Recently displaced farmers hit by flooding

MADIA, MINDANAO, 17 June 2011 (IRIN) - Rain and flooding over the past month have severely affected thousands of farmers who have recently returned to their homes in conflict-affected Mindanao.

Farmer Sandatu Kalug, 58, from the village of Madia in Maguindanao, the worst affected province, told IRIN: "I had just planted my field. Now I've lost everything."

Borrowing US$200 from a local rice trader, the father-of-eight now has no choice but to borrow again against his next harvest after his 1.5-hectare field flooded last week. This means he and his family are likely to be pushed further into debt after almost two years of displacement.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) [ ] on 17 June, heavy rain over eastern and southern Mindanao has led to flooding in nine of Mindanao's 26 provinces, affecting 120,038 families (611,196 individuals).

In Maguindanao alone, 53,188 families (324,261 individuals) in 17 municipalities have been affected.

On 15 June the country's National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) [ ] reported close to 7,000 hectares of crops (rice, corn, banana, vegetables and tobacco) had been damaged, with estimated losses of nearly $9 million.

"These people had only just returned to their homes. Now they have to start all over," said Nanding Sayutin, a municipal officer with the Maguindanao Department of Agriculture. "It will take at least another month for them to prepare their fields again."

FAO concerns

On 17 June, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) expressed concern over the flood's impact in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and particularly Maguindanao Province.

"This is already a rice-deficient area," Aristeo Portugal, FAO assistant country representative, told IRIN in Manila. "The floods will certainly have an impact on the region's potential rice harvest, as well as the food security in that province."

According to the Philippine Food Staples Self-Sufficiency Road Map 2011-2016, per capita rice consumption for ARMM is 145kg a year (2008-2009), against a per capita availability of milled rice of 82kg per year (2009).

"These figures will certainly be aggravated by the floods," Portugal said.

Compounding matters further is the already fragile food security of thousands of returnees, many of them displaced due to fighting between government forces and the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which has been fighting for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, for decades.

According to a 2010 Emergency Food Security Assessment conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP), about 70 percent of internally displaced persons and returnee households were categorized as food insecure. Of these, 40 percent were highly or moderately food insecure.

At the same time, around 30 percent of households spend more than 65 percent of their household income on food, with households purchasing 70 percent or more of their total food requirements from the market, the Mindanao Humanitarian Action Plan 2011 [ ] said.

Thousands of returning farmers, already struggling to restore their livelihoods, may well need to borrow further to provide for their families, thus falling further into debt, aid workers warn.

About 70 percent of the local population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture as their primary source of income.

"I normally harvest my rice in August. I don't know what's going to happen now," Sandatu Kalug said. "I'm already in debt as it is."

FAO is preparing for the July launch of a one-year New Zealand-funded effort to help returning farmers in Maguindanao to restore their livelihoods, and will also consider farmers affected by the recent flooding, Portugal said.

According to the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), [ ] bad weather is expected to continue on 18-19 June, with at least one of two low-pressure areas east of Mindanao expected to intensify into a tropical cyclone.