Interviewee: Conservation International
When you think of the future of the earth, it is important to preserve the environment where many forms of life can leave descendents, as they are doing now, and keep on living together. The Ricoh Group is promoting its forest ecosystem conservation project in various parts of the world in partnership with environmental NPOs and local residents. Of such activities, we will today review those that preserve biodiversity in Sierra Madre, the Philippines, and which Ricoh has promoted since March 2000. Conservation International has locally worked as an international environmental NGO for nearly 10 years. We invited Mr. Hibi, who works at Conservation International's Japan office, to talk about the circumstances and his impressions of the region, to which he kindly agreed.
Representative of Japan Program, Conservation International
Section Chief, Corporate Citizenship Promotion Office, Ricoh
What is Conservation International?
It is an international environmental NGO (nongovernmental organization) headquartered in Washington, D.C., in the United States. About 1,000 staff members are engaged in the organization's activities in 43 countries all over the world. It has an office in Japan, too. Ricoh supports activities of this NGO, which aims at creating a symbiosis of humans and the environment.
I hear that Conservation International is engaged in the preservation of biodiversity. Please tell me about biodiversity.
"Biodiversity" is a rather difficult term. Maybe it can be interpreted as" an environment that supports the history of life on earth and that will last into the future, where a variety of living things, including humans, communicate and are related to each other."
The term "ecosystem" is often used. Living things have to be related to each other to exist. That is part of the earth's activities. Therefore, if some living creatures are exterminated somewhere or their number decreases, that will affect other living things which, in turn, will have a negative impact on the whole earth over the long term. To prevent that from happening, it is very important for all living things, including humans, to protect the environment where they need to relate to each other to live.
Nobody is happy about the destruction of nature today. In actuality, however, there are some people who cannot survive without cutting down trees, and there are people in advanced nations who benefit from them. Therefore, we are engaged in not only activities that protect nature but also those that devise methods for protecting the life of the people who live there and supporting them.
I hear that you went to the Philippines the other day.
Yes, I did. The Philippines used to have many fertile forest ecosystems with many living creatures that cannot be seen in any other parts of the world. As a result of development and the destruction of forests, however, such ecosystems are being destroyed. We call such spots-i.e., places with fertile ecosystems that were formed by many precious living creatures that cannot be seen in other parts of the earth and need to relate to each other to live but are now faced with the crisis of destruction-biodiversity hot spots. In particular, we call the Philippines "the hottest of the hot spots" because it has the most fertile ecosystems among the other hot spots.
Hot spots are in tropical and subtropical zones with rich biodiversities and where people depend upon the natural environment for economic activities. Accordingly, such spots are often found among developing nations. When engaging ourselves in activities to protect ecosystems, we have to respect the opinion, culture, and lifestyle of the people in such areas. Because of this, staff members are recruited locally in principle, and we try to involve the local people in actual preservation activities. One of the local offices even employs a shaman.
Supporting people living in harmony with the environment Ricoh supports activities in Sierra Madre in the Philippines. Please tell me about the status quo there.
Sierra Madre is a mountainous region along the east coast of Luzon Island, which is in the northern part of the Philippines. The slopes of mountains in the 2,000-meter class in this area decline steeply and level off near the beach. Because it was difficult to develop such an area, there remain relatively abundant virgin forests. The Philippine government has established six natural preservation parks in the region and set out to protect them.
How did you find the area once you actually got there?
About 20,000 people live in a region called Palanan, which is receiving kind support from Ricoh. People usually use a ship or a plane to go there because overland transportation to the area is limited. It took me about two hours to go there by a small charter plane like a Cessna. About 30 men and women of all ages came to the airport when we landed on the unpaved runway, maybe because they had not seen many visitors (laughter).
How do they support themselves in the area?
Some people grow rice, corn, bananas, coffee, cassava potatoes, etc., while others are engaged in fishery. "If you plant something in the backyard, food will naturally grow there, which you can eat when you are hungry," say local staff members. You can live such a life because the soil is fertile.
This time, we made an overnight stop in the city and another at the research station in the forest. The station has simple accommodation facilities and tents. Local staff members recommended that the guests from Japan stay in a room with beds, but the guests insisted on sleeping in a tent (laughter). At night, on the last day of our visit, we had a very good time, drinking local brandy with the local people. It was quite comfortable there because there were hardly any mosquitoes in the forest.
Children also get along very well in the region. They shyly came to see us when we were staying at the guesthouse. The photographer found them and soon made friends with them.