Growing seaweed to rebuild lives after Haiyan

"The winds were too strong and the waves were too big. We thought that we were done for. People were crying. All the seaweed we had planted was wiped out by the storm."

Mary Jane Agustin, who lives on the tiny, isolated island of Maniguin off the Philippines coast, remembers the day vividly when typhoon Haiyan destroyed the livelihood of all 800 inhabitants.

Seaweed is the island’s main source of livelihood. As it takes a four-hour boat ride to deliver the catch to the mainland, fishing is not a viable economic option for the community. Seaweed farming provided the alternative: the quality of the waves, the sunlight exposure and its isolated location – removed from human pollution and activities – make Maniguin the ideal spot to grow seaweed.

Annually, 50 hectares of its water are planted with seaweed seedlings, tied to rope lines kept afloat by Styrofoam blocks. The seaweed is left to mature for three months after which it is dried and sold for 60 pesos per kilo to traders from Cebu who visit the island regularly. The seaweed is then used in the manufacture of cosmetics and food. Typhoon Haiyan struck when the seaweed season had just started. The few recovered seaweed plants were used to restart the farming process but more help was required.

"Our livelihood was gone," says Rosario Sumadya.

We lost so much: our seaweed farms, our homes… We earn most of our income through seaweed. Fishing is just to supplement the income.

 

Through its local partner WeDpro, ActionAid provided the villagers with the essentials needed to rebuild their farms including 250 kg of seaweed seedlings, seven rolls of ropes, five rolls of straw ties and floaters per household. As only ten seaweed kits were available during the first round, 30 of the most vulnerable – often older – women in the community were gathered to discuss how to prioritize the aid. In the end, the women decided to draw lots and the kits were divided. In April 2014, a second batch of seaweed kits was distributed.

The seaweed farmers of Maniguin have now completed the first harvest and sold their batches of seaweed. While the harvest is smaller than usual, the situation is expected to return to normal over the coming months when more seaweed will be harvested. With the growing season running until July, the farmers have time to rebuild their lives.

The community is now focusing on another pressing problem: the lack of fresh water supply. With the destruction of the houses during the typhoon, the rain collectors installed on the roofs were severely damaged.  At the same time the island’s only deep well turned salty due to the sea flooding, causing a major problem to the supply of safe water and sanitation. The community will rebuild its damaged concrete rain water collectors but it is still looking for a solution for its well.

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WeDpro and ActionAid continue to support the community. Training will be provided to further strengthen the resilience of the inhabitants. The women will learn how to better prepare for typhoons, helping to ensure their losses will never be as severe as when Haiyan hit.

"We hope we will still be helped to rebuild what was destroyed here as everyone is dependent on seaweed farming," concludes Nica Torres, who is Maniguin’s Community Chairman.

We won’t lose hope as long as help is on the way. We shall be able to rebuild with help of others.

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