TACLOBAN, PHILIPPINES — Last December, Typhoon Haiyan's destructive winds devastated the Philippines. Parts of the archipelago nation are still recovering. Among those hardest hit were farmers, nearly half of whom harvest coconuts. In Leyte province, efforts to revitalize the coconut farming industry are underway.
Before the storm, farmers at a farm in rural Leyte harvested the dried meat, or copra, of coconuts to make oil, but Typhoon Haiyan’s destruction has made the future of this and many other small plantations unclear.
The farm’s caretaker, Arnulflo Barcero, 52, said the typhoon knocked out the large majority of the farm's trees.
“Before the typhoon we had 700 trees and now there are only 90 trees still standing. It’s a problem for the community because we rely on the copras to earn a living,” said Barcero.
Around 40 percent of farmers in Leyte province work in the coconut industry. The downed trees mean they have nothing to sell and the help they employ have no work. But for others, the devastation is creating income.
Francisco Alverca, a chainsaw operator who has been called in to help cut up the fallen and damaged trees, is one of those benefiting.
“I think it will take several months to complete all the work here, it is a big property,” said Alverca.
Alverca and other chainsaw operators are employed in the many sawmills around Leyte province. International aid groups hire them and train local farmers to use saws to clear the land of dead trees so new ones can be planted. Now, coconut lumber is in high demand.
The wood is transported from the ruined farms to the city of Tacloban to build shelters for those displaced by the typhoon.
Around 100 families in the town of Palo are rebuilding their own homes with the freshly cut lumber.
Rice farmer Rudolfo Palamos, 74, had his entire house ripped apart by Haiyan’s strong winds.
“This area has a lot of coconut trees. The wood isn’t so expensive and it’s easy to build with. Most of my house was rebuilt with the coconut tree lumber, including the walls, the corner posts,” said Palamos.
There are many more fallen trees back in the plantations. But there is concern that time is running out to cut them up.
Caroline Gluck, with OXFAM, an aid group that oversees six sawmill programs in Leyte province, said time is of the essence.
“In three months the likelihood is that many of these trees will rot and become infested with pests. And those pests can eat some of the still standing and productive trees,” said Gluck.
Once the downed trees are cleared, aid groups can start helping coconut farmers replant on their land, but it could take several more years before new trees are ready for harvest.