VP Lydia holds a bowl of rice flour as she explains the process of preserving root crops.
The Waray people are heavy rice-eaters. According to government data, the 4 million population of the Eastern Visayas region largely depend on rice as staple food. The average per capita consumption in the region is at 127 kilos per year. This makes it difficult for the diversification of food staples, which could actually help especially in getting through food insufficiency during and after storms.
Lydia Remontegue, 49 survived typhoons Yolanda, Glenda, Ruby, and Seniang. Lydia is just one of the farmers of Pinabacdao, Samar who are still reeling towards recovery after 3 storms flooded their rice fields and other crops in less than 13 months.
After surviving the wrath of the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall on record in 2013, her life continued and so did her farming. Prodded by her family’s condition, Lydia, with 5 children to raise, planted rice again, which was later on destroyed by Typhoon Glenda in July the following year.
“This time, we are left with nothing but the root crops that were not damaged by the storm’s flooding,” said Lydia. After losing their crops and left with nothing else to harvest, hunger and poverty became worse for Lydia’s and other families in Samar. Determined to survive, Lydia gathered the sweet potatoes and cassava that were left undamaged, but due to the massive trail of devastation, they were only able to sell their one-sack goods for P300.00 pesos which is half the price in normal conditions. Somehow they were able to survive the ordeal.
Lydia is part of a local farmers’ organization that has been active for years in communal farming. The Kauswagan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Nabong, Pinabacdao (Kauswagan) is the village counterpart of the municipal association Katirig-uban han Parag-uma ha Pinabacdao, Samar (KAPAPIS). Their organization has decided to collectively plant root crops such as ube, cassava, camote, ginger, along with banana as substitutes to planting upland rice.
The logic behind the group’s decision is to address the community’s problem of incurring enormous losses to only one or two products, particularly on rice and coconut for the longest time. As Kauswagan’s President, Lydia made sure that the decision will be beneficial to all members of the organization especially to those who have been used to planting only rice.
Lydia finds help from another Lydia. Lydia Balondo, 54 is Kauswagan’s Vice-President who actively helped in soliciting assistance and consolidating their organization’s membership for their “united action in confronting problems” to arise in the farms. As disasters further push the townsfolk into the mire of poverty, VP Lydia supports her President in taking such events as opportunities to learn from and become better.
“Before Typhoon Ruby and Seniang, I had 500 coconut trees that were productive, but now only 100 of those 500 are bearing fruits,” said VP Lydia. She also added that as a poor community of farmers they have “very little to share singularly, but definitely so much collectively.” Lydia adds that had it not been for the organization she would not know that root crops can actually be viable alternatives for food and livelihood compared to the relatively high selling coconut yield.
Aside from the land used for their upland rice cultivation, the organization tapped one of its members, whose land is open and uncultivated, for their root crops planting. They cleaned and weeded off the land and later on initially planted cassava, camote, peanuts, ginger and ube. The project started in the first quarter of 2014 but already yielded positive results just months after. Productivity has doubled from their former practice of planting – putting much investment on rice alone. With high yield every after 4 months, preservation of their goods became the next problem.
The Samahang Operasyong Sagip (SOS) – a non-profit organization mostly composed of volunteer health workers, professionals and students – came to Samar to help Kauswagan. SOS initially helped with the medical needs of the survivors of typhoon Yolanda and stayed in the region, basing in Palo, Leyte in providing livelihood assistance to the storm survivors. Lydia points out the importance of the SOS’ project of food processing and preservation. She said that it will help them in maximizing consumption as well as in earning from their root crops.
The idea answering the shelf life problem of their crops is to make it as cassava chips. The process would extend the shelf life of the cassava to more weeks. In recent months, members of Kauswagan have been in training in skillfully mastering the process of making cassava chips. The preservation will also help in addressing the problem of food insufficiency in times of natural calamities since most root crops rot after moisture creeps in as a result of flooding caused by heavy rainfall.
“We will now push our limits anew,” said Lydia as she points out that investing and planting cassava has been a trial to the Samar farmers’ archaic practices, and that making it an enterprise is yet another challenge.
Kauswagan in the Waray dialect means development. This is the inspiration for the new product of the village’s organization of farmers. Lydia is thinking of naming their product Kauswagan Chips. She is hopeful that once their product hits the market they will be able to fully utilize their newly acquired skills and newly harvested crops. SOS officials in Leyte said that the trial product has even reached Germany and their good-for-health chips earned their approval.