Climate change makes banana, seaweed farming hard for women in the Philippines

PALAWAN, Philippines — For 30 years, Melinda Gimotea has been farming seaweeds off the coast of Sitio Balintang in Palawan province’s southern town of Quezon.

Along the coast, a pungent fishy smell mixes with sea breeze as women like her in their village are commonly seen under their houses, tying the cuttings of this bright green plant to lines. She has witnessed how seaweeds have transformed her village: they’re able to build sturdy houses, connect to power and water lines, buy home appliances, and send children to college.

Gimotea is among 6,500 seaweed farmers in the province who grow this high value crop every 45 days. Prized for its carrageenan, an emulsifier for many food and cosmetic products, seaweed was among the country’s top aquaculture commodities, with an estimated production volume of 1.5 million metric tons valued at P10.61 billion ($188 million) in 2020, government datashowed.

Back then, she earned between P25,000 to P30,000 ($444 to $534) from her 2,500-square-meter farm. But in 2021, she noticed that the warming temperature caused her seaweed production to decline.

“In the past three decades that I have engaged in seaweed farming, all was well with our climate and our seaweeds were sizable,” said Gimotea, 55. “Starting last year, our income has halved because of the extreme heat that makes our seaweeds become sick.”

Like Gimotea, small-scale banana farmers in Aborlan town in southern Palawan are also experiencing changes in weather conditions that affect their produce.

“Now is supposed to be rainy season, but it’s usually sunny and dry, it’s not normal,” said Analiza Asuple, 33.

Cultivating bananas in a 2-hectare farmland for almost a decade, she observed that banana thrives with rains.

“Bananas don’t like extreme heat, so the size of the fruit is diminishing and so is our income,” Asuple added.

In the 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, scientists warned that without deep and immediate cuts in carbon emissions, agriculture will continue to be among the sectors bearing the most climate crisis impacts.

Climate advocates say this needs urgent action as it affects women’s rights to work, food, education and other social services.

“The latest assessment report of the IPCC has zeroed in on the impact of climate change on agricultural systems globally. The Philippine agriculture sector, including the many women engaged in it, is not an exemption,” said Nazrin Castro, branch manager of nonprofit The Climate Reality Project.


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