VISAYAS REGION, PHILIPPINES — Tens of thousands of farmers are bringing in their first rice harvest just six months after one of the worst typhoons to ever hit the Philippines left their fields in tatters and their livelihoods at risk, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)  said on May 7.

After Typhoon Haiyan hit the central Philippines on Nov. 8,  2013, the situation was dire. More than 6,000 people lost their lives, while some 600,000 hectares of farmland were destroyed, leaving millions of people without a source of income and threatening food security.

"When I saw the extent of the destruction and damage caused by the high winds and storm surge, I thought the situation was hopeless," said rice farmer Lisa Canaber from Leyte Province, one of the worst-affected areas.

However, thanks to an immediate response by the international community, the Department of Agriculture and FAO were able to assist tens of thousands of rice farmers quickly restore and replant their devastated fields in the wake of the disaster, working closely with the national government at all levels.

Within weeks of the disaster, FAO, the Department of Agriculture and their partners began distributing certified rice seeds to severely affected farmers, reaching 44 000 families in time for the December/January planting season.

Some have already gathered their crops, others will be doing so over the coming weeks and into early June.

And as a result of the timely provision of certified rice seed, complemented by urea fertilizer, many farmers are already seeing much higher yields than normal.

This will supply them not only with food for family consumption, but also with seed for the next planting season as well as surplus rice that they can sell to boost their household incomes.

"Had I not received the certified rice seed to plant in time for the December/January season, I would have needed to rely on external food aid for almost a whole year," said Carmen Cinco, who also farms in Leyte Province. "I am hopeful now. We are on the way to recovery."

FAO also provided 13,000 farm tools and over 4,500 tonnes of fertilizer to 80,000 affected families. Now rice farmers are reaping the benefits of what is, for them, a first and critical step on the road to recovery.

In addition to extensive damage to rice farming, some 33 million coconut trees were damaged or destroyed by Haiyan, affecting the livelihoods of more than one million coconut farmers. Given that coconut trees take six to eight years to become productive again, small-scale coconut farmers needed interim support in finding alternative sources of income -- most relied solely on coconut trees for their livelihoods. 

After having consulted local communities, and in close collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Department of Agrarian Reform, Philippine Coconut Authority, Bureau of Animal Industries and other relevant government institutions, FAO is aiming to help about 30,000 small-scale coconut farmers by providing vegetable seeds, farm tools, post-harvest equipment and livestock such as water buffaloes, goats, pigs and poultry. 

"I need seeds, so I can sell vegetables at the market," Rosalia Garredo, a rice and coconut tree farmer from Leyte Province, said. "This and poultry raising as an alternative livelihood will help me be independent until my trees are productive again."

The goal is to diversify smallholder farmers' livelihoods, thereby increasing their resilience to future disasters.

The typhoon also severely damaged coastal mangroves ecosystems which play an important role in local food security. FAO, in collaboration with the Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, plans to support the rehabilitation of agroforestry systems and mangroves forests and assist nearly 5 000 vulnerable farmers with required agricultural and livestock inputs.

FAO's typhoon Haiyan recovery work to date has been supported by the UN Central Emergency Fund (CERF), the Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department of the European Commission (ECHO) and the Governments of Belgium, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.