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Typhoon-hit Philippines farmers race to plant seeds to repay loans

Staff writer |
In the fertile plains of Luzon island in the Philippines, farmers are in a race against time.

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A month after Typhoon Koppu destroyed their crops, they need to plant seeds in the coming weeks so they can repay loans at harvest time, according to Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Koppu lingered for almost a week after making landfall, pouring intense rain on farmland and causing damage to agriculture estimated at nearly $216 million.

The storm flattened almost half a million hectares of rice, corn and other crops in Luzon, one of the country's most important rice-growing regions, according to government figures.

This means farmers, whose average income is less than $50 a month, are at risk of falling deeper into debt because they must borrow to buy fertilisers and seeds and then pay off the debt with the money they make from selling their crops.

"The problem is that they are so poor they need to borrow money all the time to be able to plant," said Florence Joy Maluyo, emergency communication specialist at World Vision.

Without the storm, they would have been able to sell their rice quickly enough to pay off most of the loans, with earnings from other crops paying the rest.

Maluyo said farmers in Isabela province told her they felt trapped by their debts and feared they would be unable to pay them off for a long time, especially if another disaster struck.

"With more than 20 typhoons a year in our country, farmers always face the risk of losing their crops," said Maluyo.

Without savings or collateral to offer to banks, they are often forced to go to village loan sharks who charge interest rates of up to 20 percent a day, according to media reports.

José Luis Fernández, country representative for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, said farmers needed support such as cash transfers and crop insurance and training to improve their skills and productivity.

"Without access to these instruments, poor families facing crises are likely to borrow more money, sell off their assets, shift to less risky but lower yielding crops and take their children out of school to work," he said in emailed comments.

The FAO plans to deliver rice seeds and fertiliser to at least 5,900 affected households, and is discussing extra help for 13,000 farming households.

The Department of Agriculture is also helping farmers by distributing rice seeds.

Typhoon Koppu killed at least 58 people and more than 700,000 are still displaced by damage to their homes. Most of them are staying with family and friends, aid workers said.

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