TRIBAL farmers and volunteer forest guards are reaping the dividends of a government-led agroforestry program in Bukidnon that aims to preserve the watershed and the forest ecosystem of Mount Kitanglad and to bring fruits, literally, to the labor of love for this sacred mountain.
One group, the Indigenous People’s Organization (IPO) of Inhandig Tribal Multipurpose Cooperative (ITPMC), is now able to sell their coffee bean yield to a local foundation in Malaybalay City, the Hineleban Foundation.
The beans, of high-grade Arabica coffee, are part of crops and plants that are marketable as food or building material, or for their hemp.
The preservation of the remaining forests and mountain ecosystems has evolved through the decades—from one of purely planting hard-wood trees under a reforestation concept, to the ongoing planting of a combination of crops and fruit trees and hard-wood trees that are naturally growing on the mountain.
Agriculture and reforestation
AN 80-hectare agroforestry area in Barangay Dalwangan, Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, has become a high-quality Arabica coffee producer in that part of the province when the area was awarded to the indigenous communities under the ITPMC.
It was part of the Asian Development Bank-funded Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Management Project (INREMP).
Of the area awarded, 50 hectares were to be devoted to agroforestry and 30 hectares to be developed into a Community Tree Plantation.
The planted area is spread across 28 barangays of the city, located in the northeastern foothills of Mount Kitanglad Range Natural Park (MKRNP).
This strategy would equally protect Mount Kitanglad and give a source of food and income to the indigenous communities.
The INREMP, being implemented by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), provided the tribal group with an all-weather plastic dryer worth P300,000 for quality drying of the coffee beans. The plastic dryer reduces drying time to produce high-quality coffee with a longer shelf life, and allows them to dry the harvested coffee beans anytime.
The ITPMC members have existing coffee farms and the support extended by INREMP has allowed them to plant more, and other varieties of coffee. Their quality coffee was already fetching a price three times more than the regular buying rate.
(In 2017, a Facebook account by ProMindanao posted the triumph of the ITMPC in the Kape Pilipino Green Coffee Quality competition for the Arabica category; while Kape Maramag of Maramag, Bukidnon, won the Robusta category. Both winners were entitled to send their representatives to Seattle, Washington, USA, to attend the Specialty Coffee Association Expo).
The Bukidnon office of the Department of Trade and Industry also offered the cooperative “a synergistic assistance to promote their coffee products through online marketing.”
BY August this year, the DENR successfully persuaded the Kitanglad Guard Volunteers (KGV), composed mostly of tribal protectors (known in many tribes as baganis or tribal warriors) to engage also in agroforestry aside from regular work in patrolling the 47,270 hectares of the mountain range.
The KGV, also based in the outskirts of Malaybalay City, was apportioned with 300 hectares spread at the foothills of the MKRNP to plant coffee, abaca and bamboo. The DENR tapped Forest Foundation Philippines and Holcim Corp. to be partners of the program for the volunteer forest guards.
“Despite the limited manpower assigned on Mount Kitanglad, the Protected Area Management Board has successfully tapped the cooperation of the upland communities to spearhead the community-based park protection,” a DENR communication quoted Daniel F. Somera, protected area superintendent of MKRNP, as saying.
The KGV has more than 400 volunteers who “now serve as contractors of the DENR’s National Greening Program,” the statement read.
“KGV started its humble beginnings with only more than a dozen members in 1995. They rose to more than 400 volunteers who proved their worth in the significant decline of man-made disturbances within the park. Their park protection is also being reciprocated as they are given top priority in the provision of livelihood assistance,” Somera said.
THE INREMP program implemented by the DENR combines agroforestry (planting of fruit trees, dipterocarp or broad-leafed tropical trees, and vegetables) and assisted natural regeneration (maintenance of existing naturally growing trees) has been implemented by DENR in MKRNP, the statement added.
This resulted in the sustainable development of forestry area with 100 hectares of coffee trees, 100 hectares of abaca, 100 hectares of fuel wood trees, 100 hectares of rattan, and 50 hectares of bamboo.
The DENR has also partnered with Holcim Corp. in planting coffee, cacao and rubber. The Forest Foundation Philippines and the Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Management Program also contributed to the plantation efforts.
Seated at the center of the Kitanglad Mountain Range is Mount Kitanglad, the fourth highest mountain in the Philippines—with approximate height of 2,899 meters or 9,511 ft. The mountain range straddles part of Malaybalay City to the east, Lantapan to the southeast, Impasugong, Sumilao, and Libona to the north.
Around the mountain range are the tribal communities of the Bukidnons, Higaonons and Talaandigs, which consider Mount Kitanglad as home to ancestral spirits.
Mount Kitanglad was proclaimed a protected area in 1996 through Presidential Proclamation 896. Four years later, Congress enacted Republic Act 8978 that declared the Mount Kitanglad Range as a protected area.
The MKRNP was later entered into the list of heritage parks of the Asean.
The INREMP program
THE INREMP agroforestry concept forms a key component of a project to reduce and reverse the degradation of watershed caused by forest denudation and unsustainable farming, the DENR said, by generating livelihood for upland communities,
“A key component of INREMP is the establishment of agroforestry farms to showcase economically viable, socially acceptable, and environmentally sound production systems,” it said in its website.
This was intended to be an incentive to the local communities and the local governments around the protected areas, mainly four selected river basins in the country: Chico River Basin in the Cordillera Administrative Region; Wahig-Inabanga River Basin in Region 7 or Central Visayas; Upper Bukidnon River Basin in Region 10, where the MKRNP serves as the headwater source; and the Lake Lanao River Basin in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
“INREMP aims to address unsustainable watershed management in these four priority river basins by reducing and reversing the degradation of watersheds and associated environmental impacts caused by deforestation and unsustainable farming practices,” it said.
Moreover, the program sought to provide incentives to communities, local government units, and the DENR to improve natural resource management and to generate economic benefits through payments for environmental services, including water regulation, soil conservation, carbon offsets and biodiversity; income generation from sustainable use, management and processing of timber and nontimber forest products; improved resource productivity; and improved climate resilience in the selected watersheds.
This is a seven-year project of the ADB being implemented by the DENR.
FOR Mount Kitanglad, the INREMP has eyed ecotourism as an approach to the long-term sustainable development of MKRNP and UBRB.
Somera said Mount Kitanglad “is a favorite trekking site due to its magnificent scenery and terrific landscape.”
To enhance Mount Kitanglad’s ecotourism potential, improvements have included a canopy walk, hanging bridge and biking and camping trails.
“Within the reserve is a nesting site of the Philippine Eagle which is probably the nearest eagle site in terms of proximity,” said Somera. “Within the park’s bufferzone is Cinchona Forest Reserve located in Kaatuan, Lantapan, Bukidnon. It was once a trial planting site of Quinine (covering 1,900 hectares) which is a known plant to cure malaria.”
He said climbers choose to reach the three highest peaks of the park: Mount Kitanglad, Mount Dulangdulang and Mount Maagnao. Mount Dulangdulang has an elevation of 2,938 meters, which is the second highest mountain next to Mount Apo in Davao City.
Also along the trail are World War II buildings as part of the Japanese garrison.
“This area is [also] being promoted as an ecotourism destination given its rich historical value, presence of century-old natural forests, series of waterfalls, Rafflesia flower [the second largest flower in the world] and rare and endemic flora and fauna,” he added.
And of course, he said, another booming activity within the park “is ethno and agro ecotourism, to appreciate the rich culture of the Talaandig, Higaonon and Bukidnon tribes who dwell within the park.”