Typhoon Haiyan challenged Filipinos on all fronts. We were witness to the damages it caused to lives and livelihoods. We saw our failure in securing our food and agriculture with the collapse of Tacloban’s food system. We heard stories of looting, resource conflicts and failure of food and seed response.  Remote areas did not receive food relief because government employees charged with logistics and location of local communities were themselves victims. Thus, most relief was concentrated in the cities and towns, neglecting those in the peripheries.

There were stories of failed seed relief that distributed hybrid seeds which can only be planted once, or distribution of seeds that failed to germinate or were not adapted to local conditions. There were stories of vegetables seeds being distributed and planted only to end up as food waste, as each household produced surplus but local trade is not in place (people have no money to buy the vegetables and the production is way over the demand).

The procurement policy of government and relief agencies require that the seeds distributed can only be certified if supplied by seed growers capable of issuing receipts. Most of these seeds are uniform and of the same varieties, cultivated in large areas. The irony is that, in order to prevent widespread shock to agriculture, there is a need to have diversity on-farm to build resilience. Farmers need diverse seeds for long-term recovery and resilience, yet what were given to them were uniform seeds of the same kind.

Interestingly, the Philippines is a signatory to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, an internationally legally binding agreement that advances the implementation of Farmers’ Rights to save, use, exchange and sell seeds; Farmers’ Rights to protect their traditional knowledge; and Farmers’ Rights to participate in decision making on matters related to seeds at national level.  In practice, however, in particular during seed relief, small holder farmers, who are the keepers of biodiversity on farm, are dis-enfranchised from participating in seed exchange and sales because of the preferential procurement for certified seeds with accompanying receipts. The current seed response system prevents the movement of diversity from one farm to the other.

Greenpeace facilitated farmer-to-farmer seed response from 2014-2016 to challenge this system.

 

These four stories of farmer to farmer ecological seed response was in collaboration with farmer groups, Rice Watch Action Network, Kilos Ka and the local government units of  Dolores, Eastern Samar; Tublay and La Tridnidad in Benguet; San Luis, Aurora; General Nakar, Quezon; Calasiao, Pangasinan; Guimba and Muñoz in Nueva Ecija; Malungon, Sarangani; Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat; South Upi, Maguindanao; Gerona, Tarlac; Tubigon, Bohol; Irosin, Sta. Magdalena and Castilla Sorsogon. The farmer to farmer ecological seed response was intended to provide immediate support to farmers and their families after devastating typhoons (Ruby/Hagupit and Lando/Koppu) and drought due to the double El Niño of 2014-2015. The farmer to farmer ecological seed response, also realizes Farmers Rights to save, use, exchange and sell seeds, and the protection of traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

As these four stories show, it is possible for small holder farmers, keepers of on-farm biodiversity, to respond to crisis and help re-build biodiversity on-farm. The first video clip tells the views of farmers who sourced seeds and shared their seeds and knowledge to other farmers in Dolores, Eastern Samar, after the municipality was hit by super-typhoon Ruby (Hagupit). The second video follows the story of farmers who received the seeds in Dolores, Eastern Samar. The 3rd video clip is about the seed response in Guimba, Nueva Ecija and in San Luis, Aurora, where the seeds and organic inputs were sourced from farmers who were graduates of climate resiliency field schools organized by the local government unit, PAG-ASA and Rice Watch Action Network. Aside from seeds, ecological farming knowhow is also shared as a way of building resilient farms. The 4th video clip is the maize seed response work with Teduray farmers in Maguindanao, who wanted to recover elements of their traditional knowledge and farming system called Sulagad.

 

The experiences of Filipino farmers in coping with a changing climate compels us to revisit our practices and policies. It is high time to review our procurement policy in times of crisis, particularly favoring the movement of on-farm biodiversity. In addition, the government should set up mechanisms for small holder farmers who keep biodiversity on-farm to participate in seed response missions. Lessons and guidelines can be drawn from the experiences of the local government units who were involved in the farmer-to-farmer ecological seed response.

As ordinary Filipinos, we can support these initiatives by patronizing the consumption of diverse Filipino food, produced by our local farmers under ecological conditions. That way, we ensure the continued production and marketing of these products and help build resilient farming communities.

Wilhemina Pelegrina is the Regional Food For Life Campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia.