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PHILIPPINES: 'Women Take the Brunt of Climate Change'

Prime Sarmiento

MANILA, Oct 24 2008 (IPS) - Filipina farmer Trinidad Domingo views the coming rice harvest season with trepidation. A typhoon destroyed much of her crop and Domingo estimates that her two-hectare plot will produce less than the usual 200 sacks of rice.

Typhoons are a part of life for most Filipino farmers but they know how to minimise losses brought on by heavy rains. Domingo starts tilling rice as early as June and July – the start of the wet season. By planting early, she can avoid most rain damage.

But this year, Domingo could only start planting in August as the wet season started late.

"This is really a problem for me as I invested a lot of money, about PhP 60,000 (roughly 1,250 US dollars), for this cropping season. I may not be able to repay my loan and my family may really need to tighten belts,’’ she said. Domingo heads an extended family that includes siblings and numerous nephews.

A lean rice harvest threatens her family’s food security. and she is also hard pressed to find the money to repay loans and buy other necessities.

Erratic weather events attributed to climate change are causing problems for farmers like Domingo. The increased frequency of heat waves, floods and drought are believed to have drastically reduced both agricultural and fishery output, and raised food prices.

This, in turn, increases the burden for women and girls as they are the ones expected to ensure that there is enough food for the family, according to Ines Smyth, gender advisor of Oxfam in Britain.

Speaking at a conference held here, this week, on gender and climate change, Symth noted that owing to higher food prices, "women substitute time for cash. They take on extra work, even if they’re poorly paid’’. The four-day conference was organised by the Centre for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction.

In coastal areas, among the fishing communities of the Philippines, women are now grappling with the harsh impact of climate change, according to a report presented by the Centre for Empowerment and Resource Development Inc. (CERD), a Manila-based NGO that implements community-based coastal resource management.

"The decline in fish catch puts additional burden on the women. Aside from their household chores and participation in fishing activity, they have to find additional sources of income like working as domestic helpers for more affluent families," CERD’s project development officer, Marita P. Rodriguez, said.

Women in the agriculture and fisheries sectors are more vulnerable to climate change. Women employed as farm workers neither own land nor have access to credit and technology that can help adapt to the effects of climate change.

"Limited access to credit, technology and extension services means they won’t be able to switch to cash crops or do other things to increase productivity,’’ Smyth said.

This is why, Smyth said, it is important for governments to boost investments in agriculture – provide credit, irrigation and technology support to farmers. More importantly, a land reform programme must be implemented as it is useless for farmers to invest on land that they do not own, she said.

Conference participants added that governments must also support organic agriculture as this is one way to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Large-scale and chemical intensive agriculture are one of the key factors that boost carbon emissions. A report issued by Greenpeace International early this year revealed that more than 50 percent of all chemical fertilisers applied to the soil ends up in the atmosphere or in local waterways.

Aside from policy changes and government support, participants in the conference also noted that it is important for the women themselves to organise and implement measures that will help them adapt to the effects of climate change.

The women are already taking initiatives to address areas of vulnerabilities and developing strategies for effective responses to disasters and climate changes.

Daryl Leyesa, Rural Women Centre Coordinator of the Philippine Centre for Rural Development Studies, said women farmers’ organisations are actively campaigning for sustainable agriculture and protecting natural resources.

Rodriguez said CERD is supporting some women of the coastal community in southern Philippines to protect mangroves. By protecting the mangroves, Fernandez said, these women can protect their communities from waves, tidal currents and typhoons; and also boost fish production.

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