Interviewee: Conservation International
Could you tell me why you support this area?
The area around Palanan, where many different tribes coexist, has traditionally relied upon slash-and-burn farming. This farming method is spoken ill of today, but originally it was an environment-friendly farming method. They set fire to a forest to make ash, which made soil fertile, and grew vegetables with the fertile soil. When they could no longer get a good crop, they moved to another place. This was repeated in a cycle of tens of years, while forests regenerated.
Nevertheless, as the population increased, slash-and-burn farming expanded, and the regeneration of nature could no longer keep up with the slashing and burning of forests. What is worse, even the remaining small virgin forests are under development pressure because the local people can only cut and sell wood if they can no longer rely on slash-and-burn farming. Thus, forests are disappearing, and people can no longer live there.
Still, they cannot stop cutting trees?
No they can't. We cannot just stop people who have to cut trees to buy food for tomorrow. Before doing so, we have to provide them with an alternative economic guarantee. Therefore, we support them based upon four pillars.
First, we try to obtain the understanding of the local people. In other words, we have them understand the importance of the area through seminars for the protection of nature and camping. We start by preparing teaching materials that can be accepted by the local people in cooperation with local staff members.
Second, we strengthen the management system and know-how for national parks. Because national parks are not controlled as strictly as they are in Japan, some people cut trees without permission while others illegally cut down forests. Strict control has to be exercised over such acts. Accordingly, we teach them methods for such control and offer necessary training as well as mechanical equipment and materials.
The third pillar is the evaluation of biodiversity. As a matter of course, we had long conducted research. To add to this, we will conduct detailed research on the remaining virgin forests, animals/plants, configurations of the ground, etc., while providing support to enable the local people to keep them.
The fourth pillar is life support for the people living there. We use a method called agroforestry, which combines afforestation and farming. This will enable them to support themselves even if they give up lumbering and slash-and-burn farming.
Are the local people cooperative?
People who used to be engaged in slash-and-burn farming were quick to realize the importance of the matter. The western part of Luzon Island used to be a famous rice-producing area. Many of the forests in the region, however, have disappeared, resulting in the loss of land's capacity to retain water and the effluence of the soil. Consequently, people can no longer be engaged in farming there. People in Sierra Madre have observed such a process.
On the other hand, it is difficult to gain the understanding of people engaged in lumbering. They work for companies that come from outside the region, and the more forests they cut down, the more money they get. This system makes it difficult for us to gain their understanding.
I understand that you have been engaged in such activities for three years. How has the situation changed over those three years?
We are promoting afforestation by connecting the remaining small virgin forests with corridors of greenery. They have changed significantly. There is a very small spring in a forest in Palanan called Blue Lagoon. A staff member from Ricoh says it was brown instead of blue when he visited there three years ago. This time, however, it was blue, as the name says. He seems to have really realized not only the beauty but also the wonderfulness of nature's power to recover.
It must be hard to respect people and protect greenery at the same time.
It sure is. There were some plans to construct a road from this region to the urban area. Various environmental organizations, including our organization, discussed the matter with residents and people from the local government. Consequently, we are now thinking of expanding marine transportation to improve transportation services without destroying forests. Also, some local people have proposed arranging a tour as part of ecotourism to make good use of the natural environment. People have become far more aware of the necessity of coexisting with the environment.
How will Sierra Madre change in the future?
Because the local people have accumulated so much know-how, we would like to continue this project and regenerate rich forests even more. However, the local people cannot keep protecting such forests if they only rely on us. Therefore, it is necessary to help wean them away from depending on our support. In other words, we have to support them so that they can keep living a happy life even without outside support while protecting the environment. The most important thing is how each one of us makes himself/herself conscious of the environment.
If I have the chance, I would like to visit Sierra Madre when it recovers its abundant greenery. Thank you very much.