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Upland communities take over Isabela forest conservation

A COMMUNITY-BASED forest conservation program integrating local governance and sustainable social enterprises was concluded and turned over to upland residents in a ceremony held on March 12 at the Piazza Zicarelli Hotel in Gamu, Isabela.

The project, called “Plant Towards Rainforestation and Eco-enterprises [Plant Trees] in the Sierra Madre,” is a two-year grant from the European Commission worth €264,000, with counterpart funds from implementing organizations added.

Technical expertise on forest conservation and biodiversity management was provided by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Attended by the implementing partners from the civil-society organizations (CSOs), namely the Foundation for Sustainable Society Inc. (FSSI), Foundation for Philippine Environment (FPE), Peace and Equity Access for Community Empowerment Foundation (PEF), the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation (PTFCF) and the  provincial government of Isabela, the municipal governments of Ilagan, Tumauini and San Mariano, 18 barangays and the DENR, the ceremony was capped by a donation of fixed assets to the beneficiary communities and partners.

 “The two-year project aims at the establishment of 30 hectares of rainforestation enhancement of existing agroforestry farms in the uplands areas of Tumauini, Ilagan and San Mariano towns of Isabela province. It has also enhanced existing agroforestry farms through the establishment of nurseries of indigenous species endemic to the Northern Sierra Madre mountain ranges as livelihood and enterprise activities of farmers in the CBFM [Community-based Forest Management] and Sifma [Socialized Industrial Forest Management Agreement] areas,” said Sam Ferrer, FSSI board member.

CBFM and Sifma are tenure instruments covering 25 years of community-managed forestland stewardship by communities implemented by the DENR.

“The forests have degraded due to illegal logging and planting of non-endemic and invasive species such as mahogany and gmelina. Our indigenous species which we  started planting in 2010 include narra, molave, lauan and other diptherocarp species,” Ferrer said.

Fruit trees such as calamansi, rambutan and coconut were part of the rainforestation.

The people’s organizations that led the rainforestation activities and nursery establishment have linked up with the DENR through the National Greening Program and are now also providing seedlings for schools and other institutions undergoing rainforestation investments. This has become a source of income for them as well.

Another major component of the two-year program is the bio-fencing of the critical 32 kilometer boundary of the Northern Sierra Madre Protected Area. 

“We decided to bio-fence this area to protect the natural rainforest and equip farmers on forest conservation and sustaining their livelihoods. Another objective of our and the EU’s investment in biodiversity protection and management is to wean away bugadores or small illegal loggers from the bad practice of cutting of natural species and charcoal making,” Ferrer said.

Bio-fencing was done through planting of the bayug bamboo specie in the Ilagan and San Mariano boundaries or the western part of the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park. The area was chosen because they were a gateway of illegal loggers and charcoal makers in Isabela. 

The Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park is a huge rainforest consisting of a land area of 287,861 hectares and 71,625 kilometers of marine resources.

The bio-fence will also serve as a marker against human intrusion and illegal activities in the natural park or protected area.

Even the DENR has admitted that the Philippines has been lagging behind in its biodiversity protection and much of the country’s forest and pristine coastal resources.

The 1,155 women, bugadores and upland farmers beneficiaries of the project were also helped by the establishment of eight social enterprises covering free-range chicken, chicken hatchery, goat production native trees production and the distribution of 110 solar lanterns used by individual households in the off-grid areas, training for forest rehabilitation, 18,324 bamboo cuttings raised and the planting of some 40,135 fruit and forest trees raised in nurseries.

The forest restoration and rehabilitation component—specifically the rainforestation, biofence and nursery management—shall continuously be funded and supported by the two partners, the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation and the Foundation for Philippine Environment, with Mabuwaya Foundation Inc., providing manpower and technical services to partner people’s organizations.

“This project has taught us that with civil-society organizations, people’s organizations, local governments and national government agencies working together, we can empower communities and provide them technologies that would help them improve their lives at the same time making them active partners in development and biodiversity protection and management,” Ferrer said.

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