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Rice farmers battling extreme weather in the Philippines

Do you remember Haiyan; the super typhoon that ripped through the Philippines in November 2013? Martha does.

Rewind three decades and she remembers too, vividly, the brute force of Typhoon Lee - the storm that struck at Christmas, 1981.  

Martha Balderama, a rice farmer from the Philippines
‘I was giving birth right here at home. I was so scared,’ she recalls.

Martha Balderama, a 72-year-old widow, has witnessed many typhoons in her lifetime. Today, 20 typhoons batter the country each year.

‘We get used to them,’ she says, ‘but still, we pray for salvation. Our first concern is our lives, then the farm - it’s my livelihood.’

  • We pray for salvation. Our first concern is our lives, then the farm - it’s my livelihood.’

The effects of climate change

Rice farming in the Philippines is a constant battle.

Faced with extreme weather and destructive typhoons, harvests can be wrecked in an instant. Not only is the means to feed a family lost but seeds are expensive, so when rice crops are destroyed, the costs can be huge.

However, thanks to our partner, Rice Watch Action Network (RWAN), Martha and farmers just like her are receiving vital support.

Martha attended a 16 week farming field school run by RWAN. She learned about climate change, organic farming and the importance of localised 10 day weather forecasts.

Frogs, sunsets and science

‘It is said that when the frogs croak it will rain; if the sunset is colourful it will rain,’ recalls Martha. But thanks to RWAN and the local government, Martha can rely on scientific forecasting – it’s transforming farmers’ lives.

Now Martha knows when to sow, spray and harvest in anticipation of the weather conditions. Farming is more predictable and she is better prepared.

A better harvest

‘More seeds mean more crops’ is the received wisdom among many rice farmers, yet thanks to RWAN, Martha knows the benefits of sowing fewer seeds.

‘I had my doubts at first but I was soon convinced. It means the plants have space to breathe. There is less competition for water, for light, and for nutrients. It has meant a better harvest.’

Martha earns 500 Peso (£7.60) per bag, a good harvest can yield up to 40 bags, but it can be as little as 10 bags if the weather wreaks havoc.

Chemical fertilisers

Alongside improved yields, Martha has also seen her input costs reduce.

‘I used to buy chemical fertiliser, but now, thanks to the project I make my own using leaves, vegetable waste and waste from cows and chickens. It’s organic.

‘Chemicals are bad for your health. They damage the soil too. It’s like cement.  What I grow is much safer to eat and I spend less on fertiliser and seeds.’

Thanks to the skills learned from the project, Martha has paid off her debts and can afford to save a little extra in case of emergency.

‘I’m grateful to Christian Aid,’ she says. ‘Life is less of a struggle.’

A million ways to tackle climate change

There are a million ways that people are using innovation to cope with the effects of climate change in their communities.

And there are a million things we can do, alongside our partners in the Philippines, to reduce climate change and its effects.

Whether it’s consuming less energy in our daily lives, supporting our sisters and brothers across the world to deal with the consequences, or urging our political leaders to act now – the actions you take do count.

Get involved >Find out what steps you can take.