Inspiration in the middle of ‘Yolanda’ desperation
There is still much desperation caused by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” But inspiration can be found in the person of Benedictine nun, Sister Eloisa David (09175513874). She heads the Agriculture and Rural Alternative Development Options Foundation in Tacloban, Leyte.
Before Yolanda, Sister Eloisa was already doing significant development work. A medical doctor, she founded the Divine Word Hospital and established 26 birthing clinics that significantly reduced infant mortality. Over 38 years, she immersed herself in 42 municipalities, making helpful interventions not only in health, but also rural development concerns.
When Yolanda struck, Sister Eloisa got the support of two volunteers from the Bacolod-based Ecological Agricultural Foundation (EAF) established by Ramon Uy. She concentrated on five barangays in the fourth class municipality of Pastrana. Since agriculture was the main source of livelihood and food the most urgent necessity, Sister Eloisa concentrated on vegetable farming. To support this and add to the livelihood efforts, vermiculture was introduced with a shredding machine from EAF for composting.
These barangays are primarily composed of coconut and rice farms. Yolanda severely damaged these farms. Consequently, Sister Eloisa’s initiatives were welcomed.
Soon enough, Sister Eloisa noticed a significant change in the farmers’ attitudes. There is a Chinese saying that in every danger, there is an opportunity. The desperation in these barangays turned into inspiration because of the increased incomes that could be earned from the newly introduced livelihood activities.
As the farmers try to resume their coconut and rice activities (some of which may take years), they are now simultaneously cultivating vegetables. While the farmers were very complacent with their livelihoods before, they now eagerly look for new ways to earn more income. They are particularly interested in soy.
In my December 2, 2013 commentary “Soy swift solution for Yolanda”, I had written of Sister Eloisa’s enthusiasm for promoting soy immediately following the Yolanda devastation. She had read my analysis that P50 to buy a kilo of soy could yield P10,950 in only 3 months: P9,200 from 200 liters of soy milk, and P1,750 from 12.5 kilos of processed soy veggie meat. More importantly, much needed nutritious food would become available for the Yolanda victims.
Sister Eloisa called DA National Soybean Program Coordinator Rosemarie Aquino (09154622438), who also responded enthusiastically. Unfortunately, bureaucratic impediments delayed Aquino’s Leyte arrival by almost three months. Upon her arrival, Aquino was pleasantly surprised that the land preparation for soy and the eager willingness of the victims to learn had already been put in place by Sister Eloisa. However, soy harvesting has been set back by three months. Much time has been lost. This should be a lesson that bureaucratic impediments should not interfere with correct priorities.
It is this correct sense of priorities which Sister Eloisa has that inspires rather than depresses. After addressing the immediate priority of food, Sister Eloisa is now focusing on other priorities of doing better than was the case before Yolanda.
With the farmers’ new attitude of wanting to do things better, Sister Eloisa is now working with them on improving their rice practices through new technologies such as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), planting high value vegetables, intercropping between coconuts trees, and engaging in other livelihood activities like poultry and swine production. There is a planned integrated approach with supporting feed mills and processing centers to add both value and longevity to the farmers’ products.
Sister Eloisa said: “Many farmers are still hungry. They want to plant fruits and other crops, but there are not enough seeds and support coming from the government. For example, we know where to get the piglets for hog-raising, but we are not getting any information how to effectively start a poultry project.”
There is still desperation in many parts of Yolanda. But this is getting transformed into inspiration because of people like Sister Eloisa. With more people like her, and better targeted government support, Yolanda can be transformed from a danger into an opportunity. Life for Yolanda victims can therefore be better than before.
(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former Secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail [email protected] or telefax (02) 8522112).
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