Developing a green covenant for the Cordillera

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    STUDIES have shown that government and foreign funded reforestation projects have often been left to the elements after the flow of funds stopped when the projects ended. Communities and people’s organizations (POs), which reforest an area, stop maintaining them after the contract is terminated. – Rosalio B. Goze, (DENR, 2002).

    Sustaining watershed reforestation projects constitute one of the primary lessons learned during the implementation of the first phase of the Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resources Management (CHARM) Project implemented in the Cordillera between 1997 and 2004.

    That lesson influenced the implementation of the Community Watershed Conservation Forest Management and Agrofrestry (CWFCMA) component under the Second Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resources Management Project (CHARMP2) that began operations in 2009. The project will terminate on 2015.

    I engage Mr. Goze’s observation on foreign funded reforestation projects, while listening to Mr. Philip Tinggonong’s lecture during the conduct of the CHARMP2 Writeshop Series on Refining Provincial Watershed Sustainability Plans here at the Ivory Hotel, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan. This 3-day activity is the last series, conducted for the Province of Apayao.

    Beside those initiated by the private sector, the Government of the Philippines (GOP) and its bilateral partners and funding institutions supported several reforestation and watershed management and development projects all over the country. In fact, researchers have done studies, documentations that show reforestation or forest rehabilitation projects and activities have been going on in the Philippines for more than a century now.

    From the lowlands to the uplands, deforestation has been ongoing although, the massive deforestation and development interventions came later for the uplands, the “last frontier” of development in the eyes of early policy makers. Even sustainability as a concept of development affected both policy makers and development workers quite late in the day too, after the forest cover of the archipelago, gave way to industry and housing purposes, as population grew.

    Available data indicated that migrants into forest areas as early as the late 19th century, but massive influx began in the 1960s and peaked between 1980 and 1985, when a net migration rate of 14.5 percent was recorded (Cruz et al.1992). Most migrants were driven into the uplands by landlessness and a dearth of employment opportunities (Porter and Ganapin 1988, Cruz et al.1992).

    For the uplands, limited knowledge of migrants of the upland ecosystem and limited land for cultivation prevents brought negative concepts and practices to land resource management. The desire to control more lands for cultivation, expansion and profit negated existing appropriate farming concepts, fallow periods, where “kaingin” as a destructive farming technique was later identified with indigenous peoples.

    Kaingin, in the ways of the IPs, went through fallow periods, and burning of mountain slopes are confined only into that piece of land put into cultivation.

    We like to talk about development vis-a-vis the state of the forest and generally blame development for forest cover change and the degradation of forestlands that took place. It is an empty rhetoric to me. I continue to stare at an empty space, no matter how contrive the facts that make a story about our perversities in our development pursuits.

    We silently enjoy partaking of the rotten fruit and blame somebody else, after it makes us sick.

    All those years, the Philippines had an unrelenting onslaught on forest resources leading to diminished and degraded state today. The nation was unable to foresee what was coming, unable as a nation to set limits to what it can do or done on its forests resources.

    When the Spanish colonisers came in 1521, about 27 million ha or 90 percent of the country was covered with lush tropical rainforest (Lasco et al. 2001). Another expert said, “in 1900 about two years after the Americans substituted the Spanish, about 70 percent or 21 million ha was still forested. It was the Americans who “introduced the first modern logging operations in 1904 when the Insular Lumber Company was granted a 20-year renewable concession to log approximately 300 km² of rich dipterocarp forest in Northern Negros in the Visayas. Aside from the Americans, Filipinos, Chinese, British and Japanese joined the fray, had forest areas declared and logged for their own profits.

    Ironically, reforestation efforts were also ongoing while the harvest of forest resources proceeded. Reforestation projects by the Government of the Philippines; local government units; private institutions; and, people’s organizations supported by donor countries and development financing institutions. For their part, lumber corporations also did their own reforestation activities.

    Reforestation projects and initiatives following concepts that had their own strategies and approaches, were pursued all these years.

    Lately, I read a scant report of a “Muyong Project: An intervention to improve Forest Cover and Household Incomes in the Upland Communities.” Reading the title of the project almost made me shout, glad about this recognition of an indigenous approach to managing our forest resources.

    The project is worth P37, 942, 540.00, financed under the Philippines-Italy Debt for Development Swap Program.

    Glad as I am about this development, I could not anymore comments to it, pending results or a “look see” on the concept, approaches and strategies. How does the project advance, enhance and recognize, as to turn this concept into an action program for Ifugao communities, for instance?

    I return and continue this thought to the Green Covenant that the CHARMP2 Project is developing for our communities in the Cordillera. Is “green covenanting” being done, brought out from the bowels of the past to simply do more of the same reforestation done this past century, a mix of the old and new, of lessons learned, experiences and best practices?

    A covenanted life is a fully engaged life, dedicated and offered to a cause in outlook, words and action. One’s life is offered to the fulfilment of the covenant, that is why in the Cordillera, people resort to the “sapata,” a declaration and an appeal to one’s very life, the community, the ancestors and Kabunian, when a covenant is broken or violated. The forest and watersheds is well integrated into our lives.

    Yes, we can go as far as to make a “Green Covenant,” when our well-being is threatened. (Until next issue, we look into the evolution of the CHARMP2 Green Covenant).

    Source: Sun Star Baguio