Leading Climate Change Adaptation of Seaweed Producers in Iloilo

Story by Dennis Amata, CARE Philippines

“Have you ever felt so upset when all your hard work vanished in a snap?”

This was how Daisy Albao started when asked about the changes in her life after starting their own seaweed production enterprise. Whenever I interview people who took part in our livelihoods recovery project, they would excitedly share about their income, their savings and even things they were able to buy. But Daisy started with a different response.

Daisy, a 40-year-old mother of five is one of the most enthusiastic community leaders I know. She is the president of Agdaliran Women’s Rural Improvement Club Association (AWRIA), a women-led community organization in a coastal village in the town of San Dionisio, Iloilo province, Philippines.

AWRIA received cash grant from CARE, an international humanitarian organization, to start a seaweed production enterprise after typhoon Yolanda’s catastrophic devastation.

During my first interviews with her, Daisy elatedly shared her association’s dramatic journey to recovery. Many of the women members were not used to working as they were housewives. But the livelihoods program provided income opportunities for them when they started harvesting fresh seaweeds and selling the dried ones.

AWRIA has also received trainings from CARE and its partner Taytay sa Kauswagan Inc. on enterprise management, financial literacy, productivity, and marketing. AWRIA’s seaweed production was also badly affected by this year’s El Nino but they continued working to recover.

Daisy has become one of CARE’s Community-based Development Facilitators (CBDF) after displaying great interest in sharing knowledge to and serving other vulnerable people affected by typhoon Yolanda in 2013. She became instrumental as she conducted the same training she received from CARE in other remote villages. Her expertise in the local dialect, as well as familiarity with the town’s culture, really helped in effectively conveying important messages to CARE’s project participants.

But what exactly happened?

“One peaceful night before going to bed, my family and I heard strong waves from the sea. We knew that it was strange. The waves were louder compared to what we usually hear every evening. But then we still ignored it and went to sleep,” she said.

Daisy visited their seaweed plantation early in the morning but to her surprise, everything was destroyed. Their seaweeds and stilts supporting monolines were washed away. The women members gathered in dismay, all staring blankly at the endless stretch of water in front of them.

According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the coastal villages of San Dionisio experienced a wave surge (locally known in Iloilo as ‘pugada’) that night. A wave surge is a weather disturbance associated with the above normal rise of water level in open coast due to wind stress action on the water surface.

“There was no storm, it wasn’t even raining so we were shocked to see that almost 95% of our seaweeds were gone. Our production intensely decreased,” shared by Daisy. “Our members were obviously frustrated and asking me what would be our next step.”

Daisy realized that they shouldn’t remain hopeless and still could do something about it. “I told my members that we would replant. We were able to save some seaweeds and we could start from the remaining 5%. But I know it wouldn’t be an easy ride,” said Daisy.

Daisy had a difficult time convincing the members to join her in replanting. And most of them just shook their heads to say no. But the association’s treasurer tapped Daisy’s back and told her she would help to convince others.

“I am really thankful to Jessica, our treasurer. She helped to talk to our members. Since we were able to generate savings from our income, we eventually had a group meeting and had an agreement to push things forward.”

CARE connected AWRIA to BFAR for technical assistance. The association even received additional planting materials from BFAR. The Municipal Agriculturist also came to the rescue to help the affected coastal villages.

“CARE also helped us to avail our crop insurance from the government. At least now we are less worried whenever we experience these weather disturbances,” shared Daisy.

The women of AWRIA are aware of the changing climate. They said they experience stronger waves during rainy season, and long dry spell also affects their seaweeds when seawater becomes warmer.

“We learned from the previous El Nino when our seaweeds were affected by the ‘ice-ice’ disease and now we also learned from this recent experience. We are very thankful for all the knowledge and techniques we’ve got from technical experts,” said Daisy.

Daisy and her members have learned from BFAR and CARE various agricultural techniques and practices to adapt to the changing climate and mitigate the impact of disasters. They continued replanting and working  all together to recover.

“It was a good decision to never give up. For us, resilience doesn’t always mean succeeding in every action. It means being able to stand when situations cripple you for a moment,” said Daisy.