Local Differentiation in Diversification Challenges in Eleven Coastal Villages in Iloilo Province, Philippines


Diversification in rural coastal areas has been promoted for two major reasons: reducing overfishing and increasing living standards. This article investigates diversification efforts in light of coastal squeezes in central Philippines. It presents evidence from 11 coastal villages in Iloilo Province, all of these communities are confronted with overfishing, poverty and environmental change. The empirical focus is on the impact of external support as well as remittances from overseas relatives. Three results emerge. First, the impact depends on initial intra-village conditions; presuming that fishing associations are the natural go-to stakeholders can be counterproductive. Second, more attention should be paid to transforming short-term, exogenous interventions into longer-term, endogenous capabilities. Third, unlike for households with higher levels of human capital, remittances do not constitute a major diversification strategy for fisher folk. Avenues for further research are the relationships between social capital and intra-village inequality and the interrelated nature of livelihood capitals.


Dans les zones côtières rurales, la diversification a été encouragée pour deux raisons principales: réduire la surpêche et augmenter le niveau de vie. Cet article étudie les efforts de diversification à la lumière des pressions exercées sur les zones côtières au centre des Philippines. Il présente des preuves provenant de 11 villages côtiers de la province d’Iloilo; toutes ces communautés sont confrontées à la surpêche, à la pauvreté et aux changements environnementaux. L’accent empirique porte sur l’impact du soutien extérieur et des envois de fonds provenant de membres familiaux habitant à l’étranger. Trois résultats se dégagent. Premièrement, l’impact dépend des conditions initiales au sein du village; il peut être contre-productif de partir du principe que les associations de pêche sont les interlocuteurs naturels à qui s’adresser en priorité. Deuxièmement, il faudrait accorder plus d’attention à ce que les interventions exogènes à court terme soient transformées en capacités endogènes à plus long terme. Troisièmement, contrairement aux ménages ayant un capital humain plus élevé, les envois de fonds ne constituent pas une stratégie de diversification importante pour les pêcheurs. Les pistes de recherche futures sont les relations entre le capital social et les inégalités au sein des villages et les liens entre les moyens de subsistance.


Income diversification in rural coastal areas has been promoted for two major reasons: reducing overfishing and increasing living standards. In several developing countries, fisherfolk are among the poorest sections of society—usually worse off than small, land-owning communities—and their main source of living has been severely limited by overfishing (Andriesse 2018a; Torell et al. 2017; Finkbeiner 2015). In addition to overfishing and poverty, governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have sought to address issues such as climate change, coastal protection and rehabilitation and the empowerment of women in order to create more stable livelihoods (Aheto et al. 2016; Moshy et al. 2015; Badjeck et al. 2010; Eder 2006). Gupta and Bavinck (2017, p. 78) have referred to the multitude of problems and challenges that can often be observed in coastal areas as the “coastal squeeze”. This should be interpreted as not only a spatial squeeze between land and sea but also a socio-economic and environmental squeeze, particularly in coastal areas that experience significant levels of in-migration. In those areas, the magnitude of poverty and environmental pressures can become severe with few options to turn the tide.

This article investigates diversification efforts in light of coastal squeezes in central Philippines. In contrast to several other Southeast Asian countries (Rigg 2016, pp. 129–161), the rural fertility rate is relatively high and the population is projected to increase in all Philippine provinces until 2025; and in 78 out of 81 provinces until 2045 (PSA 2016a). It is thus clear that population pressure will also remain a challenge in rural peripheries. Furthermore, relative to inland processes of socioeconomic transformation, coastal communities have been relatively under-researched in Southeast Asia (Betcherman and Marschke 2016, p. 25).

Important aims of governmental and NGO intervention in Philippine rural development are facilitating village-based social capital formation for livelihood diversification and mitigating overfishing. Without sufficient levels of social capital, it is harder to acquire new information and collaborate in order to broaden livelihoods and present and future risks (Goulden et al. 2013). Yet many households in the Philippines consider sending a relative abroad to be the best alternative; something that is also supported by the government and has led to a loss of human capital and therefore the potential for social capital formation (Kondo 2014, pp. 178–182; Boquet 2017, pp. 382–388). This article presents empirical evidence from 11 coastal villages in Iloilo Province; all of these communities are confronted with overfishing, illegal fishing, poverty issues and environmental change (most notably the increasing frequency of typhoons; see also Andriesse and Lee 2017). As such, it aims to highlight the relevance of local differentiation. There is ample information at the municipal level, but determinants of local variation and intra-village dynamics are less well known. The following two questions are addressed:

  1. 1.

    What has been the impact of external support (from government agencies and NGOs) on village-based social capital and income diversification?

  2. 2.

    How, and to what extent, does participating in the Philippine model of “exodus capitalism” (Kondo 2014), i.e. banking on overseas migration and remittances, shape coastal development outcomes?

Overseas migration can be considered an alternative to in situ income diversification. In the Philippine context, both medium- and highly-skilled sections of the labour force seek jobs abroad due to the lack of opportunities in the urban formal sector (Andriesse 2017; Boquet 2017, pp. 341–352; Ofreneo 2015).

The next section reviews the literature on coastal diversification and out-migration affecting the sustainability of livelihoods in coastal communities. After presenting the mixed research methodology—a survey involving more than 300 respondents and 30 semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders—the empirical results are discussed, both at the municipal and village levels, with a case study of four villages. The discussion and conclusion link the results to debates on diversification and provide implications for further (policy-oriented) research.

Diversification, Out-Migration and Sustainable Rural Livelihoods

According to World Fish (2018), 800 million people (at least partially) “depend on fishing and aquaculture for their livelihoods”. In the Philippines, 1.21 million people are employed in the fisheries sector; this amounts to 3% of all employed persons (PSA 2017). This corresponds to approximately six million people dependent on fisheries, given an average family size of five persons (this is a conservative estimate since fisherfolk are known to have relatively large families; IPS 2013). The Philippine fisheries sector is classified into three parts: commercial fishing, municipal (marine and inland), and aquaculture. This article uses small-scale municipal marine fishing as a starting point and identifies the extent to which aquaculture has been chosen as a diversification strategy. It is now widely established that small-scale municipal fishers and their families are suffering from declining fish catch, illegal fishing, often by large-scale commercial fishing operations, higher prices for food and other basic necessities and a lack of government support (FAO 2014; Philippine Daily Inquirer 2017; Boquet 2017, pp. 301–340).

Due to the fragile and impoverished nature of coastal communities, it is useful to employ the sustainable livelihoods approach (SLA). This approach provides an appropriate method of organising the complex issues surrounding poverty by investigating the following three factors: the capitals pentagon (human, natural, financial, physical and social), the contextual situation, and institutions and organisations. The five capitals refer to household assets, the contextual to macro conditions and trends that may impact households, and institutions and organisations to external support, but also to possible forms of exploitation and political marginalisation. These three factors culminate in livelihood strategies that, in turn, determine livelihood outcomes (see Scoones 2009 for an elaborate discussion on this approach). Allison and Ellis (2001) demonstrated that this approach is useful for coastal communities to “facilitate small-scale fisherfolk to find their own routes out of poverty by building on their existing capital and capabilities.” Since the possibility of falling back into poverty is now increasingly recognised (Krishna 2010; Moshy et al. 2015), it is important to study not only how households can improve their livelihoods but also how they can become less fragile in order to minimise the possibility of falling back into poverty. The empirical inquiry is set out in Fig. 1. The analytical framework is based on the SLA, but adapted to better reflect the initial conditions of Philippine coastal communities and to accommodate knowledge that is already available. It is known that livelihood outcomes are partly shaped by overfishing, climate change impacts and, mostly consumptive, remittances; it is also common practice for the Philippine government to initiate external support in order to enable village-based social capital and eventually to facilitate coastal diversification strategies.

Fig. 1

Analytical framework. The pentagon represents the five capitals; the dashed lines feedback mechanisms

The Capitals Pentagon in Coastal Communities

In principle, income diversification could also serve as a suitable strategy to improve livelihoods and move away from the traditional singular activity of fishing. Nevertheless, in light of the “coastal squeeze”, four qualifications need to be made. First, fishers often have very limited land availability, and, in countries with unequal landownership, do not own land. Scarce natural capital, one of the capitals in the capitals pentagon, stymies non-marine-based diversification opportunities. Not surprisingly, many coastal communities have ventured into aquaculture to supplement fishing income, but moving away from marine fishing does not automatically result in reduced environmental pressures (Andriesse 2018a; FAO 2018; Fabinyi 2018; Finkbeiner 2015; Olale and Henson 2013). Second, weak human, financial and social capital among impoverished coastal communities implies that bringing about change and achieving successful diversification is not easily achieved.

Third, despite increasing climate change impacts (Badjeck et al. 2010) and declining fish catches as a result of overfishing, fishing communities are strongly attached to their traditional ways of living. They tend to have a strong sense of place and purpose (Knudsen 2016). This adds another layer of complexity for external support programmes (Fig. 1). Governments and NGOs have faced severe reluctance when they propose non-marine-based diversification opportunities and relocation schemes (Andriesse 2018b). Fourth, coastal squeezes imply that land and marine infrastructure can be limited and problematic. Traders and passengers need safe water ways, while fishing communities need clean marine zones for fishing and aquaculture. On land, scarce freshwater supply could be an issue, especially in the cases of high population pressure and increasing frequency and duration of droughts as a result of climate change.

This article analyses more precisely how the drivers of change are connected to social, human, and financial capital, external support, and livelihood outcomes at the village level (Fig. 1). While natural and physical capital are not neglected, the current literature on rural livelihoods suggests that in the long run fostering social, human and financial capital is the most effective. Rural communities will then have higher capabilities to look after their natural and physical capital themselves (IFAD 2016; FAO 2018). In line with this literature, governments, NGOs, and community development experts have prioritised social capital as a starting point for poverty reduction and improving livelihood trajectories (Andriesse 2018b).

Strengthening Social Capital Through External Support

Associated with calls for local empowerment, increasing participation and ownership of development initiatives, many governments and NGOs have shifted their focus from direct top–down interventions to facilitating local initiatives (Ostrom 2010; Goulden et al. 2013). External support is geared towards strengthening village-based social capital, which in turn is expected to improve other capitals. As IFAD (2016, p. 100) pointed out: “Mutually reinforcing economic, social and political aspects of empowerment allow people to move out of poverty through participating in growth processes on terms that recognize the value of their contributions and enable them to limit discriminatory practices and to negotiate a fairer distribution of the benefits of growth.” For example, Stanford et al. (2014) demonstrated by an analysis of fisherfolk in Sumatra (western Indonesia) what can happen if human and social capital levels are weak. “When those human and social capital foundations of the group are weak, as in Air Manis, any physical and financial assets that are given have an extremely limited effect.” Thus, after a typhoon or storm surge destroyed fishing boats, it is important not to focus excessively on providing new boats which is a form of physical capital (Tewfik et al. 2008).

In areas without local political tensions, it is relatively easy for government agencies and NGOs to intensify external support in order to foster village-based social capital. Unfortunately, many villages experience political rivalries. The multi-million dollar, World Bank-sponsored Philippine rural development programme includes projects for strengthening social capital, yet local elites such as mayors have a considerable say in which barangays (villages, the lowest administrative division in the Philippines) get funded. Consequently, missed opportunities can arise in neglected barangays (IFAD 2016; FAO 2018, pp. 143–144).

Remittances and Financial and Human Capital

In the absence of in situ income diversification opportunities, households have two options: muddling through or moving out (Haas 2006; Rigg et al. 2014; Rigg 2016). As is widely known, due to the huge population pressure and lack of jobs, approximately 10 million Filipinos reside and work abroad. Important countries of temporary residence include Saudi Arabia (1 million), the United Arab Emirates (822,000), Malaysia (794,000) and Australia (398,000), as well as seafaring jobs (367,000) (Commission on Overseas Filipinos 2013). Securing jobs overseas has become institutionalised, with various government agencies facilitating paperwork and preparatory arrangements, and colleges and universities educating women (nursing, teaching English, hospitality industry and information technology) and men (marine sciences, engineering and information technology) specifically for out-migration upon graduation (Kondo 2014, pp. 181–182). Less well educated adolescents take up jobs as domestic helpers and factory and construction workers. For the purposes of this article, it is useful to link remittances to rural development. In this regard, Vargas-Lundius et al. (2008, p. 65) have stressed to keep in mind “that the many decisions to migrate are founded on sociocultural factors such as inequities and shrinking opportunities, owing to lack, or even denial, of access to assets, natural resources and social services”. This implies that the availability of stronger financial capital through remittances does not automatically lead to a strengthening of the other pentagon capitals.

Furthermore, related to the brain drain, net assets within the capitals pentagon might decrease as a result of deteriorating human and social capital in the short and medium term. In the long run, remittances could contribute to greater investments in education. While the impact of remittances on inland agriculture-based areas has been studied, the role of remittances for coastal communities has been acknowledged (Allison and Ellis 2001), yet, empirically, rather under-researched in the last two decades. This is surprising, since fisherfolk need to cope with overfishing and climate change issues. Ferrol-Schulte et al. (2013), in their useful overview of coastal challenges in tropical countries, paid attention to diversification options, but did not explicitly focus on the effects of remittances for changing livelihood outcomes (see Islam and Herbeck 2013 for such a focus). For the Philippines and other countries, it remains to be seen whether the remittances sent home by temporary migrants is leading to improved outcomes of in situ coastal livelihood adaptation. Remittances can be spent easily for consumptive purposes, but it is not easy to use them for aquacultural and other productive investments; increasing physical and natural capital is a daunting task which is particularly difficult in the case of low levels of human and social capital.

Methods and Research Area

The empirical results presented in this article are based on a mixed methods approach: a socio-economic survey among 313 fishing households complemented by 30 semi-structured interviews. The research area covered three municipalities and 11 coastal barangays in Iloilo Province in central Philippines (Map 1). The barangays were chosen based on discussions with the chief municipal agriculturalists who are also responsible for all fishing and aquaculture activities and support programmes. Fishing associations need to be registered with the office of the municipal agriculturalist. To be included in the study, the sites had to be primarily fishing communities susceptible to environmental pressures such as overfishing and climate change (increasing occurrence of typhoons and unpredictable weather) and the 2015–2016 El Niño phenomenon causing a long and severe draught and a hotter ocean temperature. Apart from the Island barangay, Punta Buri, all villages were located on or near the main provincial coastal road providing access to Iloilo City. Within each barangay, the snowball sampling method was employed to ensure that each household had fishing as the primary livelihood activity. Respondents were asked to suggest other households engaged in fishing, and households not engaged were not included in the survey. In Ajuy, the average coverage of fishing-based households in each barangay is 10%; in the other two municipalities, it is approximately 20%, but data on the precise number of fishing-based households were not available. Some households are not a member of a fisherfolk association. The survey consisted of seven parts: basic information; fishing practices; environmental pressures; social capital; income sources; diversification and remittances; and general village problems.

Map 1

The 11 villages and the main road. Drawn by Mr. Youngseob Eum

The surveys were conducted by four experienced volunteers from the Philippine Red Cross, Iloilo Chapter, in the local Hiligaynon language in January 2017 and January 2018. They assisted the Red Cross with a wide range of activities after the 2013 super-typhoon Yolanda (internationally known as Haiyan), so they already knew much about coastal vulnerability. Respondents, both male and female, were asked to answer on behalf of their household. In virtually all cases, men did the fishing and women were involved in fish cleaning, gleaning, and selling. The semi-structured interviews were conducted by the author in English; they mostly included barangay captains (village heads), presidents of fishing associations and civil servants at the municipal halls. The questions were designed to obtain insights into the general village conditions, fishing practices and trends, the activities and impacts of associations and local environmental and economic problems. The results also enabled the authors to analyse the coherence of the data gathered.

Banate’s distance to the provincial capital Iloilo City is 55 km, Barotac Viejo’s 70 km and Ajuy’s distance 90 km. While not the largest in terms of population, Banate appears to be the most vibrant among the three, with a small commercial centre catering for the other two and a few inland towns, but the municipality is too small to be classified as a city. Barotac Viejo and Banate together manage the Banate Barotac Bay Resource Management Council Inc. (BBBRMCI). This council was set up in 1996 to manage the coastal area in an integrative manner, but, as will be elaborated on in the empirical section, its effectiveness has decreased in recent years. In 2012, the poverty level, based on a statistical model that includes results from family incomes and expenditure surveys and estimates of how many Philippine Pesos (PhP) an average family needs to purchase food and basic items in each Philippine province, was approximately 25% in Banate and Barotac Viejo, 31% in Barotac Viejo, on average 23% in Iloilo Province, and 6% in Iloilo City (PSA 2016b). This is consistent with the overall Philippine trend that poverty is a rural phenomenon. As stated in the “Introduction”, a major aim of this article is to unravel local differentiation. Therefore, after spelling out municipal differences, focussing on the barangay level will provide a clearer picture of conditions, trends and opinions.

The Three Municipalities Compared

Life in the coastal communities in Banate, Barotac Viejo and Ajuy revolves around fishing. Most households engage in fishing for selling (Table 1). While growing fruits and vegetables on small plots next to one’s house is not uncommon, except for one barangay in Ajuy virtually no respondents grew rice, sugarcane or corn; crops that are widely grown in Iloilo Province. Also, most households live on land owned by wealthy landowners who reside elsewhere. A first indication that fishers do not belong to the middle class is their educational attainment, especially in Barotac Viejo and Ajuy (Table 1).

Table 1 Survey results (%, except for landownership)

Combining the results presented in Tables 1 and 2 and Fig. 2 gives rise to three observations. First, the socioeconomic situation is the least poignant in Banate, and the most poignant in Ajuy (see also Andriesse 2018b). Among the three municipalities, incomes in Banate were the highest, there was some non-fishing income, remittances existed among the relatively poor households and it had the highest human capital as measured by educational attainment. It also had the highest percentage of family members with another job (Table 1). In addition, data obtained at the BBBRMCI office showed that fishers had relatively more motorised boats in Banate than in Barotac Viejo, as well as more fishing associations relative to the fishing population. Interviews with key informants further revealed a significantly higher degree of external support in Banate. They explained how government agencies and associations collaborated and achieved substantial positive results. While the BBBRMCI became less effective after the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) left in 2011, it initiated various mechanisms and programmes to support fishers in the 2000s. Improving connections between local authorities and fishers, and channelling funds through associations, were important activities during that decade. Furthermore, Banate municipality was included in a nationwide pilot programme aimed at improving the resilience of agriculture and fisheries, such as by promoting crab aquaculture and gender empowerment (interview with Banate’s municipal agriculturalist, 15 January 2018). As a result, fishers in Banate generally knew more about relevant problems such as overfishing, potential diversification strategies and ways to collaborate within the village.

Table 2 Summary of the livelihood situation
Fig. 2

ac Income profile, from lowest to highest monthly income (PhP per month)

External support initiatives thus resulted in a considerable degree of village-based social capital and, to some extent, an increase in financial and human capital. Nevertheless, after JICA left it became more difficult to sustain the momentum. Between 2007 and 2011, JICA worked on sustainable fishing methods and built a small fish-processing factory. A president of one of the fishing associations (interview conducted 16 January 2018) mentioned, “our association weakened and it is now harder to obtain financial support for our activities.”

Second, in all three municipalities, mixed records of livelihood outcomes were found. Also,, in Banate, where the poverty level is the lowest among the three municipalities, the majority of coastal households do not think that their socioeconomic situation has improved (Table 2), nor do the richest households in each municipality have the most optimistic views. This is because the relatively well-off households take more risk, for instance, in establishing a small business or buying an additional fishing boat, and consequently could experience downturns when things go poorly. Across all wealth levels coastal communities find it hard to cope with overfishing, including illegal fishing. One key informant (17 January 2018) put it this way, “Since the start of the BBBRCMI, we have tried to reduce overfishing and illegal fishing, but these problems are still there. We can regulate fishing practices, but we cannot stop illegal fishing”. Local government agencies do not have sufficient means to completely halt it. Patrol boats are sometimes slower than the illegal fishing boats and there is no capacity to patrol the coastal waters 24 h a day.

Third, Table 2 and Fig. 2 show that out-migration and remittances are not crucial drivers of coastal livelihood profiles. Particularly in Barotac Viejo, not the poorest, but the most economically unequal municipality, it is clear that the poorest households remain very dependent on fishing. Fishing makes up 90% of the total income among the 40 households with the lowest income (see the left part of Fig. 2b). While these results are not new—it is known that fishers in the Philippines have few diversification options—they remain essential to acknowledge from a policy perspective. At present, the poorest sections of society rely more on the conditional cash transfer programme (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Programme, also known as 4Ps). This programme is somewhat similar to Brazil’s famous Bolsa Familia social welfare programme and aims to reduce extreme poverty by providing financial capital to the poor under certain educational and health conditions (sending children to school, health check-ups, and others). One-fifth of the Philippines’ 23 million households received cash through this programme in 2015, but, in 6 of the 11 coastal villages investigated here, the ratio of beneficiaries was around one-third. This reconfirms that coastal communities belong to the poorest sections of society. Key interviewees were generally positive on the role of the 4Ps to reduce extreme poverty, but some disagreed and viewed it as a scheme that disincentivises people from working hard and being proactive, or, as one interviewee put it rather bluntly, “it is just money from heaven”, implying that it does not trigger productive rural development (interview with a key informant in Ajuy, January 2017). This section provided insight at the municipal level. The next section demonstrates the relevance of local differentiation, particularly with respect to the relationships between external support, household capital assets and diversification strategies (Fig. 1).

Social, Financial, and Human Capital and Diversification at the Barangay Level

While there is generally a substantial understanding of Philippine municipal differentiation and socioeconomic trends—statistical agencies and provincial authorities compile data by municipality—data at the barangay (village) level are scarcer. It is impossible to track all barangays, but, as will be demonstrated below, micro-studies have the potential to test higher-level assumptions, policies and outcomes.

Table 3 provides a brief overview of relevant data based on semi-structured interviews in the 11 coastal barangays studied here. Santo Rosario is geographically a coastal barangay, but it is the only one where most fishers live a few kilometres inland. The fishers in Santo Rosario tend to combine fishing with growing rice, fruits and vegetables, and they are less organised. Only 16 fishers were members of an association. Nonetheless, very few were landowners, the land under cultivation was small and they were severely impacted by the El Niño-related drought in 2015 and 2016; this weather event resulted in temporary malnutrition due to a combination of a failed rice harvest and low fish catches. Thus, the possibility of combining fishing and agriculture does not guarantee a stable living standard above the provincial poverty line. In fact, together with Culasi, Santo Rosario appears to be the poorest among the six investigated barangays in Ajuy Municipality. The average income in Punta Buri, the only barangay which is not located along the main road (Map 1), is higher than in Santo Rosario and Culasi. With respect to remittances, it should be noted that fishing households have relatively few members working as overseas Filipino/Filipina workers (OFWs); in particular, Pedada, Santo Rosario and Alacaygan (see Table 2). OFWs tend to originate from households who are not engaged in fishing. This again suggests that fishers often lack the human capital to use overseas migration as an income diversification strategy. To illustrate the variation of success and failure at village level in terms of external support, social capital formation, and livelihood outcomes (IFAD 2016; Scoones 2009), the remainder of this section focuses on four barangays: Culasi is the largest impoverished barangay in Ajuy, Santo Domingo in Barotac Viejo is significantly poorer than Nueva Sevilla, explaining the high Gini-coefficient in Table 2, and Poblacion and Alacaygan are relative success stories with respect to the effects of external support initiatives.

Table 3 Overview of eleven coastal barangays


Culasi is the most populous barangay among the 11 studied here. Within the fishing community, men catch species such as monocle bream, sardinella, two-spot red snapper and mackerel; their wives sell the catch either in Culasi or Banate, and also collect shells. Fishers are usually not involved in growing fruits and vegetables. Remittances play only a very minor role in the village economy. In the last decade, both government agencies and NGOs have sought to support the community through external support initiatives and doling out various livelihood assets, yet a number of factors have limited its effectiveness. In 2013, Typhoon Yolanda was a disaster for the fisherfolk. It destroyed new mangrove plants maintained by the fishing associations and pump boats used for fishing. “Now in 2017, four years after typhoon Yolanda, we have not recovered yet. We are a poor community and it is difficult to survive” (interview with a key informant in Culasi, January 2017). After Yolanda, NGOs tried to implement several projects, but there appears to be a lack of cooperation. Most notably, unlike other villages, the fishing association has not become the epicentre of village-based social capital. The number of active members has declined from around 200 to 87. Members have complained that several projects have been implemented through bypassing the association, whereas non-members argue that the association has been rather ineffective. This situation is problematic since government agencies and NGOs increasingly use local associations as focal and starting points, presuming that livelihood intervention will best thrive when embedded in processes of local, collective action. Another limitation is low human capital levels. None of the respondents completed technical or college education beyond the high school level (see Table 1), and, unlike other villages, none of the respondents had family members working as professionals, such as teachers, policemen, nurses and barangay officers.

Santo Domingo

Barangay Santo Domingo in Barotac Viejo is significantly less well off compared to Nueva Sevilla (Tables 2 for Gini-coefficient and 3). The median income in the former is PhP 4000; in the latter, PhP 6000. Of the 19 respondents in Barota Viejo with a total household income of at least PhP 10,000 (Fig. 2b), 12 were from Nueva Sevilla and only seven from Santo Domingo. Although Santo Domingo is located near the main road, the barangay is not easily accessible due to a dirt road connecting to the main road. The local government cannot improve it because it is privately owned and the owner has expressed no interest in dealing with the issue. In recent decades, the number of households engaging in fishing increased from 15 to 80 (Interview with the President of the Fisherfolk Association, 13 January 2018). Of the 80 households, only 4 have a family member working as an OFW. It is also noteworthy to pay attention to intra-village inequality of physical capital (which is obviously heavily related to financial capital). Only 10 of 386 households owned land and only 10 of 80 fishing households owned a pump boat. Therefore, most fishers work on boats as crew members and receive a share from the boat owner. Usually, the owner keeps 50% of the revenue, with the remaining 50% reserved for the two or three crew members depending on the size of the boat (see also Fabinyi et al. 2016; Saguin 2016). Thus, households owning more than one boat can accumulate considerable capital. One of the wealthiest boat owners, a pioneering family in the barangay, owns 15 boats.

In contrast to Culasi, external support initiatives after Typhoon Yolanda, during which ten people were killed in Santo Domingo, have led to high social capital and modest diversification activities. The Fisherfolk Association was set up in 2015, and of the 80 fishing households 75 are members of this association and most households appreciate the efforts of its leadership. Since 2016, blue crab catching and substantial mangrove replanting have been supported by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources through the association. “Everyday even buyers from Negros Island come to us to buy blue crab” (interview with the president of the Fisherfolk Association, 13 January 2018).

Poblacion and Alacaygan

As barangay Poblacion is the center of Banate Municipality and hosts the main fish market and government buildings, it is not surprising that socioeconomic conditions are better than in the other villages. Based on the surveys and semi-structured interviews, it was established that initial conditions in Alacaygan were reasonably favourable compared with Zona Sur, particularly in terms of existing village-based social capital and village leadership. It is thus relevant to see how external support initiatives can feed into diversification strategies. Among the 11 villages studied, Poblacion and Alacaygan benefitted the most from BBBRMCI’s initiatives. An example is the fish-processing plant that unfortunately shut down after JICA left. Another example is the easy access that the Fisherfolk Association has to BBBRMCI’s office. Between 2000 and 2011, external support initiatives led to a wide range of community improvements (interviews with key informants as well as BBBRMCI 2010). Thus, external support not only strengthened social capital but also translated into an improvement of other capitals within the livelihood capitals pentagon, as well as diversification. In Barotac Viejo, few respondents mentioned the BBBRMCI as a source of livelihood support.

However, the winding down of BBRMCI’s activities after JICA left in 2011 has presented several challenges. While poverty levels are not as severe as in the coastal barangays of Barotac Viejo and Ajuy (Table 3; Fig. 2a–c), non-fishing income is not significantly higher than Zona Sur and livelihood improvements have been rather insufficient to push each fishing household above the poverty line. For Poblacion, the only remarkable positive indicator is the low percentage of beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer programme in Poblacion (4Ps); 10% of households versus 20% in the Philippines versus approximately 30% in 6 of the 11 villages in this study. The two communities also suffered from Typhoon Yolanda and, according to many respondents, diversification does not compensate for lower fish catches. “After the 2013 Typhoon Yolanda, we received 15 pump boats, 25 boat engines, fishing gear and cash for work, but it is difficult to catch enough. Fishing incomes are going down and we are still suffering from overfishing and illegal fishing” (interview with the barangay captain of Alacaygan, 17 January 2018).

Remittances play a relatively more important role compared with other villages, but they do not have a significant impact on diversification. The remittance sums are relatively low—they account for only 10% of the total income in Banate (Fig. 2a)—because of the nature of jobs (domestic helpers, blue-collar seafarers). Since remittances are sent irregularly, they are mostly used for consumptive purposes rather than systematically diversifying away from fishing.

Comparing the three municipalities thus gives rise to a number of interesting observations. Despite good intentions by government agencies and civil society, challenging village conditions in Culasi have culminated in project failures and continuing tensions. Furthermore, fishers living along the coast find it hard to diversify and continue to cope with illegal fishing (Andriesse 2018b). There are not as many crabs as in Santo Domingo and the coastal waters are not salty enough for seaweed due to a nearby river mouth. Thus, overall, Culasi’s level of natural capital is low, which made a strong initial focus on social capital rather ineffective. Similar to Culasi, the relatively high poverty rates in Santo Domingo can be attributed to an over-dependence on fisheries, population pressure and low human capital levels. There are no non-marine in situ adaptation options (hence few households with non-fishing income in Fig. 2b), and the community continues to suffer from lower fish catches, increasingly unpredictable weather making fishing more difficult, the dirt road and a shortage of fresh water. In contrast, coastal communities in Banate have been luckier as Poblacion and Alacaygan occupy somewhat more central positions in the rural economy, initial conditions have been more favourable and external support initiatives have been effectively implemented.

Discussion and Conclusions

The aim of this article has been to investigate (1) the impact of extension support to fisherfolk associations to diversify livelihoods and (2) the extent to which household out-migration and remittances have led to diversification and poverty reduction. The answer to the first issue can be broken down into three parts. First, the impact depends on initial intra-village conditions. Governments and NGOs wishing to improve local livelihoods need to be aware of the socioeconomic, and, perhaps more importantly initially, socio-political configurations. In Culasi, the absence of village-based social capital prevented effective external intervention and new diversification activities (Fig. 1). In Santo Domingo, social capital has been strengthened in recent years, partly due to pre-existing high levels of collaboration; in Poblacion and Alacaygan, favourable conditions with respect to human, financial and social capital contributed to relatively successful diversification through external support initiatives. Thus, the interaction between external support and other capitals is essential in determining coastal diversification strategies. It is also important to recognise that diversification is sometimes impossible, particularly in “coastal squeezes” (Gupta and Bavinck 2017), where alternative income-generating options are limited.

Second, presuming that fishing associations are the natural go-to stakeholders to reduce overfishing and improve diversification can be misleading and counterproductive. While in many cases a barangay has only one fishing association, improved levels of social capital within associations should not be automatically equated with village-wide consensus building. Pushing interventions through associations therefore has the danger of alienating non-members, some of which could be competing political factions. Thus, a risk regarding contemporary external interventions is an exclusive focus on social capital, and consequently a neglect of other capitals.

Third, after Typhoon Yolanda, many NGOs came to the central Philippines to rebuild livelihoods. However, diversification strategies are not always planned for the long term. This study shows that projects can dwindle, depending on the local, differentiated nature of villages and the extent to which earlier accrued benefits and lessons have settled. More attention should be paid to transforming short-term, exogenous interventions into longer-term, endogenous capacities and capabilities.

Remittances proved to be unimportant among fishers. Unlike households with higher levels of human capital able to utilise out-migration as a strategy to improve living standards, going abroad to raise financial capital is not possible for many people with fishing as their primary livelihood. Coupled with few in situ diversification options, fishers are confronted with processes of marginalisation and immiseration (Marschke 2012, p. 267), particularly in peripheral areas such as Ajuy Municipality. Thus, while remittances remain one of the pillars of Philippine livelihood security, not everyone stands to benefit from the model of exodus capitalism (Kondo 2014). Furthermore, due to their strong sense of place, many coastal communities do not wish to relocate to inland areas, even if houses are offered by the National Housing Authority.

A possible avenue for further research and policy studies is focusing more on intra-coastal village inequality. This study was not designed to explicitly focus on the differences between boat owners and crew members, but inequality of physical capital could explain a substantial part of socioeconomic dynamics among fishers. In this regard, Finkbeiner et al. (2017) argue that marginalisation and equity are key drivers to consider. It would be worthwhile to build on the work of Saguin (2016) and Fabinyi et al. (2016) to longitudinally investigate coastal communities. How do livelihoods change when households gain access to boats and how can government agencies and NGOs deal with existing patterns of inequality when they design external support initiatives? Addressing such questions would provide valuable inputs for studying feedback mechanisms (Fig. 1) and would also speak to broader patterns of rural transition as well as provide comparative reflections with respect to landowners versus landless villagers (Li 2014; Hall et al. 2011).

Another avenue is the interrelated nature of capitals (Freduah et al. 2019). The case of villages in Banate shows that taking social capital as a starting point for improving the entire capitals pentagon, diversification options, and virtuous cycles of progress can only be created if there is also a minimum level of other capitals. As has become clear from the villages in Culasi, one cannot assume that improved levels of social capital will trickle down to the other capitals. In other words, policy makers working on marine protected areas and coastal poverty reduction should not ignore initial village conditions when they promote social capital. The same is true for financial capital through remittances and conditional cash transfer programmes. While the latter has the potential to reduce extreme poverty, research also shows that success is not guaranteed. The financial benefits appear to be insufficient to buy or build fishing boats and expand physical capital, or to engage in serious diversification (which would be more favourable from the perspective of overfishing; i.e. restoring natural capital). Some consider it merely as a neoliberal lollypop to tranquilize poor sections of society (Seki 2015). Furthermore, rising poverty levels in Brazil indicate that the benefits of cash transfers can be short-lived. However, even if it is successful and higher educational attainments lead to higher human capital and out-migration, the resulting remittances might not translate into more in situ diversification options and less severe overfishing problems (Fig. 1). More research is needed as to how the capitals pentagon can be better integrated on the ground, and how it can be better aligned with the social well-being of fisherfolk (Coulthard et al. 2011). This is especially pertinent since fishing communities tend to derive a significant part of well-being from their strong attachment to their local marine environments where they have often lived for multiple generations.

In sum, poverty reduction in coastal livelihoods requires a holistic approach. Given the continuing global challenge of overfishing (Yang et al. forthcoming; All Africa 2019; Rappler 2018), it is imperative that governance initiatives to improve livelihood outcomes include proposals addressing both socio-economic and environmental aspects. Top–down interventions are not likely to be successful without simultaneously integrating bottom–up initiatives and adopting flexible approaches in order to accommodate the varying circumstances on the ground.


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The author would like to thank Joh sal Hero Baleña, Norie Bion, Marielle Edica, Kyle Fanega, Reymark Sustento and Stachy Tejado for valuable research assistance.


This research project was generously funded by a Grant from the National Research Foundation of Korea, No. 2017S1A5A8020492.

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Andriesse, E. Local Differentiation in Diversification Challenges in Eleven Coastal Villages in Iloilo Province, Philippines. Eur J Dev Res 32, 652–671 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41287-019-00233-3

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  • Philippines
  • Coastal livelihoods
  • Overfishing
  • Rural development
  • Social capital