Risa’s Story—Struggles of a Firewood Vendor
Interview by Edyta Materka & Lionel Dosdos (Translator)
Risa (51) is a firewood vendor who lived in the forested and agricultural region of Bukidnon prior to Sendong. During the flooding, she survived by floating on a heap of debris all the way to Camiguin island. Her husband did not survive the disaster. She lost her job in the private logging company to a replacement who took her spot while she was gone during the disaster. Risa must now find a way to survive as a woman and single parent.
Due to the lack of employment opportunities for women at the Cala’anan Relocation Site, many women engage in informal employment through traditional laundry cleaning in the river bank. Risa, however, has asthma and cannot take on the laborious work on a full-time basis. Instead, she operates a small fire-selling business on the porch of her new home.
On average, “when things are good” 2-person household consumes 2 small bundles of wood a day—1 for just rice and vegetarian dishes, instant noodles, eggs, excluding boiling water. A minimum of 3 bundles is necessary for an entire day’s work. Firewood is still the dominant source of power as electricity is too expensive as are the petroleum tanks that are sold at 850-1000 pesos/tank (minimum wage: 269 pesos/day).
A truck from a municipality outside of Cagayan de Oro drives through the site and sells firewood to the new community. Since there are no official micro-finance options in the community, informal loans are provided by the truck drivers who distribute the wood to the vendor at the relocation site. Risa did not have enough start-up capital to purchase the initial batch of wood from the truck driver. Instead, she ‘qualified’ for a loan because the driver knew her personally and sympathized with her situation. She was loaned the wood at 17 pesos per large bundle and is selling it for 30 pesos per bundle. She keeps the profit margin and repays the initial cost of the wood—her loan—to the truck driver. Rice is 30 pesos per kilogram, so she needs to sell at least 2 bundles to put food on the table with this loan arrangement.
Since many other locals sell firewood from their homes, Risa is facing high competition and is struggling to find patrons. Risa has only sold 4 large bundles out of the 50 she had initially purchased in the past week. In comparison, she sold 1,000 bundles in 2 weeks back in Bukidnon. She chops some large bundles into 6 smaller bundles consisting of 5 pieces of wood in each.
Other villagers evade purchasing wood altogether and still collect firewood around the surrounding forested areas. Risa, however, does not pick firewood because back in Bukidnon there was a statute that prohibited the practice, and which she continues to habitually abide by today and to help control the price of her firewood. Collecting free firewood drives down wood prices which is detrimental to her livelihood. Risa is already supplementing her firewood business with temporary laundry work to put rice on the table.