PRIOR to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, tourists venturing to the southern tip of Cebu cite being drawn by various land- and sea-based attractions of the western and eastern coasts.
From whale-watching in Oslob to canyoneering in Badian and Alegria, men and women participated in local enterprises on ecotourism because it offered faster, bigger returns for the household and the community.
Restrictions on mobility and trade to contain the pandemic slowed down local economies, grounding ecotourism to a halt and forcing many of those who formerly benefited as employees or entrepreneurs into alternative sources of income.
Farming and agribusiness, such as ventures in the selling of ornamental plants, became fallback sources of livelihood. Yet, many of those who reaped from the ecotourism boom aspire for a resurgence of pre-pandemic security and affluence, equating agriculture with stopgap measures resorted to during a socially aberrant period.
Several challenges await the roll-out of the Enhanced Countryside Development (ECD) program, which will provide loans for microenterprises, among other forms of assistance, in the province of Cebu, according to a press release published in SunStar Cebu on March 6, 2021.
Micro loans, post-production facilities, marketing support and technical assistance are needed by communities outside of urban centers, among the hardest-hit by the recession resulting from the pandemic.
A mindset for entrepreneurship must first be developed, though, among rural inhabitants. The Filipino rural worker fits the profile compiled by the International Labor Organization (ILO): whether earning from self-employment or wage labor, 80 percent of rural workers are in the informal sector.
Shifting aspirations and perceptions of a casual day laborer to that of an entrepreneur taking calculated risks for better gains requires grassroots government or nongovernment workers who have a real grasp of the felt needs, actual constraints and potentials of the inhabitants who may benefit from the ECD.
And yet, for the ECD to achieve the target of re-opening local economies in Cebu Province, program implementors must not only cater to those who are ready to present project proposals supported by forms and documents to access micro-loans, as required by the participating government banks.
The ECD banks on how well local government frontline workers know the communities they serve: farmers, fisherfolks, casual day laborers, seasonal migrant workers and mobile livelihood workers — the poorest of the poor who must hurdle a deep and wide chasm separating the drastically different mindsets of daily survival from self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship.
There must be a responsiveness and flexibility in the ECD program to look beyond the formalities of making proposals, filling up forms, and monitoring accomplishments versus targets to the actual needs and aspirations of the poorest of the poor.
Lessons from costly development flops and unexpected successes point out the fallacy that mere availability of micro credit triggers the poor into queueing for loans. Fear of incurring a debt that cannot be paid prevents many from availing themselve of assistance.
On the other hand, lack of formal education or training is not a barrier for on-time repayment of loans. Unemployed women grouped into cells or small groups for self-help showed the most success in loan repayment, in the experience of the Grameen Bank, a Bangladeshi initiative that gave small loans to the poorest of the poor with no collateral.
Rural women are better than the men in using their earnings from alternative livelihoods to benefit their children. Among informal workers, women and out-of-school youths exhibit the greatest needs for survival and security. With responsive implementation and monitoring, the ECD program may give them the break needed to move on in the pandemic.