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Criteria and indicators for assessing the sustainability of a community-based forest management project in the Philippines

P.C. Dolom

Priscila Caraan Dolom is a University Researcher in the Forestry Development Center, University of the Philippines Los Baños, College of Forestry and Natural Resources, Laguna, the Philippines.

A participatory approach for developing and measuring
criteria and indicators of sustainability.

Environmental degradation is a pressing problem for most countries throughout the world. Forests, which are among the most fragile of ecosystems, are continuously being threatened. In the Philippines, forest cover has declined from 17 million hectares in 1930 (DENR-FMB, 1996) to only 5.8 million hectares in 2000 (FAO, 2001).

The Philippine Government has adopted community-based forest management (CBFM) as a strategy for the sustainable management of the country's forest resources. As a producing member of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the Philippines is using ITTO's criteria and indicators to evaluate progress towards sustainable forest management. However, criteria and indicators to determipne if indeed a particular area under CBFM is being managed sustainably are still being developed. A study was therefore carried out in a CBFM project in Ilagan, Isabela, the Philippines to identify a set of criteria and indicators of sustainability for CBFM projects that would be acceptable to and measurable by communities or people's organizations. Specifically, the study aimed:

• to identify, from existing literature, indicators of sustainability of CBFM, and to validate their acceptability to local communities and other stakeholders;

• to develop participatory methodologies for measuring the selected indicators;

• to assess the sustainability of CBFM in the study area using the criteria and indicators identified;

• to formulate policy recommendations based on the findings of the study.

The study covered an area of approximately 10 220 ha which is being managed by the VIBANARA Multipurpose Cooperative (VMPCI), a people's organization, in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the government agency in charge of managing the country's natural resources.


Data were collected through a combination of individual and key informant interviews, focus group discussions (a social science research methodology in which data are gathered from a selected group through discussion on an issue), direct observation, measurement of sheet erosion, analysis of soil properties, vegetation analyses and literature reviews.

The Ilagan CBFM project was chosen as the study site because it is one of the oldest pilot CBFM sites in the Philippines, the people's organization (VPMCI) is considered well established, various CBFM components are in place and the project has established linkages with different funding sources.

Systematic random sampling was used to identify the respondents to be interviewed from a master list provided by VMPCI. The sample size was 48, representing 22 percent of the total adult household members.

Two focus group discussions were conducted with selected members and officers of VMPCI and DENR. The objective of the first group discussion was to determine which among the criteria and indicators from the existing literature would help measure progress towards sustainability in the Ilagan CBFM area. The criteria and indicators developed by ITTO (1992) were chosen as the basis for developing the criteria and indicators for the Ilagan CBFM project, since they were found to encompass those in several other sets evaluated (DAI-NRMP, 1998; Prabhu et al., 1996; IEMSD, 1998). From the 67 ITTO indicators, the group selected 23 that they believed would help measure and monitor sustainability in the Ilagan CBFM area. These indicators apply to two criteria which reflect the objectives of CBFM: a socio-economic criterion and a biophysical criterion.

In the second group discussion, the participants were asked to give relative weights to each of the 23 selected indicators by distributing 100 points (using 100 maize kernels) among them indicating the relative importance they attach to each.

Each of the selected indicators was assessed based on the results of the interview, existing records and field/laboratory measurements and analysis. To measure the biophysical indicators, comparison plots were established in areas of assisted natural regeneration, agroforestry, reforestation and their adjacent grassland/brushland areas. Assessments of species diversity, physical and chemical properties of soil and soil erosion rates were undertaken to determine the differences between the grassland/brushland areas without any land management intervention and those areas where rehabilitation activities such as agroforestry, reforestation and assisted natural regeneration were applied.

Indicators with negative or fluctuating trends were scored "0", while indicators with positive trends were rated "1".

The criteria and indicators thought to be most appropriate for evaluating the sustainability of the
community-based forest management project were selected through focus group discussion
(Photo: B.L. DOLOM)

Officers and members of the
people’s cooperative co-managing the project (VMPCI)
ranked sustainability indicators using maize kernels
(Photo: B.L. DOLOM)


The respondents' mean age was 44 years (range 22 to 77 years); 66 percent were male, 34 percent female; 81 percent were married. All respondents had some formal education; only 2 percent had completed a college degree. Farming was the primary occupation for 79 percent of the respondents. The VMPCI members were mostly migrants who had been farming for 2 to 38 years in the uplands (average 16 years). The distance from home to farm ranged from 1 to 9 km. Many farmers used water buffalo driven carts or horses to transport their products from the farm.

A majority of the respondents (81 percent) employed soil conservation measures on their farms and were aware that bare farmlands and steep slopes are prone to erosion, which leads to loss of soil nutrients and fertility and results in river siltation.

Vegetative cover in the area of the community-based forest management project in Ilagan, the Philippines,
and areas developed by the people’s cooperative (VMPCI)

VMPCI members
were trained to measure selected indicators, for example to measure sheet erosion using an erosion bar
(Photo: B.L. DOLOM)


The vegetative cover of the Ilagan CBFM project's 10 220 ha consists of old growth forest (85 ha); residual forests, i.e. logged-over primary forests (6 585 ha); regenerating forest (1 200 ha); brushland, i.e. degraded forest areas dominated by discontinuous cover of shrubby vegetation (DENR-FMB, 1998) (900 ha); grassland (1 175 ha); and cultivated/agricultural lands (275 ha).

Soil analysis indicated that the soil type in the project site is predominantly clay loam. Soil pH ranges from 5.4 to 5.8. (The ideal pH for availability of plant nutrients is 5.5.) The topography of the project area is generally rolling with slight to moderate slopes (30° to 60° in the hilly terrain). The elevation ranges from 100 to 748 m above sea level. The project area is drained by creeks and five river systems. The climate does not have pronounced seasons. The dry season usually occurs from January to May, while the wet season is from June to December.


Of the 23 indicators selected in the study, 15 apply to the socio-economic criterion and eight to the biophysical criterion. The socio-economic indicators fall into three groups: the first seven are related to organizational capability (the internal capacity of VMPCI as an organization, i.e. its capacity to transact business legally, financial capacity, ability to link with other sectors, etc.); indicators 8 through 13 are related to socio-economic benefits to local people and the distribution of those benefits; and indicators 14 and 15 are related to institutional support (the support provided by external groups or individual to VMPCI). The biophysical indicators are related to conservation of ecosystem health and vitality.

The results of the assessment of each indicator, including the weights indicating their relative importance as perceived by the people's organization and by DENR, are shown in the Table. The sum suggests that at the time of the study, VMPCI and DENR perceived the activities in the area to be 78 percent of the way towards what they defined as sustainable.

The results indicate that five of the indicators had decreasing or fluctuating trends in the Ilagan CBFM: generation of capital and net profit from local enterprises; available credit facilities/services; employment generation; distribution of benefits; and enhancement of the protection of the CBFM area. This has crucial implications in regard to the sustainability of the project. While the total weight assigned to these five indicators was only 22.3 percent, three of these indicators – employment generation, generation of capital and distribution of benefits – are usually considered critical for sustainability of community-based forest management, because a decreasing trend in these indicators suggests that the people's organization is still dependent on external agencies, an unsustainable situation.

Five indicators were ranked among the ten most important by both DENR and VMPCI: the existence of written internal policies; increased income; generation of capital and net profit from local enterprises; employment generation; and established linkages and networks of people's organizations. The three highest-weighted indicators as perceived by DENR were not included in the ten indicators perceived as most important by VMPCI, implying that the government agency and the people's organization have different priorities. This finding is significant because it is possible that DENR gives priority to supporting activities related closely to its perceived priority indicators of sustainability in CBFM. Thus, DENR focuses its CBFM activities in information dissemination, issuance of land tenure instruments, agroforestry development or adoption of soil conservation mea-sures. While these activities are necessary in CBFM, they are not the priority concerns of the people's organization. This situation may partly explain why local communities are sometimes reluctant to participate in some of DENR's CBFM activities.

Assessment and ranking of identified indicators of sustainability of CBFM in Ilagan, Isabela, the Philippines



Relative weights (%)



Socio-economic criterion

Increasing people’s organization/cooperative membership

Increasing trend



People’s organization registered

Satisfied with Cooperative Development Authority registration



Membership extended to all interested residents of the community

Present in the area and membership extended to all interested individuals



Existence of written internal policies of the people’s organization

Existing and implemented by the people’s organization



Generation of capital and net profit from local enterprises

Decreasing net profit with some enterprises incurring losses



Land tenure instruments issued over CBFM area

Tenure instruments issued such as Community-Based Forest Management Agreement and Individual Property Rights



Members awareness of the CBFM programme

Members fully aware of the CBFM programme



Available credit facilities/services

Decreasing because of inability of members to repay the loans/credit provided



Increased income

Increasing trends



Employment generation

Fluctuating trends



Distribution of benefits

49% of total members do not receive benefits directly from VMPCI



Increasing farm productivity

Increasing through time



Access to resources

Access provided



Stakeholders participate in forest management activities

Participation observed and documented



Linkages/networks of people’s organizations established

Broadening/strengthening linkages/ networks



Biophysical criterion

Protection of CBFM area

Decreasing trend because of lack of funds



Adoption of soil conservation measures

Increasing trend



Improved water supply

Maintained and improving



Increased species diversity

Species diversity index higher in the three land use management systems being adopted by VMPCI



Improved soil fertility

Improvement in soil physical, chemical and biological properties



Reduced open and degraded lands

Reduction observed



Forest activities follow approved Community Resource Management Framework (CRMF) plan

All activities in accordance with the approved CRMF and annual work plan



All forest resources within the management unit have been assessed and mapped

Resource inventory conducted and assessed






a Indicators with negative or fluctuating trends (marked in parentheses) were scored “0” and are not included in the total.


It is possible to measure and monitor progress towards sustainable CBFM through the use of indicators for identified criteria of sustainable management. As parameters for measuring sustainability, the identified criteria and indicators can be included in DENR's monitoring system to determine whether a CBFM area is progressing towards sustainability. Continuous monitoring of these indicators is necessary to ensure timely spotting of problems that could hinder sustainability. Regular assessment of the identified indicators is needed to establish a time series of data through which progress towards sustainability can be measured.

At least 23 indicators for assessing the sustainability of CBFM in Ilagan, as defined by two identified criteria, were acceptable to both the people's organization and the government agency. Field testing demonstrated that these indicators can be easily measured and analysed.

A participatory approach is necessary in developing and measuring criteria and indicators of sustainability. By involving all stakeholders, it is possible to generate consensus on a set of criteria and indicators for CBFM projects.

In Ilagan, the people's organization and the government agency had different priorities for sustainability indicators. This finding also indicates a possible mismatch in priority activities between these groups of stakeholders. To ensure active community participation in CBFM project activities, government agencies should consider some refocusing of their priority indicators to fit with the perceived priorities of the people's organization. Additional discussions and awareness raising are also needed in regard to those indicators not currently given priority by the communities.


Department of Environment and Natural Resources - Forest Management Bureau (DENR-FMB). 1996. Philippine Forestry Statistics. Diliman, the Philippines.

DENR-FMB. 1998. Philippine Forestry Statistics. Diliman, the Philippines.

Development Alternative Incorporated - Natural Resources Management Program (DAI-NRMP). 1998. Proceedings of the National Synthesis Workshop on Criteria and Indicators of Sustainable Forest Management. Manila, the Philippines, United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

FAO. 2001. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 - main report. FAO Forestry Paper No. 140. Rome.

Integrated Environmental Management for Sustainable Development Programme (IEMSD). 1998. A sourcebook of sustainable development indicators. Quezon City, the Philippines, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), DENR and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). 1992. Criteria for the measurement of sustainable tropical forest management. Yokohama, Japan.

Prabhu, R., Colfer, C.J.P., Venkateswarlu, P., Tan, L.C., Soekmadi, R. & Wollenberg, E. 1996. Testing criteria and indicators for the sustainable management of forests: Phase I; final report. Jakarta, Indonesia, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

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