Typhoon Haiyan Devastates Agriculture, Affects More Than a Million Farmers

By Michele Berger
Published: November 12, 2013

When Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines this past weekend, it left a death toll of 1,774 (estimates as of Tuesday) and untold destruction in its wake. Particularly hard hit were the country’s rice fields, coconut trees and fishing communities, according to reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), making uncertain the long-term outlook for agriculture there.

“The typhoon struck at a devastating time for farmers indeed,” Dominique Burgeon, director of FAO’s Emergency and Rehabilitation Division, told “They essentially depend on agriculture,” he added. About 12 percent of the Philippines’ $431 billion GDP comes from agricultural products.

Rice is grown on some 7.9 million acres of land and provides jobs for millions of Filipinos, according to the Philippines Department of Agriculture (DA). In January of this year, the DA had announced that rice production in the Philippines could climb to record levels. But the FAO is now reporting that Haiyan likely destroyed thousands of acres dedicated to growing rice — and the livelihoods of more than a million farmers.

Harvest was just completed and rice-planting season had just begun in the Southeast Asian country. That means farmers not only lost the seedlings they had recently planted, but they also potentially lost part of what they had gathered, Burgeon said. “We have been requested by the government and by the communities to immediately provide seeds and fertilizers. We are at the critical time with the planting season.”

Other areas of concern were coconut production and fisheries. The Philippines is the world’s top coconut oil producer, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development. The FAO projects “severe impacts” on coconut production, as well as “wide-scale destruction to storage facilities and rural infrastructure.” The latter experienced extensive damage. “Fishing villages having been severely affected,” Burgeon said, “with loss of boats and fishing gear.”

The FAO doesn’t yet have details information about sugarcane — and as such, couldn’t comment — but the path of the storm took it right across two of the largest cane-producing regions in the country. Sugarcane is a $1.6 billion industry for the Philippines.

In terms of the long-term outlook for the country’s agriculture, Burgeon said it’s a race against time. “People need to eat today, people need to have safe water, they need to have shelter,” he said. “In the meantime we need to take care of their livelihood. And this is what we are doing.” 

MORE: Aerial Images from Typhoon Haiyan

An aerial image taken from a Philippine Air Force helicopter shows the devastation of the first landfall by typhoon Haiyan in Guiuan, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines, Nov. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

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