Haiyan’s wrath has left farmers in the Philippines to pick up the pieces

Feeding the Philippines’ appetite for rice isn’t getting any easier.
Feeding the Philippines’ appetite for rice isn’t getting any easier.
Image: Reuters/John Javellana
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The Philippines is quivering in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which tore through the country on Nov. 8 with record winds and floods. Estimates of the death toll vary but could reach over 10,000 in one city alone, and many more have been displaced. But once the dead have been found and the immediate damage cleared up, the longer-term effects could include some devastating consequences for the country’s agriculture industry.

Haiyan is believed to have hit areas where roughly a quarter of the Philippines’ rice is grown, which could curb the country’s move towards rice self-sufficiency. An estimated 131,611 tons (119,300 tonnes) of rice were lost as a result of the storm, or roughly 2% of the country’s fourth-quarter harvest.

The Philippines is the world’s largest per capita consumer of rice, but it’s been making strides towards self-sufficiency. Rice imports have declined in each of the past five years since hitting a record 2.6 million tonnes in 2008. Estimates for 2013/2014 were hovering around 1.5 million tonnes before the typhoon, but are likely to rise in its aftermath, pushing global prices up.

Other industries could be hard hit too. The $1.6 billion sugarcane crop, as we pointed out previously, was particularly vulnerable, since flooding and strong winds can uproot sugarcane, which is relatively weak-rooted, and much of the cane-growing region was in the storm’s direct path. As much as 120,000 tons of sugar were believed to have been destroyed as of today (Nov. 11). And the country was already expected to fall short of its sugar export quota to the US.

The Philippines’ coconut industry, the world’s third-largest after India’s and Indonesia’s, has yet to report the extent of the storm’s damages. But last year’s Typhoon Pablo, which paled in comparison to Haiyan, wreaked havoc, curbing coconut output by nearly 500,000 tonnes. Coconut exports currently account for nearly half of the Philippines’ agricultural exports—the country is, for example, the world’s largest exporter of coconut oil. Rice and sugar exports make up sizable chunks as well.

All told, agriculture accounted for 11.1% (pdf) of the Philippines’ GDP last year. The government has estimated a total of 3.7 billion pesos ($85 million) in farm damage alone as a result of the record typhoon. But preliminary estimates after devastating natural disasters often come in far below the long-term toll.