PHILIPPINES — Farmers in the Philippines are surprisingly some of the hungriest people in their country. Even though coconut products make up 40 percent of Filipino exports, around 60 percent of coconut farmers still live in poverty, making around $2 a day. Farmerlink is working to change that.
Coconut Farming in the Philippines
The Philippines is notorious for its frequent natural disasters. Just one storm could wipe out an entire farm. In fact, since 2013, around 40 million coconut trees have been lost to natural disasters and pests, and many of remaining the trees are past their prime-production age.
Farmers must then purchase expensive seedlings and wait six to 10 years before their new trees produce coconuts, leaving them without a source of income in the meantime. Filipino farmers tend to learn to farm from their parents and ancestors. These techniques may not effectively prepare farmers for natural disasters or pests, so the problems get passed down to the next generation.
The small-scale basis of coconut farming is also passed down families, leaving farmers without direct access to the billion-dollar industry they are a part of. Middleman fees and increased demand for coconuts coupled with low production leaves farmers with the short end of the stick. Farmers are uneducated about methods to maximize their yields and negotiation tactics to minimize fees, again continuing the practices of their parents. FarmerLink educates Filipino farmers on new ideas and techniques to help them grow their incomes.
FarmerLink Helping Farmers in the Philippines
The Grameen Foundation first created FarmerLink to fight the issue of pests in farms. It identifies potential pests and diseases using satellite and mobile data. When a threat or nearby natural disaster is found, farmers receive a notification on their phones and the government is informed. The early warning system allows for a quick and targeted response to the threats, offering suggested preventative measures as well.
FarmerLink also collects data on farmers, such as their economic status, farming practices and crop production. Based on this data, they create an individual plan for each farmer. Farmers receive mobile updates and recommendations, sometimes followed up by in-person check-ins. Many of the recommendations call for simple but effective changes. For example, one farmer had a 60 percent increase within a year just by using salt fertilizer.
Another important tactic is replacing old trees, which farmers are hesitant to do because new seedlings can be expensive. Addressing cost concerns, Nutiva provided FarmerLink with around 90,000 seedlings to distribute to Filipino farmers. These seedlings were especially important for farmers who lost their trees in natural disasters.
Saving for the Future
Only 11 percent of farmers have savings, with the majority relying on friends and family for funding. Farmers are also discouraged by the potential risks and losses of investing in farming. Since they continue to live in poverty, they lack the financial means to invest in and develop their farms, perpetuating the issue. To end the cycle, FarmerLink pushes farmers to sell their products to formal buyers who offer more money than local buyers. Filipino farmers usually depend on the one or two loyal buyers they have, so introducing new customers is essential to expanding their markets.
Filipino coconut farmers should be able to gain from the worldwide industry they are providing for, but they are ultimately limited by inefficient farming techniques and a lack of education of the industry. FarmerLink is attacking these issues on both sides in an effort to lift Filipino farmers out of poverty. While progress has been made, more still needs to be done and FarmerLink, along with organizations like it, continues to work towards sustainable agriculture.