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An average of 19 tropical storms hit the Philippines each year. Out of all the countries in the world, it is the most exposed to tropical storms and cyclones. These storms greatly affect the nearly 100 million people living on the island, especially the rural poor, who do not have the resources to protect themselves from disasters.

In January 2014, tropical storm Agaton hit the Southern Philippines. The storm caused severe flooding in the region, especially the areas of Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Leyte and Isabela. According to the Butuan City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, Agaton had one of the highest flood levels to ever hit the Butuan City area. Rainfall warning levels reached alert level three, which is equivalent to severe. The Local Government Units asked all affected areas to evacuate, declaring a state of calamity for Butuan City and some parts of Agusan del Norte.

The widespread flooding displaced 43,417 families, comprising 203,022 individuals, and 56 people lost their lives. The storm devastated not only the landscape, but the lives of the families living there.

One year before Agaton, Heifer Philippines and the National Dairy Authority partnered to co-fund the Developing Dairy Zones for Smallholder Farmers in the Philippines project. Dairy zones were implemented and are now operating in Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Leyte and Isabela. Cooperatives and associations were organized to strengthen social capital within the communities and help project participants learn technical knowledge and skills related to dairying.

With guidance from Heifer Philippines and local NGO partner Technology Outreach and Community Help Foundation (TOUCH), the Km. 7 Farmers Producer Cooperative (KFPC) was formed. In August 2013 the co-op’s original placement celebration was conducted and the first 25 families received 25 dairy cattle, equipment, and other farm equipment to sustain the dairy project.

The co-op began processing hygienically pasteurized milk under the name “Milkow,” and Milkwow products were distributed to various market and distribution outlets in Butuan City. Milk production boomed and the dairy zones were at the height of their production. Then Agaton hit, damaging more than 464 gallons of frozen, raw milk.

The groups held a Passing on the Gift® (POG) ceremony in February 2014 to present the money to members of KFPC.
The groups held a Passing on the Gift® (POG) ceremony in February 2014 to present the money to members of KFPC.

Heifer Philippines immediately formed a Dairy Quick Response Team (DQRT) to respond to the needs of the area’s dairy animals. The team included technical experts Dr. Amado Lopez, from the National Dairy Authority’s Mindanao office; Dr. Apple Harumahum, community facilitator from Propegemus Foundation, Inc.; Brian Burra, a Heifer Philippines dairy technician; and Nilda Udarbe, a community facilitator for TOUCH. With support from Heifer Philippines Country Director Herc Paradiang, Heifer staff and the DQRT members assessed the situation and determined ways to help KFPC recover. When members of self-help groups (SHGs) in Heifer projects across the country learned of the disaster, they sent donations of financial and material support. Members of the HINIUSA Association, the RISE-UP project, the HEED Foundation, and many other SHGs joined together to offer assistance to their neighbors in the south.

Thanks to donated funds, the dairy zones were revived and a power generator and beverage cooler were purchased to keep raw milk from spoiling. In addition, the monetary gifts replenished the farmers’ working capital, which was lost when nearly two tons of raw milk was spoiled after the storm.

“We are willing to share this amount with those affected by this event because this is our way of saying thank you,” shares Luzvisminda Sinagan, HINIUSA Federation chairperson and 2012 Golden Talent Award winner. “These people and families shared their blessings and helped us during Typhoon Bopha. We feel their difficulties in these challenging moments and hope that this small amount will help them recover from the losses.”

The SHGs raised a combined total of $2,343 with money from their individual and group savings. The groups held a Passing on the Gift® (POG) ceremony in February 2014 to present the money to members of KFPC. “We are deeply touched by the generosity of the different SHG members from other project areas in the Philippines,” Nilo Calipayan, manager of KFPC says. “Thanks to everything they shared with us, we can now bounce back from these difficult times.”

The donations have become a great aid in rehabilitating and reviving the ongoing dairy enterprise. They have helped improve the technical capacity of the village-level processing plant and increased the dairy cooperative’s working capital. With enough working capital, the cooperative can easily operate its collection center and carry out milk production and market activities for Milkow products.

With proper storage and cooling facilities, there is better quality assurance and milk products have a longer shelf life. KFPC will allocate a percentage of their net income each month to a disaster fund to assist in future relief, rehabilitation and rebuilding activities in other Heifer project areas. This will be implemented in KFPC’s POG commitment, allowing them to pay the kindness forward.

Last year, tropical storm Agaton devastated the Southern Philippines. But thanks to Heifer and the kindness of families from nearby SHGs, survivors have been able to get back on their feet. “The values of the 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development are very much alive among fellow partner families and the SHGs,” Calipayan says. “We will take care of the gifts we received through POG and pay them forward to others who are in need.”

Your gift today can help families recover from disasters tomorrow.

Story and Photos by Sensoy Constante, Regional Program Manager, Heifer Philippines
Contributions from Karla-Narcise-Rodulfo, PME Manager, and Forcep Chris Dela Torre, Program Officer, Heifer Philippines


Jacklyn Carroll

Jacklyn Carroll is the Global Communications Intern for Heifer. She recently graduated from The University of Memphis (Go Tigers!) with a bachelor's in English. She now lives in Little Rock, Ark., with her family and her kitten, Dolly.