Samar and Leyte had a colorful past. Who can forget the fact that their early inhabitants were the first to greet the first missionaries who planted the cross of Christ and celebrated the first mass in the country on Easter Sunday March 31 in the year 1521? The date marked the official campaign for the Christianization of the archipelago, which has become the only Catholic country in this part of the world and through her missionary undertakings has converted millions in the continent.
Who can forget that in 1521 Magellan sailed from Homonhon, Samar to the island of Limasawa and entered into a blood compact with Rajah Kolambu. The Spanish conquistador was later to die in battle on the shores of Mactan which did not stop the conquest by Spain of the islands. Suffice it to say however that the fierce Warays were the first to do battle with the Spanish invaders.
Who can forget that in WWII General Douglas MacArthur waded on the shores of Leyte and electrified the world with his dramatic statement that he had returned. Indeed it was the battle of Leyte Gulf where the victorious allies turned the tide of war by demolishing the Japanese fleet and paved the way for the conquest of the Japanese mainland.
Today Leyte is as devastated as when the largest US flotilla flattened the Japanese-held fortifications in the island. But as in the past we are confident that Leyte will again rise from the ashes. We can even say that perhaps the tragedy opens a window of opportunity for the Waray economy to breakaway from the cycle of under productivity, low incomes and employment by erecting a modern economy that can lift them from this economic morass.
Despite its fertile plains Leyte particularly, and we dare say the rest of Eastern Visayas, it continues to rely heavily on under producing agriculture that yields below world-production standards of hemp, copra, corn, rice, tobacco and fruit crops like papayas, bananas and pineapple. Basically though, a large portion of its arable land is devoted to over-aged coconut trees tended by smallholders, which is mainly responsible the high poverty incidence. For example in Eastern Samar almost two-thirds of the families are considered poor- almost double the national average. The other regions do not fare much better indicating threshold incomes much lower than the national average.
Deploy coco levy funds
But first things first, the immediate needs of the population must be addressed immediately. With chain saws the felled coconut trees can be cut into sawn lumber to provide for dwellings, preferably in higher grounds if public lands are available for this. As indicated in previous articles, a coconut-based farming system in nucleus estates as in Malaysia can be developed fast, not only to rehabilitate coconut lands which occupy vast portions of Eastern Visayas, but also to provide livelihood for displaced coconut farmers who can go into cash crops for their sustenance as well as for livelihood. Incidentally we recall that during the war when our family was evacuated to the mountains we found sustenance from root crops like vegetables, camote, gabi and cassava to augment our meager food rations. To sustain the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts above we have suggested strongly that this is now time to deploy the coconut levy funds, which Eastern Visayas contributed to substantially considering its considerable contribution to coconut production to this day.
For Eastern Visayas to breakaway from its traditional and unsustainable agriculture and enjoy higher-levels of productivity, income and employment, the government through the coco levy funds plus its massive pool of donated funds, can now go into the distribution of farm inputs, credit extension services while improving and expanding irrigation facilities and constructing farm–to-market roads which will greatly facilitate the marketing of farm products.
This is also the time to develop household enterprises as well as small and medium manufacturing industries in the typhoon afflicted areas. This is intended to complement the agricultural productivity drive and promote processing and value adding of farm produce. Training programs of the Tesda and family farm school types will go a long way to support the manufacturing renaissance described above.
As we write this piece there is an on-going symposium organized by the Philippine Federation of Family Farm Schools which are the vehicles needed to transfer agricultural technologies now much needed to rehabilitate and reconstruct typhoon devastated areas in the Visayas.