Hunger and debt: hit by Covid-19, farmers in the Philippines and hope their children follow a different path
Covid-19 restrictions have disrupted the supply of vegetables, devastating the livelihood of farmers in the Philippines
Some are migrants who lost their jobs overseas and returned home to become farmers, others are families who never left their land. Many fear hunger, while falling into debt
Nueva Vizcaya, a landlocked province in the Philippines with a population of about 460,900, is home to some of the biggest vegetable producers in the country.
An agricultural region eight hours’ drive from the nation’s capital and known as “the salad bowl of the north”, it supplies most of its vegetables to Manila despite not having an airport of its own. Vegetables travel by trucks daily from the upland green plots to the tables of the capital’s residents.
But when the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, travel restrictions were imposed, disrupting the supply chain of vegetables, and causing a devastating effect on the livelihood of hundreds of farmers. Among those affected were migrants, who after losing their jobs overseas have been forced to return to their farmland, and are now struggling to make ends meet.
Mary Ann Esteban, 47, who worked in Dubai as an airport ground crew member for 19 years, lost her job in October as a result of the pandemic.
“I left the country and my family because we experienced hunger and it broke my heart,” she recalled.
Esteban, a single mother of four, started farming in Kasibu – a municipality in the province of Nueva Vizcaya – to continue providing for her family and for the youngest one, aged 19, to finish school.
She is now growing vegetables as well as rice, while raising pigs and running a small shop.
Esteban said it was hard to gauge how much her family could make every month, because they earned more during harvest season. The money to cover their daily expenses comes from the shop.
But whatever she makes, it is much less than when she was in Dubai, where she had a salary of 35,000 pesos (US$700).
Her migration story – much like millions of others – was tainted with pain. “It was a heavy feeling, I cried from Manila airport to Dubai. I was very homesick and every time I saw a plane, I wished I could go home. But I told myself that If I did not leave, my children will keep on experiencing hunger and they won’t be able to go to school,” Esteban said. “Because of the pandemic, I returned to farming and the fear of hunger came back,” she said.