BAGANGA, Davao Oriental – All his life, Edilberto Bohol lived off the sea. On good days, he catches just enough fish to provide for his family.
However, he and his colleagues struggle just to meet their basic needs. Edilberto catches fish in the traditional hook and line method, which can bring meager returns.
As a result, he, and many of the province’s 15,000 fishers, live below the poverty threshold. “I have been fishing since I was small. The same is true with my father. I only finished high school, and this is the only livelihood I know,” said Bohol.
Seeking to improve the plight of these fishing communities, government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) conducted agriculture and aquaculture training and distributed seedlings, fish fry and other production inputs to help improve livelihoods in the area.
Unfortunately, Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) struck the province before these programs could reap their intended results.
Profitable and Sustainable
And the very resources that these fisher folk relied on for their survival were wiped out. More than 400 fishing boats were damaged and almost all fish-rearing structures in Boston, Baganga, and Cateel—municipalities severely affected by Pablo—were decimated. Projects that were underway were likewise wiped out.
During the immediate aftermath of Pablo, local governments tried to focus on underlying poverty issues of their areas and resume daily fishing activities. There was an obvious need, however, to introduce alternative livelihood opportunities that could be more profitable and sustainable.
The U.S. Embassy Manila’s United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program, supports this idea.
Following a rapid assessment, USAID designed and implemented a multi-component disaster recovery program in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley provinces, under the oversight of the Mindanao Development Authority.
USAID/Philippines Mission Director Gloria D. Steele said, “The recovery program is part of the U.S. Government’s Php768 million disaster assistance to help Typhoon Pablo victims recover from the catastrophe.
This consisted of education, infrastructure, climate adaptation strengthening, agriculture and aquaculture livelihood assistance for the most severely affected municipalities.”
The multi-component approach included the introduction of high-value aquaculture to typhoon-affected fisher folk in both provinces.
The provincial Government of Davao Oriental was also provided with a high-value aquaculture industry development plan, which presents the results of a study on the viability of grouper (or lapu-lapu) production to help drive sustainable economic growth in the province.
The plan was formally handed over to Davao Oriental Governor Corazon Malanyaon in August 2013. It notes that grouper is expected to give better returns to growers compared traditional aquaculture commodities, like milkfish and tilapia.
This target commodity presents the most potential for promotion and development in the area, considering its high market price, local and export market demand, availability of suitable mariculture sites and advances in technology.
The short to long-term strategies presented in the plan may also take off from the activities implemented by USAID through GEM.
USAID, in collaboration with the provincial government and BFAR, conducted a series of workshops on grouper farming for select growers associations in coastal towns. To help strengthen their climate resilience, the skills expansion effort included the construction of weather-resistant fish cages using locally sourced materials.
Fisherfolk in landlocked towns were trained on inland freshwater aquaculture.
They were also taught climate adaptation and mitigation techniques to address flooding and unstable oxygen levels that occur in fishponds when water temperature rises.
Majority of these growers received hatchery-bred grouper juveniles, milkfish fingerlings, formulated feeds and other start up materials from USAID.
“The project reached about 2,000 fisherfolk. The technologies we introduced are cost-effective, highly replicable and will also avert potential losses due to adverse weather conditions,” said Lauro Tito Ilagan, USAID-GEM Aquaculture Team Leader.
“Lapu-lapu farming can be very profitable and sustainable. At two production cycles per year, a four-compartment fish cage will allow a net income of as much as Php200,000,” Ilagan explained.
Edilberto and members of the Kinablangan Fisherfolk Association, which he chairs, are about to enjoy their first harvest of grouper.
“We can sell these at about Php500 a kilo,” he said, thanking USAID for helping his hometown. “We will reinvest part of our income to buy fingerlings and other inputs so that we can continue to improve our lives.”
Other growers groups that participated in the project, such as the Mabini Fisherfolk Association, are also on their way to recovery.
Prior to their foray into grouper production, the members were engaged in traditional cage culture of low-value milkfish which they sold for about Php100 per kilo in local wet markets. On their first cycle of production, they stand to earn approximately Php260,000.
“The seeds of recovery that we planted a year ago through a strong partnership between the Philippine and United States governments are beginning to bear fruit.
The U.S. Government will continue to work with our Philippine Government partners to help Typhoon Pablo-affected provinces recover and achieve lasting peace and greater prosperity for all of its residents,” Director Steele said.