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!

Puerto Galera and the fight against coal.

This week it was my birthday and I decided I wanted to take the day off from teaching yoga and go to an anti-coal rally in Batangas! We woke up early and caught a bus into Batangas City and then took a jeep and a tricycle to the Provincial Sports Complex. We were late, unfortunately, so we missed the march, but the rally was festive and there was a Franciscan priest in brown robes leading the crowd of mostly students and young people. The call: NO to COAL, YES to GOD! Oh my Pilipinas!

Friends met us there and it felt more like a picnic than a protest. The rally was part of the Break Free campaign that involves civil disobedience to end our dependence on fossil fuels. Another action is planned for next week to ‘close down’ the oldest power plant in the Philippines.

One on the speakers, Father ‘Puti’ from Quezon Province spoke during the rally. He’s one of those charismatic personalities that makes me happy for the crazy Catholic-ness of the Philippines. A friend told me about a time last year when Father ‘Puti’ helped lead a crowd of students to blockade local politicians who were attempting to evading a dialogue about coal plants with coal-affected communities. With firmness and grace he forced them out of their cars and lit a black candle to symbolize the life and death reality of coal. A moral issue.

After the rally, Pancho and I headed to the pier to catch a ferry to Puerto Galera, Mindoro, a tourist town famous for its diving.  We’ve been here several times such that we have a ‘suki’ (a preferred seller/buyer, a more-than-economic relationship based on fairness, trust and frequency).  The little place we stay has fan and aircon cottages and a sand beach good for sunbathing.  There’s good coral and lots of fish about 20m from the shore.   One time we even saw a sea turtle munching on seagrass.

There had been a change in management; a son-in-law and his family had moved back from the city and we had to negotiate the rental rate again.  No sweat.  The interesting thing was that the price revolved around the price of electricity-  always expensive, of course (!) in Puerto Galera.  I had just learned at the rally that there is currently a 12-year moratorium on coal-plants in Mindoro.  Whoever gets elected tomorrow will determine whether it is continued….

Sigh.  I felt a deep sadness about our banter over the price, the way business owners respond to demand for hot showers and 20-degree air conditioning, the ‘more fun in the Philippines’ tourism campaign, and the sense of inevitability about coal.  Looking across the sea back towards Batangas from our beach, you can actually see a coal plant glowing red at all hours.

The next day, Pancho a green architect, casually mentioned to the manager about sun shading and other design-based ways to lessen the cooling costs.  To which he replied: Yes, I’m planning to actually tear down everything and make a better resort, all concrete!

Huh? What?

That’s not the solution.  NO!

Traveling in the Philippines is almost always like this for me– a complex mix of joy and angst, awe at the beauty and anger at the injustice.  I learn about a place by asking questions and feeling for authenticity.  The story is always multi-faceted and deeply impure.  A different perspective from the whitewashed tourism brochures that tempt our soul.  Still I continue to find beauty, peace of nature, and human brilliance in tourism.  These qualities stand in counterpoint to the rest of it.  And it’s worth the fight.


Why Islands?

The Philippines is a collection of islands, an archipelago of diverse customs, landscapes and histories.  I have learned SO much from visiting and working in island environments.  I wish to dedicate a section of this blog to island transformations and transitions.

While much can be said about the dire situation of our islands –including tenurial and land use issues, water shortage, improper waste management, poverty and inequality, illegal and destructive fishing, worsening storms and poor tourism planning–  there are also grassroots, people-oriented, and ecologically sustainable initiatives already dreaming and manifesting the world we want to live in.

We need to communicate, to conspire (“breathe together!”) to turn the tide.  After all, an island is not an island without the vast ocean that connects and inspires change.