Tunnel-Type Agriculture Arms Philippine Farmers Against Extreme Weather

Farmers Leonardo Bo, Sardito Polo, and Simeo Olivenza are members of Macawayan Family Global and Local Action for Development based in Barangay Macawayan, Irosin, Sorsogon.
Photo credit: King Arthur Arambulo

Farmers from Sorsogon face the constant challenge of extreme weather conditions which damage their crops. Thanks to the US Government, Bicol University, and the World Food Programme, these farmers can now protect some of their crops through the tunnel-type agriculture.

Agricultural crops in the Philippines are frequently at risk due to extreme weather conditions that threaten crop production. The Philippines is the third most disaster-prone country in the world with vulnerabilities to typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. Just recently, Typhoon Glenda (international name: Rammasun) battered the country leaving ten million pesos worth of damages to infrastructure, school facilities, and agriculture.

Farmers in the Philippines like Leonardo Bo, Sardito Polo, and Simeo Olivenza from Barangay Macawayan in Irosin, Sorsogon are affected by these weather conditions which have been exacerbated by climate change. This increases the risk of food insecurity in the country.

“We did not expect Typhoon Glenda to reach signal number four,” said Polo. “It damaged our crops.”

To help minimize crop damage and provide supplemental income to farmers, the World Food Programme, in partnership with Bicol University and funded by the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), is enhancing family-based disaster preparedness by providing a small-scale climate smart technology called tunnel-type agriculture to some farmers in Sorsogon.

“It challenged us to partner with WFP and USAID because it was also an opportunity for us to be able to expand our horizon and accomplish more because in the university, we have very limited budget,” said Bicol University (BU) Extension Service Director Dr. Leilani D. Pavilando. “But we believe that it’s more important for universities to engage the communities because your presence and your impact would be felt if you do your projects in the communities.”

Bicol University Extension Service Director Dr. Leilani D. Pavilando

Bicol University provided tunnel-type agriculture technology and training to a total of 200 farmers in the Province of Sorsogon, in the municipalities of Irosin, Sta. Magdalena, Casiguran, and Juban.

The brain child of Dr. Pavilando and farmer-scientist Henry Rafael, the tunnel-type agriculture is a protective structure made from steel brace and fine mesh net used to shield crops from extreme weather conditions. It covers a 10 square meter area and meant to serve one family. They also introduced the use of coco coir production waste by-product called coco pit as a mulch or protective layer of the soil instead of the usual polyethylene plastic.

“The idea itself is not new,” explained Dr. Pavilando. “We developed a tunnel-type structure which is cheaper than what is usually bought from big companies and adapted it so it could fit the small plots that we were establishing in the middle of the different coconut trees.”

The tunnel-type structure can reportedly withstand typhoons of up to signal number three. For typhoons packing winds stronger than that, the structure can be collapsed and kept. 

“It’s really different when the crops are inside the tunnel-type,” said Bo, who plants chili peppers in his plot. “First of all, my chili peppers are protected from animals like rats, chickens, and birds. Next, it’s protected from extreme heat and rain.” 

“This is really a big help to us because if not for the tunnel-type, perhaps, there would have been nothing left of our crops because of the typhoon,” said Polo.

Aside from the protection from weather conditions which the tunnel-type structure provides, the farmers also get extra income from their small plot. 

“We introduced to them producing high-value vegetables which is both nutritious and safe, and they could make use of it for additional income,” said Dr. Pavilando.

“I interchange the use of my tunnel-type – first I use it as a seedling nursery and then I also plant vegetables,” explained Olivenza. “I plant lettuce and I have also tried cauliflower and broccoli. I earn an income of around Php 2,000 from the lettuce.”

As the people of Sorsogon rebuild from the damage caused by Typhoon Glenda, the farmers have already planted new crops confident that some will be protected by the tunnel-type structure given to them.

“We are thankful to the donors, to the World Food Programme and BU for their tireless support,” said Bo. “I am also thankful to my companions who constantly fight despite the bad weather. We will not stop because if we stop, our family and the people will have nothing to eat. As I always say, we are fortunate that this is our work because without us farmers, people will go hungry.”