Building Fisherfolk Capacity as Climate Adaptation

Working alongside Tambuyog Development Center in Bantayan Island, has been truly revelatory for me to understand the Philippines as an archipelago.  While TIGRA and I are no longer working on the island, Tambuyog is continuing to build capacity in communities affected by Typhoon Yolanda.  I wanted to write this post in honour of World Fisheries Day.

The sea is a commons, shared by many and owned by none.  For Filipino fisherfolk, the sea is a source of sustenance, of livelihood, and of leisure.  It is also a battleground where there are constant resource conflicts over how to use the productive near shore areas surrounding 36,000 km of Philippine coastline.  That’s a lot to manage!

Primary players in this battle over resource use in the coastal areas are coal-fired power plants, the concrete and aggregate industry, tourism businesses, fish ponds, and small-scale and commercial fishers.  Each prizes the coast for its seemingly endless abundance.  And while the earth is resilient, our environment’s capacity to provide has been pushed to its limits.  Too many of our waterways have been over-fished, the corals destroyed, mangroves uprooted, beaches dredged (even quarried for sand), and polluted by garbage and toxic wastes.

Tambuyog’s work for the last 30 years has focused on small-scale fishers defined as boats “bangka” less than 3 tonnes.  They believe that small-scale fishers, who are often poor and marginalized in our society run by landowners and business elites, are the best positioned to deal with the convergence of crises affecting the coastal areas.  If empowered, they can and are managing the nearshore areas in a way that respect ecological limits and builds social and economic equity.

While climate adaptation wasn’t a buzz word, when Tambuyog began their work decades ago, today, it captures the essence of what solutions to climate change really look like:  small collectives of producers making decisions about how and where to fish, and how to support our families during times of low catch.

Climate-resilient field school

Here is a photo of one such collective learning about climate-resilient hog raising and feeds as supplementary livelihood.  They are adapting to current realities and making plans together for a future in harmony with the ebb and flow of nature’s abundance.  This takes work, struggle and shared mission.  Mabuhay Tambuyog and all collectives of small-scale fisherfolk!