By JAMES TABABA
The Philippines is blessed with an abundance of forest ecosystems, including tropical rainforests and mangroves. These forests provide vital ecosystems for water regulation, soil conservation, and carbon sequestration and support a rich biodiversity of plant and animal species. However, despite their ecological importance, Philippine forests have been under threat for many years, primarily due to agricultural expansion and unsustainable logging practices.
During the presentation of the 2023-2026 results framework of the Forest Foundation Philippines, Dennis Joseph Salvador, the chairperson of the programs committee of Forest Foundation Philippines and the Executive Director of the Philippine Eagle Foundation, said that agriculture continues to pose direct threats to forest ecosystems. This includes the conversion of forests into farms and plantations, unregulated and unsustainable use of biological resources such as logging, wood harvesting, and hunting or trapping of wildlife, as well as accidental trapping and disturbance of species in areas where they breed. These activities can have significant negative impacts on forest ecosystems and their biodiversity, highlighting the need for sustainable land use and better enforcement of forest management policies.
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Salvador stressed that the conversion of forests into farms and plantations is a major threat to old-grown forests that provide vital habitats for many plant and animal species. To address this issue, it is essential to provide alternative livelihood opportunities to communities, particularly in upland areas, to reduce their dependence on natural resources.
“One of the things we’re trying to work on is providing green jobs in the community to help reduce poverty in these areas. I think, especially with the Mandanas ruling, there is now an opportunity for LGUs to take charge of protecting their own natural resources and providing budget and funding to their constituents to act as the guardians of their specific areas,” he added.
Atty. Jose Andres Canivel, the Executive Director of Forest Foundation Philippines, emphasizes the need to address the negative impact of agriculture on the remaining forests in the Philippines. According to him, one of the actions that can help minimize the impact of shifting cultivation is the mapping of forest and forest lands. This approach involves looking at forests in relation to all other ecosystems in a sustainable lands forest landscape approach.
Through this approach, local government units and related agencies can identify areas for farming, conservation, and restoration activities. Policies can also be developed to disincentivize the opening of new lands and maintain them as watersheds, communal forests, and wildlife sanctuaries.
“It’s important as well to understand why farmers and farming communities continue to shift or transfer from one area to another and perhaps help them become more sustainable,” Canivel said. “One of the reasons that we found out why they keep shifting, why they keep opening up new areas [in forests for farming], is that former farms become unproductive, and their farm become unsustainable because of farming practices.”
Canivel suggests that improving farm practices can lead to more sustainable agriculture and potentially drive it towards a greener path. He emphasizes that it’s not just about conserving forests but also about improving post-harvest practices and linking farmers to markets.
By improving these practices, farmers can increase their income and reduce their dependence on the regular shifting of farming areas, which contributes to deforestation. It can also reduce the pressure on forests as a source of livelihood for forest-dependent communities. He also emphasizes the importance of taking a landscape-scale approach, not just focusing on individual forests but considering how they fit into the larger ecosystem.
Salvador added that agriculture and forest conservation could coexist. “This is not to say that agriculture is bad for forests. I think we just need to tweak it so that it benefits both farmers while maintaining the integrity of our forest ecosystems. And one of the ways they can do this is through agroforestry, for instance,” he said.