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Climate-smart agriculture safeguards communities against climate change and pandemics like COVID-19

IIRR partner farmers supply their communities with nutritious food during COVID-19 lockdown

As extreme lockdown measures trickled from one week to the next, many rural families in the Philippines are in dire situations. With most economic activities halted, money is running dry, and food supplies are dwindling. In these terrible times, climate-smart agriculture (CSA) farmers rose to bring hope and assistance to their communities.

As the chicken crows announced the dawn of a new day, Zenaida Jordan, 63, stokes the wood fire in her family’s modest kitchen. Her husband Pepe, 64, prepares for another day backbreaking work at their farm. The couple lives on the outskirts of San Pedro 1, Guinayangan, Quezon, IIRR’s learning community in the province of Quezon, and comprised of upland farmers with a total land area of 424 hectares inhabited by 121 families (471 people). The Jordans are one of the few smallholder farmers in their town who practice CSA. CSA is an approach that secures food security in a changing climate.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the Philippines in early March, CSA farmers like the Jordans were hardly affected. They were able to continue their farming activities (since the government considers such work essential) and yield an abundant supply of food for their seven married children.

Climate-smart agriculture

CSA is a practice that maximizes the productivity of farms through diversification – planting multiple crops, raising small livestock, and applying other practical farming technologies for food and income. This practice circumvents farmers from being solely dependent on coconut, which is the usual practice of many local farmers.

In 2011, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), IIRR and government partners began to establish climate-smart villages (CSVs) in Southeast Asia. Together with the San Pedro 1 local government units and communities, the village became one of the Philippines’ CSVs.

CSA farmers in action

In their four-hectare farm, Zenaida and Pepe Jordan till different varieties of crops like banana, pechay, eggplant, ampalaya, mustard, chili, peanut, onion, taro, cassava, ginger, corn, papaya, and black pepper. They also have fruit trees like soursop, rambutan, bignay (Antidesma bunius), jackfruit, cacao, and some coffee. Coconut is their dominant perennial crop. The elderly couple practices seed banking and raise different kinds of livestock. They have 20 native chickens, four native pigs, and a small fishpond with tilapia. They also have a carabao that helps in land tilling, cultivation, and in hauling their produce to the roadside.

While inherently industrious, the CSA technologies helped the Jordans avoid the looming food scarcity amid the ongoing global crisis. While they were worried about catching the virus, they continued with their daily farm activities. Before the lockdown, they were able to sell 450 kilos of ginger to a regular trader and earned Php45,000 (USD900). During the lockdown, they sold 320 kilos of root crops and 76 kilos of vegetables at a much-reduced price of Php20 per kilo (USD0.40) to support their neighbors harshly affected by the pandemic.

Five other CSA farmers from other villages – Erlinda Inera of San Luis II, Wilberto Dueñas of Cabong Norte, Sonny Morales of San Isidro, Florisa Sanoy of Lubigan, and Wilfer Griña of Dungawan Pantay –joined the Jordans in supplying IIRR’s Covid-19 relief initiative. They provided 200 kilos of camote, 200 kilos of gabi or taro, 200 kilos of squash, 100 kilos of mongo, and 200 bunches of fresh, leafy vegetable, malunggay, camote tops, and kangkong (water spinach).


NUTRELIEF: A nutrition-sensitive food aid 

The fresh and nutritious food harvested by these local CSA farmers were packed and distributed by village health workers, officials, and nutrition scholars through NUTRELIEF, IIRR’s nutrition-sensitive supplemental food aid. NUTRELIEF aims to promote healthy eating and sustainable food security among rural families during and after the quarantine. The distributed food packs also contain seeds and information materials on health and nutrition for low-income families with nutritionally vulnerable members such as pregnant and lactating women and infants and children in their first 1000 days of life. Most of these families are farmers, fisherfolks, and ambulant vendors who have lost their daily income from the government-imposed lockdowns.

To date, IIRR in the Philippines has distributed 1,555 NUTRELIEF packs and reached more than 7,700 people in four municipalities of Maragondon and Silang, Cavite; Guinayangan, Quezon; and Ivisan, Capiz. A launched health and nutrition social media campaign has also reached over 38,000 people.

In its national advisory dated April 28, 2020, the Philippines’ National Nutrition Council (NNC) adopted IIRR’s NUTRELIEF concepts and mechanics after soliciting input from the coalition of civil society organizations where IIRR is also a member. The Council advised all local government officials to diversify and enhance the nutrient content of family food packs, optimize the use of local fresh produce and prioritize buying of fresh produce items directly from the small farmers.

The Jordans, along with 100 other farmers in the village of San Pedro 1, prove that smallholder farmers are essential in society, especially today. These smallholders, some of whom are already old, are instrumental in the fight and survival of many rural communities against COVID-19.