How empowering women cultivates holistic, stronger forestland management

March 25, 2016
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The forestry sector was tagged as a male-dominated arena in the past decades. With the emergence of community-based forest management or CBFM which positions local communities at the center of managing forest resources, recognition of the role of women in forestry becomes a crucial link towards sustainable forest management.

“At first, we are not sure if we can establish a nursery and develop lands for reforestation and agroforestry because it’s typically a man’s job. And we are all women,” said Eva Estrella, 59, President of Samahan ng Kababaihang Makakalikasan ng Seguim (Alliance of Women Environmentalists of Seguim) in Carranglan, Nueva Ecija.

Doubtful during its embryonic stage as an all-women people’s organization with 22 members, Eva pursued leading the Alliance with the encouragement of some community members.

“It was second quarter of 2013. My neighbor eagerly told me that we should form a people’s organization because it has a lot to offer,” narrated Eva, “she said it was some information she gained by attending a seminar from the local government.”

Eva, who was back then a housewife and a mother to eight, was doubtful until few more neighborhood and friends who are also wives of farmers came to her, convincing her to lead the formation of an organization geared towards not just environmental protection but also economic development.

“I felt that I am being trusted by our community. We decided to form an all-women people’s organization because it’s easier to organize. My husband is already busy at the farm, so as theirs, so it would be hard for them to leave their daily work and join formal meetings,” explained Eva.

Eva can be considered as a key player in Sitio Seguim where farming is the major source of income. She previously worked at the barangay hall as health worker and serves at the community church. She also used her background in bachelor in elementary education to privately tutor English to grade-school children.

A partner in protecting, managing forest resources

Seguim is situated at the Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve in Nueva Ecija. The said watershed is part of one of the major river basins in the Philippines which is the Upper Pampanga river basin. It is the source of hydro-electric power in the northern part of the Philippines and irrigates about 363,246 hectares of farmlands and provides industrial, commercial and domestic water supply for the region and Metro Manila. However, according to a study conducted during the Forestry Sector Project Phase 1 by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the watershed has insufficient forest cover with only 24 per cent forested area within the river basin.

In 2015, the Alliance became a partner of the Forestland Management Project or FMP, a ten-year project of the DENR and Japan International Cooperation Agency that aims to strengthen forestland management in the identified critical river basins in the Philippines.

The Alliance has been awarded with a Protected Area Community-Based Resource Management Agreement or PACBRMA by the DENR. As a PACBRMA holder of 154.41 hectares of land, they are guaranteed with 25 years land tenure, renewable for another 25 years. At the same time, they will contribute to the conservation and management of the said protected area.

Community planning and capacity building

Consistent with the PACBRMA, the Alliance has undergone community resource management planning wherein the members mapped out their strategies and activities for the protection, rehabilitation and development of forestlands.

This participatory process was built on the local knowledge of the members of Alliance by explicating the bio-physical, socio-economic, and cultural features of their area, with the help of modern technologies such as Geographic Information System or GIS. From the crafted community map, they conducted ‘visioning’ to reflect the kind of development activities they will undertake.

“The process was a bit tedious, but I appreciate the fact that the DENR acknowledges our local knowledge, and we are collaborating towards the development of plans,” told Eva.

To date since their engagement with the FMP in 2015, they have been engaged with capacity building activities on plantation and nursery establishment, organizational and conflict management, and simple bookkeeping.

According to Forester Boy Soliman, Community Development Specialist of FMP, conducting such capacity building activities will allow them to better manage the resources.  In fact, conducting capacity building activities with the people’s organizations is a continuous endeavor of FMP.

“It is an essential aspect of the process. By providing them opportunities to learn, you are also increasing their power and access to information, to decision-making,” Forester Soliman shared.

Expanding gender roles, building social ties
Explaining their dynamics of her husband, Eva told that “before, I will just wait for my husband to handover to me his money earned. From there, I will just buy our essentials, especially food.”

Eva felt that she has now a stronger voice over decision-making in the family. She can now decide on what other needs to buy, as well as providing extra allowance to her children from the money she earned in the establishment of nursery.

“Our day’s work in the nursery area is to do potting and maintain the seedlings planted, making sure they are in good condition. We also ensure that the nursery is secured to prevent possible damages,” explained Eva.

Sometimes, the family members of the Alliance join them in their activities in the site which is according to them, also a bonding experience. Their work becomes a platform for sharing personal experiences and even helping each other in solving problems.

Towards enterprise development for food security and income

The Alliance has a target of producing 26,500 seedlings of narra and ipi-ipil for reforestation covering 35 hectares. Meanwhile in agroforestry, they have a target of producing 12,692 seedlings of cashew, sampaloc, camachile, guyabano, and mangoes, among others, covering 19 hectares, both from December 2015 up to June 2016. To date, they have already reached more than 50 per cent of these targets and can even exceed before June, according to Forester Jolito Hermocilla, Site Management Officer of FMP in Seguim.

Samahan ng Kababaihang Makakalikasan ng Seguim is the only all-women organization among the 35 people’s organization engaged under FMP in Carranglan.

“We can see their willingness and commitment. As women, they have been really involved in conservation of natural resources. They also have specialized knowledge on various kinds of plants and trees, as they also practice gardening in their own backyards,” said Forester Hermocilla.

After three to five years of planted fruit trees, these will be harvested by the members of the Alliance, may these be for family consumption or for livelihoods. The plantation will also be maintained and protected with the technical assistance of the DENR personnel.

Right now, the FMP is conducting a feasibility study on enterprise development in the areas it covers. The said study, which is expected to finish towards the end of 2016, will put forward recommendations on sustainable livelihoods as well as potential and viable enterprises for the people’s organizations, including the Alliance.

They will also be guided by the DENR on how to craft business plans to put up their own livelihood and enterprise to increase their level of income.

Even without the result of the said study, Eva and her constituents already have ideas for livelihood opportunities and marketing strategies.

“There is an on-going construction of expressway near our nursery plantation and site development area. We can put up a stall, may be a carenderia (eatery or local restaurant), or a sari-sari store where we can sell our products.”

Influencing policies and decision-making

The FMP, with its tagline “holistic partnership for sustainable watershed development,” also aims to establish a Watershed Management Council or strengthen existing related bodies. In Carranglan, there is an existing Protected Area Management Board, a multi-sectoral body responsible for the administration and management of the protected area.

“We are hopeful that our partner people’s organization leaders in FMP will have a slot in this decision-making body,” said Forester Cherrica Ruby Claudio, FMP Provincial Focal Person.

“One way of empowering women is to consciously include them in the formulation of plans and in the development and management of the protected area. Equipped with right information and skills, they will have a ‘say’ towards influencing policies, ensuring that their roles and rights as women are being acknowledged and balanced with that of others,” Forester Claudio asserted.

Started with doubts if they can do it, Eva and her constituents are now tangibly making progress on their nursery plantation. Few months later, they will transfer the seedlings they have produced in their site development area. And in a few more years, they will reap the benefits of their labor. “If men can do it, women also can” serves as a motto for the Alliance, according to Eva.

Furthermore, the Alliance would like to protect and rehabilitate the degraded forestlands not just for the environment or economic benefits, but more intrinsically, as mothers and as women, they are also doing it for their children and for the future generations to come.

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