22 December, 2014

Winds of Change in the Philippines

blog Eric Bernabe
by Vicky Pauschert, Communications Manager at Fairtrade International

My ears really pricked up when I heard about typhoon Hagupit heading towards the Philippines just over a week ago. News of such natural disasters is always heart-wrenching, but this time it was more personal. I had visited farmers in the Philippines just three weeks previously.

My first thought – are they all ok?

Second thought – did Eric’s greenhouse hold?

Eric is a member of a group of vegetable farmers, the Negros Occidental OURFood Farmers working towards Fairtrade certification in the Philippines. Hagupit, and Haiyan previous to it, are not the first typhoons he and the rest of the group have had to weather. Many sweep through the Filipino island of Negros each year. And, until earlier this year, each one tore through his greenhouse, damaging his peppers, cucumbers and other vegetables, and forcing him to build from scratch again.

But Eric had a solution to show me during my visit in November: his new greenhouse. To be honest, to my untrained eye it looked like any other greenhouse. But as he explained to me, this one had a stronger structure that was better placed to withstand the strong winds. What really impressed me was that he had researched the best way to build it on the internet!

 “Since then the typhoons have come, but the greenhouse has held firm,” Eric told me proudly.

The greenhouse is just one example of Eric’s resourcefulness and can-do attitude. In the course of my visit he shared many other ideas, one of the main ones being his aim to get Fairtrade certified. Interestingly, the cooperative is primarily interested in selling their vegetables as Fairtrade on the Filipino market – in local supermarkets and stores for example. They believe there is growing interest in sustainable products, and have already been able to secure a contract with a national supermarket. Eric is also a member of the newly formed Fairtrade marketing organization, which is working to build up the domestic market for Fairtrade products.

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“We hope that through Fairtrade we can get more support so we can have more sustainable farming…we also need to get more access to market,” he told me during my visit.

Eric and the rest of the Negros Occidental farmers also recognize that strength comes in numbers. That’s why they are currently setting up an umbrella structure with two other nearby cooperatives. 

Banding together will give them more clout and negotiating power when meeting with buyers and retailers. They are also hatching plans to engage local councils and make sure Fairtrade is on their agenda.

With all this good work going on, you can imagine my anxiety when I heard about Hagupit’s course towards the Philippines. Thankfully, no one was hurt during the latest typhoon, and Eric’s greenhouse is indeed still intact. However over 60 percent of the farmers’ vegetable crop (those not under greenhouses or shelters) were destroyed.

It’s certainly an uphill struggle that these farmers face, but with such determination and pluck, the odds are in their favour. I really hope that Fairtrade can play an important role in supporting them along the way.

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