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Tropical Depression Usman was a massive storm. Together with the tail-end of the cold front, it brought heavy rains in December 2018 that resulted to floods and landslides in Mimaropa, Bicol and across the Eastern Visayas. 

Based on local government reports, only a few of those areas impacted will ever have a chance of recovery.

March was meant to be a harvesting month for rice farmers in Bicol, south of Manila. But since December 2018, tropical depression Usman has dictated reality for more than 7000 rice farmers in Bicol.

Loans for Aid

Tiwi is the  town in Albay most affected by TD Usman. The Cillan clan is among those whose hectares of riceland have been completely damaged. Their four-hectare rice area in Barangay Joroan administrative division in Tiwi  is now covered with rocks and other debris, making it impossible to cultivate on it.

Nepthale Cillan, owner of 1.4 hectare of that land, is facing a big problem because of this.  “It makes me anxious because we can’t start again without any aid,” he said. Nepthale and his wife Winefreda had tried looking  for help at the Department of Agriculture. “The DA is willing to give us free seedings and lend us money. However based on what we understood, we have to be able to prepare the land  in order to get a loan,” Winefreda said. 

Nepthale and Winifreda Cillan

According to Joroan Councilor Ma. Cristina Cleofe, around 700 farming families have been affected.  All of them were invited to the municipal office of Tiwi to be   offered this loan by the agriculture department.

The Cillan couple is referring to the Survival and Recovery Loan Assistance Program (SURE) of the  DA through the Agriculture Credit Policy Council.
It is an emergency loan assistance with 0% percent interest, payable in three years, for recovery and rehabilitation. 
This emergency loan allows small farmers and fishermen  affected by to receive a sum up too P25,000 (ca. 500 $). The couple’s concern is their ability to pay the loan back, even if it has a zero interest rate, because they know the P25,000 is not enough to rehabilitate their land.

Among the families affected there is also the one from Councillor Cloefe. Their riceland in Purok 4 were totally ruined that it made her feel upset every time she remembered their loss.“Although my husband wanted to apply for it, the loan would be an additional burden for us,” Cleofe said. 

On the other hand, Regional Technical Director for Operations and Rice Program Coordinator Rodel P. Tornilla assured that the region’s loss can be recovered but with a delay in harvest. According to Tornilla, that will be  made possible by DA’s quick distribution of hybrid and certified seeds, coupled with the newly irrigated areas in Camarines Sur.

But almost four months after the disaster hit the town, the Cillan couple and the affected farmers in Joroan are still not keen on applying for a loan.“What we need are machineries to rehabilitate the land, and I hope the government can help us,” Nepthale said.

Rehabilitation budget

The regions’ Department of Agriculture has utilized funds from last year to buy 14,150 bags of hybrid palay seeds and 1750 kilogram assorted vegetables worth P35, 639, 707. Awhile about 500 animals have been vaccinated.

Of the 597 million pesos rehabilitation plan submitted by DA Bicol to  Secretary Piñol,  only 25% of it was approved for the Quick Response Fund which covered the immediate procurement of hybrid rice seeds, vegetable seeds, livestock, and poultry.

The rest is destined for buying fertilizers, planting materials, and reparations of various irrigation systems across the regions.

Failure to apply for free crop insurance

The indemnity cash provided by Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation (PCIC) to insured affected farmers could have helped ease the financial burden brought by TD Usman. Unfortunately, many of them either failed to apply or failed to renew their free insurance. 

According to Tiwi Agriculture Technologist Alejandre Burcer, farmers were not too keen to insure themselves because the disaster didn’t seem a threat until it happened. 

Why the need for alternative livelihoods 

In the same OCV-5 partial assessment report, it stated that affected barangays in Tiwi estimated a lengthy time for rehabilitation of their lands.  Therefore citizens expressed their desire for alternative livelihoods in order to cover expenses for food and other immediate needs. At the same time, citizens are in need to be able to afford bigger expenditures and risks,  such as taking a loan for land rehabilitation.

The Cillan couple spent around P50,000 for every rice production and got an average harvest of 100 bags of unhusked rice. The most recent relief aid they received was a pack of three-kilo of rice,and a few cans of sardines.  Nepthale’s greatest fear is when they no longer have rice stock for consumption, adding that they have a family to take care of and he’s the only one able to provide for them. “That makes us very much affected, and I hope local officials could see that,” he said. 

After the Election in May 2019, the re-elected Governor Bichara announced that with his mandate he will give priority on agriculture citing the Albay Farmers Bounty Village where he plans to develop a one-stop- shop for agriculture and fisheries activities. 

Mavic Conde

About Mavic Conde

Mavic Conde is a Filipino reporter whose stories cover climate change, agricultural solutions, and environment issues. She got her training in reporting on sustainable development issues in Southeast Asia from Climate Tracker.