Stronger, resilient islands in the Philippines
Small island communities are some of the most vulnerable and isolated in the world. On one, the island of Bohol in the Philippines, trees are an integral part of island life, where survival often depends on traditional agricultural practices. Even so, communities are not fully aware of the role trees can play in overcoming the challenges of climate-related disasters.
The Philippines boasts a total of 7701 islands, one of which is the Province of Bohol in the Central Visayas. In the last couple of years, Bohol has experienced a number of devastating natural disasters, some of the worst the world has seen.
In October 2013, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake occurred in Bohol’s Wahig-Inabanga watershed. Damage to infrastructure left citizens not only terrified of staying in their own homes but also cut them off from support from the national and even provincial governments. Shortly after, in November, super-typhoon Haiyan pounded Bohol’s already devastated and highly vulnerable communities.
As in many developing countries, the key economic activity in the area is the production of rice, root crops and corn. These crops are made viable by the largest water reservoir in the Central Visayas, Bohol’s Malinao Dam. Subsistence farming is common in the upland communities.
Farmers on the island already find it difficult to increase production of these annual crops owing to the high cost of inputs such as fertilizers and lack of irrigation. These factors are compounded by having few post-harvest facilities, limited access to transportation and poor road conditions. Consequently, in times of natural disaster, there is a higher probability of the communities on the island being dependent on imported food supplies.
In the aftermath of such calamities, farmers turn to root crops as alternative sources of food and income when their main crops are damaged. After the earthquake, one farmer said, ‘We are fine here; we have “ube” [purple yam] and that’s all we need”.
This mindset demonstrates the island community’s independence and resilience, even in times of natural disaster. In 1973, CS Holling defined ‘resilience’ as a measure of a system’s continued ability to absorb change and disturbance while maintaining a consistent level between its variables. Smallholding farmers have demonstrated that they understand the importance of self-sufficiency for food security by only exporting excess supplies. In the case of islands like Bohol, encouraging self-sufficiency is an important mechanism that enables communities to cope with the effects of climate change and natural disasters. A stronger island community lies, it seems, in the relative stability of human, natural and physical capitals.
Through the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, the World Agroforestry Centre Philippines has been studying the importance of trees in farm resilience and the stabilisation of natural capital. Deep-rooted perennials such as trees are more resilient to extremes of weather and natural disasters.
Yet although the farmers of Bohol generally incorporate trees on their farms, agroforestry is a not a common practice and they rely mostly on annual crops as their main source of income. However, most farms have home gardens, which have fruit trees for family consumption and scattered trees and forests have been used by farmers as sources of raw material for construction, firewood and implements. But the majority of trees are mostly used for home consumption rather than income generation.
Our research to date is indicating that farmers would be able to increase their food and income security as well as their resilience to natural disasters by establishing agroforests on their farms. To achieve this, governments and farmers alike need support to develop a comprehensive understanding of the most suitable systems for Bohol and ways to implement them securely.
This work is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry