ISSN 2330-717X

Magat, Unheralded Story Of A Successful PHL Reforestation – OpEd

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Many Philippine government reforestation projects are laced with stories of corruption, ridicule and jokes. But not the reforestation of Magat watershed that cradles the  giant Magat dam that  provides for irrigation to 95,000 ha of land and hydroelectric power  of 360 megawatts.

 The reforestation of Magat watershed, some  234,824 hectares, is progressive starting since 1964 involving  15 municipalities  in the provinces of Ifugao, Isabela, Quirino and Nueva Vizcaya. The dam is fed by the Magat river as the main tributary and is connected to the Cagayan river. Cagayan river basin is a large-scale watershed with an area of about 2,728,100 ha. The other tributaries to Magat watershed are Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, and Marang rivers in the Nueva Vizcaya side.

Reforestation covered  four areas managed by local government institutions and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). These are the Lower Magat Forest Reserve, the
Imungan-Cabanglasan Subwatershed,  Dupax Watershed and the Barobbob Watershed.

The Reforestation Program

Initially, there was no exclusive comprehensive watershed management plan for the Magat watershed. until 2003, when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) prepared the Master Plan Study for Watershed Management.  It covered an area of 880,000 hectares. The government of Japan provided funds in the form of grants and the Philippine government provided technical personnel.

Because the watershed involved communities especially indigenous peoples, the components of  the program were people- based, participatory, consultative and socio-culturally integrated. It
included, among others:

–Integrated Social Forestry Program
–Community Forestry Program
–Forest Land Management Program
–Tree Farm/Plantation Development
–Establishment of Soil & Water Conservation Measures
–Protection of Natural Forest and Protected Management/Biodiversity
Conservation
–Community Based Forest Management Program
–Construction of Check dams and Small Impounding Structures
–Reforestation and Afforestation
–Ecological Restoration of Environment Through Participatory Approach
to Reforestation
–Mass Production of Indigenous spp Using Vegetation Clonal Propagation

The success of the reforestation for all the watershed is not 100 percent complete DENR says but it has already ensured that lifespan of the dam will go beyond 2030, 30 more years than its expected lifespan.
Perking socio-economic conditions in the provinces and in the region is due to the dam which provides irrigation services to farmlands and electricity for industrial undertakings.

River Enhances Community-helping

“Twenty years ago, kaingeneros laid to waste whatever loggers left through slash and burn farming, the watershed was nearing tipping point, “ Angel Mobido, 47, DENR forest ranger recounted.

“Now that has all changed,” he added as he peered through the lush forests beyond, proud of having been a part in successfully bringing back the forests.

Some 70,000 hectares of forest was established through people-participated reforestation and afforestation work.

Prominent in the revived forests are mango, rambutan, guyabano , wax apples and cashew trees interspersed with  some seven species of dipterocarps.

For the people living along the tributary river of Magat, the watershed is both a utilitarian and a symbolic resource. The water,  besides being used for  irrigation, cleaning, cooking, bathing, washing  and drinking is also seen as divinity and plays a central role in all village rituals of the indigenous peoples.

The clearest example of how culture governs the management of water is when people begin their agricultural activities every year. Villagers go work their fields practicing bayanihan  or community work on each field, especially in irrigating the fields.

Payment for Environmental Services

Magat’s natural ecosystem produces a wide range of environmental goods and services with an economic value such as food, non-timber forest products whose value is not always recognized such as carbon sequestration, oxygen supply, cooling of the atmosphere.

Payment of Environmental Services (PES) seeks to address this problem as managers of Magat Dam are contemplating to pilot this. The PES schemeis a finance mechanism designed to transfer rewards from those who benefit from environmental services to those who ensure that the benefits continue to be provided.

The beneficiaries will include the private sector, industries, farmers’ organizations and the public sector institutions such as drinking water utilities. For those communities that manage land and forest resources, PES is a potential source of income.

PES are being run successfully in Tanzania, Peru, Indonesia and Guatemala where equitable payments for watershed services are benefiiting poor farmers and forest dwellers who plant  trees put off fires, and guard against tree cutters in watersheds.

This puts the priorities and needs of the poor center stage, incorporating local values, knowledge and practices into the natural resource management regime. It marks a change, from subsistence practice to sustainable system that can improve forests and resources and livelihood of poor communities.

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan wrote for the British Panos News and Features and GEMINI News Service, the Brunei Times, and US Environment News Service. In the Philippines, he wrote for DEPTHNews of the Press Foundation of Asia, Today, the Philippine Post, and Vera Files. A practicing environmentalist, he holds postgraduate degrees in environment resource management and development studies as a European Union (EU) Fellow at University College, Dublin, Ireland. He is currently a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation of New York City. He now writes for Business Mirror and Eurasia Review.

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