In 1971, the Philippine government passed Forestry Administrative Order No. 62 in an attempt to curb national resource deterioration and human displacement caused by increasing deforestation at the hands of agriculturalists and loggers. This administrative order initiated community-based forest governance systems in the Philippines. Shortly after in 1972, the government signed over to the indigenous Ikalahan people legal ownership of their ancestral lands. This step, eventually led to the creation of the Kalahan Forest Reserve.
Deforestation and Land Rights
Five villages of Ikalahan people, located in the northern part of the Philippine island of Luzon, convened to form the Kalahan Educational Foundation (KEF) to claim community ownership of 15,000 hectares of forested land. A memorandum from the federal government allowed the Ikalahan people to manage this land in exchange for the protection of a local watershed. This memorandum set a precedent for future indigenous land tenure rights cases.
KEF Forest Stewardship
Deforestation in the Philippines continued to rise following the 1971 government order, but on the Kalahan Forest Reserve, forest cover is increasing. The KEF executes a multifaceted approach to responsible forest stewardship. The KEF is under the leadership of spokespeople from nine communities within the reserve. It also includes youth and local government representatives. One division of the KEF ensures the local watershed remains unpolluted by wastes. Another oversees research and management of the forest and natural resources. This faction encourages responsible planting, harvesting and crop selection practices among farmers on the reserve. It also investigates forest resource improvements and agroforestry potential and manages land use and land allocation among local families.
Increased Access to Education
Also, the KEF established the Kalahan Academy. It is a facility dedicated to providing Ikalahans and other local children a formal education up to the 12th grade. The Kalahan Academy teaches its pupils about the sustainable forest and natural resource management and focuses on preserving indigenous Ikalahan culture. The academy encourages graduates to pursue a college education, after which many return to work as academy faculty and staff or in local government offices. Others find jobs outside of the Kalahan Forest Reserve, which alleviates local resource pressure and diversifies the communities’ economic opportunities.
Expanded Economic Opportunities
The KEF also established the Mountain Fresh product line. This product line includes preserves made from sustainably harvested indigenous plants like guava, hibiscus and ginger in local markets. Mountain Fresh preserves struggle to expand its market access due to transportation, marketing and raw material resource constraints, but institutional aid from NGOs like the Federation of Peoples’ Sustainable Development Cooperative helps the company to surmount these challenges. Other economic opportunities fostered by the KEF include the sale of sustainably harvested orchids and timber from agroforestry plots. Furthermore, the KEF Board of Trustees hopes to capitalize on carbon trading schemes. In 2002 alone, the Kalahan Forest Reserve sequestered over 38,000 tons of carbon. As the amount of forest cover on the reserve increases, so too does its potential to capture carbon.
Following the legal recognition of their indigenous land rights in 1972 by the Philippine government, the KEF instilled a conservation ethic among the Ikalahan people on the Kalahan Forest Reserve through sustainable forest stewardship practices and educational and economic opportunity. The profits from the KEF’s sustainable enterprises and the economic opportunity generated by formal education contribute to the improving quality of life for the Ikalahan people through local improvements and access to infrastructure, healthcare and education.
– Avery Saklad