Partners in Peñablanca

In Focus, June 2006

By Ben Jolliffe

For hundreds of years farmers in upland “barangays,” or subdistricts, in the northeastern region of the island of Luzon have practiced a form of slash and burn agriculture known locally as “kaingin.” Not only is this a hard way to make a living, but it has also cut an irreplaceable swathe through the high biodiversity forest that used to cover much of this part of the Philippines Hotspot.

Rather than making a large grant to a single organization to counter the complex array of interrelated problems that have caused such ecological damage locally, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) has brought together a number of specialized civil society groups to work together at the site level.

In the Peñablanca region, the grant portfolio design includes support to three organizations, each of which brings expertise in a particular area and works with local partners to build their long-term capacity for sustainable conservation. The design brings together complementary projects being implemented by Conservation International-Philippines (CI-Philippines), Counterpart International, and Rare.

The success of this partnership approach speaks for itself: The government has expanded a protected area linking Peñablanca to the larger Sierra Madre biodiversity conservation corridor. In addition, nearly 100 farmers from two barangays have switched to sustainable livelihood projects and many of the communities in the region have deepened their understanding of how their future welfare is directly related to the health of the local ecosystem.

At a larger scale, these projects have significantly contributed to CEPF’s strategic direction in this hotspot of building the capacity of civil society to advocate for better corridor and protected area management and against development harmful to conservation.

Three in One

CI-Philippines has been working in the area for many years, focusing in particular on creating protected areas. With support from CEPF, CI-Philippines worked with local governments to expand the Peñablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape to its current size of nearly 120,000 hectares in 2003. The municipality of Peñablanca includes Mangga and Minanga as well as 16 other barangays.

Here as elsewhere, however, formal approval for a protected area is only the first step. CEPF’s most recent grant to CI-Philippines was dedicated to creating protected area management plans and finding ways to encourage the active participation of local governments in this task.

As part of this grant, CI-Philippines helped the government establish a Protected Area Management Board to manage the proposed protected area. CI-Philippines worked with this Board to ensure that the planning would integrate conservation and development needs at barangay, municipal, and provincial levels.

“Some upland farmers were hesitant because their farms were located within the proposed protected area. They thought they might have to leave,” CI-Philippines’ Mariano Roy Duya said.

“But we developed an agreement with them that they would stay, becoming guardians of the area, preventing further encroachment by others, and maximizing the use of their land through agroforestry and reforestation.”

Community resource management and development plans were also drawn up as part of this process with input from local community representatives from each barangay. These plans are designed to bring the management of the areas to a local level, building awareness among residents as well as determining ways to preserve the corridor over the long term.

Taking it to the Community Level

One result of these participatory planning processes was the suggestion of introducing small-scale agroforestry as a potential land use in Mangga and Minanga. CEPF reached out to a second partner with extensive expertise in implementing such projects: Counterpart International, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that works throughout the developing world.

Counterpart has pioneered an innovative silvicultural system called Analog Forestry, which helps rural communities protect biodiversity, reduce poverty, improve food security, and restore degraded tropical forest ecosystems.

Farmers on degraded land in protected areas or buffer zones are assisted in planting species that not only are architecturally and ecologically similar to the original forest but also will provide revenue as timber or fuel wood. They interplant with fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs, creating what Counterpart calls “Forest Gardens.” Medicinal plants and other natural products can also be cultivated both for personal consumption and for sale.

With training and support from Counterpart, which was able to draw not only on the community plans developed with CI-Philippines but also on the specialized knowledge of CEPF’s regional implementation team, nearly 100 farmers in Minanga and Mangga have established Forest Gardens since June 2005, restoring small areas of their own land. They set out .5-hectare plots on degraded brush or grassland formerly used for grazing animals or growing corn.

The ultimate goal is to re-establish a high canopy with habitat familiar to the endemic species found in nearby primary forest, such as the Critically Endangered Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), the Critically Endangered Isabela oriole (Oriolus isabellae), or the Vulnerable Philippine pygmy fruit bat (Haplonycteris fischeri).

Maxi Deran, a 33-year-old who has farmed in Mangga all his life, is most impressed at the diversification that the new system has brought. “I used to just grow corn and beans but now I have more to feed my family, and I take about 20 kilograms to market a week. I usually clear about 800 pesos [about $16].”

Farmers’ Cooperatives

Deran was elected chairman of the Mangga Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative, an entity that the community set up with Counterpart’s help to share skills and resources. Members of the cooperative have created a demonstration Forest Garden where farmers can come for further training and to see established tree nurseries at first hand. The cooperative also plans to gather funds to provide credit loans for community projects such as buying a shared vehicle to take more produce to market.

As part of the project, Counterpart also helped set up a similar cooperative in neighboring Minanga. Impressed by Counterpart’s work, the local barangay council provided funding to the cooperative for the development of a nursery. The Minanga cooperative is now growing fruit trees such as rambutan, langsat, mango, avocado, some citrus species, and jackfruit, and is preparing saplings, such as marang (Artocarpus odoratissimus), to be planted for timber.

The cooperative has also begun planting species for restoration such as the Vulnerable large leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). One farmer found a specimen of the Critically Endangered white lauan (Shorea contorta), a member of the Dipterocarp family, in the barangay and the cooperative is now hoping to raise it in the nursery.

“We plan to disperse 15,000 seedlings of assorted fruit and timber trees to participating farmers from Mangga and Minanga for the planting season in June,” says Rene Sita, Counterpart’s local project manager. “We have also helped to counter the soil erosion problems caused by kaingin farming by encouraging farmers to plant flamengia as hedgerows to reduce the amount of soil washed away after heavy rain.

Sita explained that flamengia (Flamengia congesta) could also be used for fuel wood and as a forage crop for livestock. The farmers in the cooperative are learning other skills such as beekeeping and jam-making, which will help to further boost their incomes.

Domingo Macopia, Minanga barangay chief, has seen the community benefit since the beginning of the project: “We have been able to plan for our future, and now the most important thing is to keep on learning.” Encouragingly, farmers from neighboring barangays are also keen to implement Forest Gardens.

Education and Communication

The third partner organization working in the area is Rare. Using a hybrid of traditional education and private sector marketing strategies, Rare has developed a highly successful campaign methodology to inspire people who live in the world’s most biodiverse places to embrace conservation.

CEPF and CI have established a partnership with Rare to train 13 conservationists to implement campaigns in nine hotspots around the world.

In the Peñablanca region, it was important that the campaigner work closely with local and central government to ensure that their efforts were integrated into the development plans for the area. Melania Dirain, who works for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, participated in the Rare training program and started an awareness raising campaign immediately.

Dirain’s campaign has targeted the general public, school children, fishermen, and farmers. She shares information with her audiences about the importance of the protected area, how citizens can get involved through planting, clean-up drives, and reporting on illegal logging activity, and potential ecotourism activities such as serving as tour guides and making souvenirs.

In Mangga and Minanga, Dirain has worked with farmers on the Counterpart project, attending the monthly cooperative meetings, working in schools, appearing on the radio, and attending community assemblies wearing the distinctive costume of the rufous hornbill (Buceros hydrocorax), a bird that has been classified as “near threatened.”

“A subspecies of the rufous hornbill is endemic to the region,” Dirain says. “So we use it to generate a sense of pride among the people here, a symbol of what is special about the region.”

Community Benefits

As work on the three separate projects continues, people at all levels of the community are taking action to improve their own livelihoods and secure their natural heritage for those who come after them.

Children at the local schools are learning a song Dirain has written about the hornbill and farmers like Deran are already profiting from switching to sustainable livelihoods. In nearby Tuguegaro City, CI-Philippines has worked with local businesses that rely on upland watersheds like those in Minanga to create a trust fund to finance the long-term implementation of the protected area management plan.

“Every community has many levels,” Christina Cusipag, Mangga barangay chief, says. “And with help from each of the organizations working here, at each level we’ve learned how to work more closely together to look after ourselves and our forest.”

For further information:

Related story on the expansion of the Peñablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape

Counterpart International’s Forest Gardens

Conservation International’s work in the Philippines

Background information on Analog Forestry