Enhancing Biodiversity through Social Enterprise: PCART’s initiatives in San Vicente-Roxas-TaytayPosted on November 18, 2020
Approximately 2 million international tourists flock to Palawan every year1. The most visited attractions in the province include the UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site of Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR), and the breath-taking lagoons in El Nido and Coron. Aside from the white sands, clear waters, and picturesque landscape, Palawan is also known for its rich biodiversity – marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems.
The San Vicente-Roxas-Taytay Forest Block and Cleopatra’s Needle were identified as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in 2006. This Forest Block is the terrestrial area of the Malampaya Sound Protected Landscape and Seascape. The Cleopatra Needle was named from the obelisk-shaped rock structure found on its peak. Regarded as a mystical mountain, it can be viewed on the way to the world-renowned PPUR. These KBAs comprise the Northern Palawan Biodiversity Corridor, where, currently, 47 communities, including Indigenous Peoples (IPs), reside. Based on the results of rapid biodiversity assessment conducted, these KBAs are home to a total of 122 species of plants, of which 17 are restricted; and 148 species of vertebrae fauna, of which 51 are endemic. Out of the total vertebrae fauna, 90 species are birds; 21 are mammals; 23 are reptiles; and 14 are amphibians.
Issues and Challenges
Among the five provinces in Region IV-B (MIMAROPA), Palawan has the lowest annual per capita threshold, at PhP19,435 in 20152 . This means that a person living in the province should at least earn the said amount annually (Php627 daily) to meet his/her basic needs. Otherwise, he/she is considered as “poor”. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the number of families identified earning below the threshold was estimated at 28,254. The source of income in the province mostly come from tourist-related activities, agriculture, and forest products. Without stable employment, breadwinners have resorted to illegal logging and traditional “kaingin system” or slash and burning of forest for agricultural use, to make both ends meet. Such practices stem from the lack of awareness on the importance and value of forest, and most of the time, if not always, lead to its denudation and destruction. Unlike the PPUR and Malampaya Sound Protected Landscape and Seascape, which are both protected by the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992, there is also the lack of legal instrument for the protection of these KBAs from anthropogenic threat and other drivers of deforestation.
Consistent with its mission and advocacy on Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development (BSCD), the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE), together with the Forest Foundation Philippines (FFP), Foundation for a Sustainable Society (FSS), Peace and the Equity Foundation (PEF) has partnered with the Palawan Center for Appropriate Rural Tech- nology (PCART) for the implementation of the Startrek III Project. This project builds on the gains of Startrek Phases I and II through the expansion of scope and development initiatives to the Northern Palawan Corridor.
The name Startrek was derived from the popular American science fiction series in the 1960s. In one of its episodes, it depicted a situation where the explorers aboard a ship called “Enterprise NX-01” went on a mission “where no man has gone before”3. Similarly, PCART and its four foundation partners are explorers to an unchartered territory, with a mission to contribute to the conservation of the Northern Palawan Corridor, while reducing the poverty of communities dependent on natural resources through social enterprise.
On Feb. 4, 2019 the Foundation for the Philippine Environment, Forest Foundation of the Philippines, Foundation for Sustainable Society, and the Peace and Equity Foundation signed a Memorandum of Understanding with PCART for the conservation of Northern Palawan Corridor through establishment of social enterprise and capacity building of communities to alleviate poverty.
Establishment of Social Enterprises
Social enterprise is a new approach to doing business. There are about 164,473 social enterprises established in the Philippines based on a 2017 study conducted by the British Council and Philippine Social Enterprise Network (PhilSEN)4. Venturing into social enterprise enables local communities to engage in revenue-generating activities that promotes socioeconomic well-being through employment generation, poverty reduction, community empowerment, among others. This concept is also believed to bridge the development gaps in hardest-to-reach communities by ensuring that these communities are able to achieve inclusive growth.
Under the Startrek III Project, there are 23 targeted communities, including the Indigenous tribes of Batak and Tagbanuas, living within and around these KBAs. These communities are engaged in the following social enterprises: 1) Seedling propagation for abaca production; 2) Herb production and processing; 3) Organic vegetable production; and 4) Rice production. The number of farmer beneficiaries vary depending on the social enterprise they engage in - some prefer to plant abaca, others herbs, rice or vegetables. Some communities are also not endowed with the type of soil where abaca, herbs, or rice can thrive.
The increasing global trend for “green” and “organic” products has created a big opportunity for agriculture-based countries like the Philippines to supply natural and biodegradable raw materials like abaca. Currently, 87% of the world’s requirement is being supplied by the Philippines, making it the largest producer of abaca fibers5. Through its sturdy fibers, it can produce materials such as cordage, specialty paper, textiles, furniture and fixtures, handicrafts, novelty items, meat casing, cosmetics, and skin care products, grocery bags, among others. Not only does abaca help the economy but also the environment. Planting abaca can improve the biodiversity conditions by intercropping with coconut palms, minimize erosion and sedimentation problems, and increase water holding capacity of soil. Its waste materials can also be used as an organic fertilizer.6
To capitalize on this opportunity, a social enterprise with abaca farmers has been set up in select communities. The Philippine Fiber Industry Authority (PhilFI-DA) was tapped to guide and train the communities on the use of tools and equipment for abaca production. Abaca corms were initially used for small-scale production as these were bought from local farms within the province to only support the IP beneficiaries in Sitio Timbuan, Abaroan and Sitio Nanabo, Caramay.
5 http://www.philfida.da.gov.ph/index.php/archived-articles/19-philippine-ab-aca-helps-in-global-environment-conservation6 ibid
But as the scope of target communities expanded, the PhilFIDA recommended the shift from corms to seedlings to cater a larger scale of production. Seedlings are now locally shipped from Mindanao. As of January 2020, a total of 33 hectares with 52,800 seedlings have been established for abaca production. There is also an Abaca nursery located in Matalangao, Abaroan. Because abaca can be cultivated within a relatively short period of time, farmers can produce them easily and supply various industries that used to depend on trees. In effect, abaca production can help save trees from being cut.
Herb Production and Processing
To maximize their profit from planting, farmers have to diversify their crop production. Pharmaceutical industries, for example, place high demand on herbs and otherraw materials. Several studies also reveal that herb production and processing are profitable business ventures. To help the farmers capitalize on this, the PCART and the partners consulted major stakeholders and provided capacity development activities for farmers interested to pursue this endeavor. Some of herbs being produced by farmers are Lagundi, Pandan, Ginger, Turmeric, Banaba, Tsaang Gubat, Lemon Grass, among others. Around 300 to 400 farmers are engaged in this activity.
The herb processing facility was installed in Puerto Princesa and managed by PCART. All raw materials produced by the farmers are brought to this facility for processing. To help ensure the optimum use of the facility, major renovations such as the replacement of ceiling, installation of new electrical system, and construction of an extension room were undertaken.
The community drying facilities were also repaired and upgraded to ensure quality production of herbs and anticipated increased production. PCART estimates that farmers can earn as much as PhP200-400 thousand per year for a 1-hectare herb production area.
Organic Vegetable Production
Around 120 farmers are engaged in the enterprise of organic vegetable production. Some of the vegetables being produced are lettuce and cucumber. The farmers are linked to hotels and restaurants in Puerto Princesa City and are estimated to earn as much as PhP 4,000-5,000 a week from selling vegetables. However, dueto the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, hotel and restaurant operations halted which greatly affected the vegetable production.
PCART Executive Director Oyen Padilla shows equipment being used to process the Lagundi leaves. The visit was attended by the FPE Chair, FSSI, and others.
Through the establishment of lowland rice paddies, rice production has increased relative to the level of production yield under the previous kaingin system. The interventions on rice production include the provision of carabao-plow-harrow, assistance in irrigation establishment, and conduct of trainings in System of Rice Intensification (SRI). These activities have significantly put a stop to the slash and burning of forest lands for agricultural purposes.
By establishing these social enterprises, the Star Trek has significantly contributed to the improvement of the quality of life of farmers. Aside from being food self-sufficient, these beneficiaries are now able to send their children to school, provide daily school allowance, and purchase supplies and other materials. Slowly and steadily, these farming communities are breaking away from the poverty cycle that chained them for so long.
Increased Capacity in Organization Development and Management
Star Trek has also contributed to the increased capacity of their partners in organization management and environmental protection and management. Organizational development activities include orientations and seminars on leadership, facilitation of meetings, planning and assessment, financial recording, and project management. On the other hand, the discussion topics for environmental protection and management include Eco-Watchers Orientation by Department of Environment and Natural Resources-City Environment and Natural Resources Office (DENR-CENRO) Roxas; Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Seminar and Environmental Law and Land Rights by ELAC Lawyers; LCA/ICCA Establishment and Protected Area Management Planning.
A Community-Managed Savings and Credit Project was also established to enable the generation of income and organizational funds which the partner groups and People’s Organizations can be used for funding of communal projects; provision of loan requests to individual members; setting up of social fund for emergency needs of members; setting of environmental fund for expenses on environment projects, campaign and advocacies.
Increased Environment Protection
The Biodiversity Assessment conducted in three study sites revealed that San Vicente-Roxas-Taytay Forest Block and Cleopatra’s Needle still have high biodiversity. Seventy percent (70%) is still considered as “pristine forests”. This means that more than half of the forest remains intact and pure. A diverse flora and fauna found in these study sites indicate a healthy forest habitat. In total, there were 122 species of flora belonging to 49 families; 21 species of mammals belong to 14 families; 90 species of birds; 23 species of reptiles; and 14 species of amphibians.
The delineation of protected areas, specifically the Local Conservation Areas (LCAs) and Indigenous Communities Conserved Areas (ICCAs), were also undertaken through a series of consultation workshops participated by the barangay leaders and constituents. A total of 39,198 hectares of the KBAs were mapped and earmarked as proposed protected areas. For these areas to be formally declared, barangays need to enact resolutions adopting these. To date, 21 of the 23 barangays have indicated their concurrence on the proposed conservation areas within their boundaries through passing of Barangay Council Resolutions, while 2 barangays are still in the process of consulting their constituents for approval. Such policy instrument serves as the consensus of the communities to protect and conserve these KBAs.
Enhancing biodiversity through social enterprise is truly a promising approach for communities to realize economic gains, social benefits, and environmental sustainability. Information dissemination through consultations, trainings and workshops provided the communities deeper understanding and appreciation on the importance of environment. Support from the national, provincial, and city governments through the conduct of technical trainings on abaca production, herb processing, organic vegetable production, and rice production have scaled up the skills of farmers. The use of machines, equipment and facilities have, likewise, significantly increased their production levels. Linking these communities to the supply chain where they can meet the demand of industries is a big opportunity for communities to sustain theoperations of the social enterprise.
By hitting the triple bottom line (i.e. social, economic,and environment), it is imperative for the project to expand its coverage to the remaining twenty-three (24) barangays that also fall within the scope of these KBAs.