternative source of income and determined to provide for his family. Though he didn’t know much about farming, he had some land. So he invited some fellow fishermen to start farming vegetables with him.
He started a group of 15 fishers-turned-farmers called Osmeña Fruit and Vegetable Farmers Association (also known as “La Cocina De Marabut Association”). They continued to fish, but he hoped this would successfully supplement their catches.
Since they were completely new to this, none of the participants knew how to farm. They simply planted seeds without any understanding of proper tools, methods, or fertilization.
Then, tragedy struck. “When (Typhoon) Yolanda came, we lost all our fishing gear and equipment,” Paterno says of the powerful typhoon.
With no knowledge of farming and no path back to fishing, things became worse in the community. They had barely enough to eat to survive day-to-day, and no funds to meet their many other needs.
That’s when FH arrived, with farming gifts for Paterno and his farming association that would allow them to grow their harvests – and their hope for the future.
Teach a Man to Farm
Seeing the impact tools and training made for Paterno’s motivated group, FH and other partners on the ground in their community provided La Cocina de Marabut Association with everything they needed to achieve success as organic farmers.
Paterno and all members of the group received a year of farming training plus starter kits, including organic seeds, fertilizer, and appropriate tools. FH also provided a small irrigation facility for watering their crops.
Paterno attended many workshops, learning such things as mass vegetable production, leadership training, and financial management. “There were so many, I cannot remember all of them,” he says, chuckling.
And these gifts are bearing fruit – quite literally.
Paterno’s community farming association is thriving. Using the agricultural tools and knowledge they gained from FH, they’ve grown 18 types of vegetables, including cash crops of eggplants, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and ginger. They’ve become especially well-known throughout the area for their three top crops: lettuce, squash, and watermelon.
But that’s not all.
A Growing Enterprise
The success of their farm has led to opportunities to improve livelihoods throughout their community, including:
- Contract farming. Because the association now has regular customers, they’ve secured buyers who want to purchase their lettuce in bulk and sell the crops in major commercial cities throughout the region. With the increased income, the association has been able to buy more land and expand their operation.
- A local attraction. Because La Cocina De Marabut is one of the few fully organic farming associations in the area, many visitors are eager to come and learn about natural agriculture for a small entrance fee.
- Cooking and catering. Some association members have also become chefs, catering various farming training sessions to earn extra income on the side. These chefs have even participated in local cooking competitions, winning three of them. As a result, the government on the island is now providing them with materials and funding to build a restaurant adjacent to the farm. Construction is currently underway.
- Agriculture school. When the impact of COVID-19 limited the farms earnings, Paterno approached the Philippines’ primary vocational training agency, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). His proposal: To keep the farm afloat, they would turn the association into a training center for those wishing to become farmers. The association quickly completed their certification requirements to become an accredited TESDA School for Practical Agriculture, with Paterno serving as the school administrator and teaching organic farming. So far, they’ve taught seven graduating classes of up to 25 students each.
- Free-range chickens. Some graduates of the program have started a free-range chicken project. This also created the opportunity for the association to buy chicken dung for fertilizer and meat for their catering operations.
A Brighter, Resilient Future is Still Growing
The association has grown from 15 fishermen with little knowledge about farming to a skilled group of 32 male and female farmers who also cook, juice, teach, and more.
Paterno and all of his fellow members now earn a significant income, with 60% of the association’s earnings going directly to the farmers. The other 40% is reinvested in the association to cover operating expenses and fund continued growth.
As a result, covering his daughter’s school fees and other expenses is no longer an issue for Paterno. In fact, he and many of his fellow members now own their own homes.
And, their multiple income activities help assure that when future disasters strike, like the typhoon or the worldwide pandemic they’ve weathered in the past, the farmers can be more resilient to the shocks. The group has experience managing innovation and has multiple avenues for income sources that can be adjusted as the situation requires.
The organic farming group has come a long way from the days when losing a fishing boat meant they’d lost all hope of earning an income. Paterno is quick to give God the credit, keeping Him at the center of the association he leads. “God provides us the arm, the food, and the brain to be able to work. All we have to do is maximize these gifts,” he explained.
As for the future, the association has big goals and dreams. One project Paterno is especially passionate about is building a greenhouse for year-round vegetable production. His goal is for the association to avoid crop disruptions caused by difficult weather and ensure a steady income for all involved.
“We are deeply grateful to FH,” he says with joy. “They are the ones who gave us this life, enabling us to improve the lives of others.”