Deforestation has taken on alarming proportions in the Philippines during the post Second World War decades, and it is now among the six countries that account for three-quarters of recent deforestation in the region. The Philippine government has formulated the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) for 2001- 2004 of which a key component is the Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM), a national strategy in managing the forestlands resources and seeks to address the interlinked problem of forest destruction and upland poverty. While forestry research in the Philippines is handled principally by government research agencies, there are also non-governmental organizations (NGO) and academe-based research institutions that conduct various related researches. The Forestry Development Center (FDC) based at the College of Forestry and Natural Resources (CFNR) of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, was established to conduct basic policy researches in forestry and develop, or help develop, an effective machinery for forestry policy formulation and implementation. In view of changing demands for research on poverty reduction, especially in the uplands, the research thrusts of FDC have shifted to focus on areas such as improvement of the socio-economic well-being of the upland farmers and harnessing forests for poverty eradication.
THE PHILIPPINE FORESTRY SECTOR
The Philippines has a total land area of slightly less than 30 million ha. From a high of 21 million ha in 1900 (70 percent of land area), the country's forest cover was reduced to 5.5 million ha in 1999 (18.3 percent). Deforestation has taken on alarming proportions in the Philippines during the post Second World War decades. The scenario for 2010 has been described as "nothing short of disastrous" with the country's forest cover reaching a low of 6.6 percent of the total land area.
The UN Commission on Sustainable Development through the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) identified the following causes: poverty, lack of secure land tenure patterns, inadequate recognition of the rights and needs of forest-dependent indigenous and local communities within national laws and jurisdiction, inadequate cross-sectoral policies, lack of participation, lack of good governance, absence of supportive economic climate that supports sustainable forest management, lack of capacity, among other factors. These are the same factors contributing to the massive destruction of the forests during the past two decades: the tremendous pressure from an increasing population in search of land; ever increasing demand of fuelwood; the over-exploitation of timber resources; and inadequate forest development, management and conservation efforts. Consequently, soil degradation due to massive conversion of forestlands and grasslands to urban use and increased cultivation in upland areas remains a big problem. It was estimated that 45 percent of the country's total land area suffers from moderate to severe soil erosion, most of which is still unabated (MTPDP 2001- 2004).
Meanwhile, poor rural households have increased with the poverty incidence at a high 28.4 percent in 2000. This means that more than one-third of the country's population is living below the poverty line (MTPDP 2001-2004). Aggravating the problem is the observation that rural income distribution has worsened with nearly 50 percent of rural income being accounted for by the upper one-fifth of rural households in 1997 (MIPDP 2001-2004).
To remedy the above situation, the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) for 2001- 2004 intends to promote sustainable management and use of its natural resources. To achieve this goal, the government will use four key strategies: (a) environmental sustainability; (b) broader participation of stakeholders in the management and protection of natural resources and environment; (c) equitable access to productive resources and services; and (d) technology-based production in the forestry and natural resources sectors.
A key component of the MTPDP is the Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM), which is the national strategy in managing the forest resources and seeks to address the interlinked problem of forest destruction and upland poverty. Based on current estimates, there are about 20 million Filipinos living in the uplands most of which had been characterized to be of low forest cover. This is based on the concept of "people first and sustainable forestry will follow" wherein upland communities are empowered to directly manage and benefit from the forest resources entrusted to them. The hypothesis is that when the issues of poverty and inequitable access to resources in the uplands are addressed, local community itself will join hands in protecting and managing the forest because it has an important stake on the resources.
The CBFM programme has the following objectives:
Sustainable management of forest and resources
Social justice and improved well-being of the local communities
Strong partnership among local communities and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The DENR is the primary government agency responsible in the sustainable development of the country's natural resources and ecosystems. In implementing the CBFM programme, the DENR is guided by the following essential features:
Security of tenure in the form of long-term tenure and usufructuary instruments
Social equity by giving enough access to the natural endowments of the area, and internally through equitable benefit-sharing arrangements among the members of the people's organizations
Strong partnership between the national government agency and the local government units to ensure local support to the programme.
Investment capital and market linkages to sustain the increased economic conditions of the upland community without necessarily exhausting the natural resources in the area.
These very recent developments bring into focus the role of research and development institutions in the Asia-Pacific region in supplying the relevant information and research results for a clear understanding of the sustainable forest resource management-poverty reduction nexus. This is very important particularly for low forest cover but high upland population countries like the Philippines where the challenge of the natural resources governance has always been to uplift the socio-economic well-being of the upland people and at the same time maintain the health of its environment and natural resources systems.
FORESTRY RESEARCH IN THE PHILIPPINES
At present, state-sponsored forestry research in the Philippines is handled principally by DENR through its Ecosystem Research and Development Bureau (ERDB), and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through the research consortia being coordinated by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD).
At the same time, there are non-governmental organizations (NGO) and academe-based research institutions that conduct various researches in support of their respected mandate. One of these academe-based research institutions is the Forestry Development Center (FDC), which is based at the College of Forestry and Natural Resources (CFNR), University of the Philippines, Los Baños, College, Laguna. The FDC was established under Presidential Decree No. 1559 issued in 1978 to conduct basic policy researches in forestry and develop, or help develop, an effective machinery for forestry policy formulation and implementation. Its objectives include:
Generation of information/data on forestry related areas of concern
Conduct of basic forest policy and related researches relevant to changing national priorities, goal and objectives
Advocate policy reforms, which will enhance forestry development in particular and national development in general
Promote healthy discussion of policy reforms and critical development issues in forestry among sectors concerned.
Promote the publication and dissemination of forestry policy information.
It employs three main approaches, namely:
Policy research and studies in the following areas: social forestry, environmental forestry and biodiversity, sustainable forest resources development.
Forums wherein the FDC facilitates free and open discussion and experience of ideas through seminars, symposiums, conference, workshop and round-table talks for deeper analyses of environmental policies and issues for further reforms.
Information dissemination through publications such as policy papers, occasional papers, seminar/ workshop proceedings, bibliographies of forestry and environmental laws/regulations.
In view of the changing demands for relevant research on poverty reduction programmes and strategies anchored on the natural endowments of the country, specifically in the uplands, research thrusts of the FDC and other academe-based research institutions will now have to focus on the following:
Impact studies of existing forestry programmes particularly on the improvement of the socio-economic well-being of the upland farmers - There must be a conscious effort to determine whether existing development programmes in the uplands are really giving significant benefits to the poor on a sustained basis. In this regard, the FDC has conducted a series of assessments of both the bio-physical and socio-institutional components of the country's Community-Based Forest Management programme based on the targets agreed upon by the upland community and the government over a given area. This kind of research will disclose the impact of the development programme both on the forest and on the upland community. The data to be generated from this kind of research will be useful as cross-reference if indeed the country is on track with its commitment to reduce the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by at least one-half by 2015.
Policy advocacy to push the adoption of relevant policies at all levels geared towards harnessing forests for poverty eradication in the uplands - An indispensable prerequisite to sustain the contribution of forests to the eradication of poverty in the uplands is the presence of enabling policy system. The research institution should therefore be concerned not only in the generation and interpretation of data but also in translating research results into hard policies, then be able to advocate for the formal adoption of these policies on a broader scale. This activity requires different expertise and methodology but remains a critical phase in the overall objective of establishing an enabling policy environment to eradicate poverty in the uplands using the forest resources. In the Philippines, the College of Forestry and Natural Resources, through the FDC, is very active in undertaking forest policy advocacy work. This is done by lobbying with lawmakers for the passage of laws affecting the natural resources sector, participating in important deliberations of proposed laws and even administrative issuance and submitting policy proposals for consideration of the policy makers.
Capacity building of upland community - There are plenty of researchers on new technologies that would improve crop yields both in terms of volume and quality. The challenge is to bring these technologies to the doorstep of the upland farmer so that he can use them in his farm. This is one role which research institutions should give equal importance because no matter how good the technology is on paper if it is not being employed for the benefit of the upland farmers, then it has no extrinsic value at all. Trainings and information and education campaigns must therefore become integral components of the research programme of R & D institutions to ensure that the results of their researches and studies are applied at the grassroots level. The research institution in effect acts as transferor of practical technology direct to the end users.
Coalition formation - Since sustainable forest management and poverty are both multi-dimensional in nature, R & D institutions should endeavour to join their efforts to take advantage of their respective talents, disciplinary strengths and resources. This strategy enables more integrated research programme among research institutions having complementary interests either on poverty eradication in the uplands or sustainable forest resource management. It will also strengthen the policy advocacy work designed towards the formal adoption of policy reforms resulting from researches and studies.
The FDC is currently applying this approach in promoting the formal adoption of the Philippine Strategy for Improved Watershed Resources Management (PSIWRW). By convening an annual national watershed forum, almost all water-related agencies of the government, the private sector and civil society are gathered round the table. In the process, albeit informally, a coalition could be formed composed of these water-related agencies and institutions that could be mobilized for a concerted action in the future. In similar fashion, all the major agencies and institutions concerned with poverty eradication and sustainable forest resources management could organize themselves into a coalition that will advance their common objective of eradicating poverty through the sustainable management of forest resources.
Laying the scientific basis for policy making - Policy-makers rely much on empirical evidence to support their policy initiatives. Oftentimes though, this relationship is missing such that research institutions continue to undertake research for the sake of research. At the other end, policy initiatives lack a solid foundation because these are not backed up by scientific data resulting in policy stalemate. Given this common situation in the Philippines and perhaps in many developing countries, academe-based research institutions could employ a proactive stance by configuring their research programmes along the country's macro-development plans and national policy agenda on poverty eradication and sustainable forest resources management. The finding of these aligned researches and studies would then be immensely relevant and valuable to the policy process of the government. In essence, the research institutions act as clearing house for information processing in support of policy making.
For example, although nobody will argue the need to eradicate poverty in the uplands and at the same time, sustainably manage the forest resources there, the scientific predicate that would articulate the specifics of this relationship may not yet be ready. As a result, the passage of policies that would capture the ramifications of sustainable forest resource management and poverty eradication in the uplands could not catch the imagination of the public. This is the case in the Philippines where the country's main forest policy is already about 27 years old and amendments tabled remains pending for many reasons. One of which is the lack of snowballed public clamour towards approval. This lack of public support could be a function of the inability of the country's research institutions to articulate with conviction the scientific foundation of the pending amendments.
Deconstruct conventional theories on the environment-poverty nexus - The research institutions should now look more closely at the validity of conventional theories surrounding the so-called environment-poverty nexus. For a long time, the tenet is that population growth will lead to environmental degradation because of poverty. This is unfairly blaming the upland farmers for the sorry state of the uplands. There is a need to review those conventional assumptions and come up with new ideas on how to solve the problem of poverty in the uplands. For example, in the CBFM programme that is being assessed by the FDC, one of the areas where the researchers are interested in relates to the non-forest-based employment opportunities of the upland farmers. The idea is to determine if the uplifting of at least the economic status of the upland farmers could be successfully detached from the forest resources existing in the area. If this is possible then the twin objectives of forest protection and economic growth in the upland community could be achieved through the programme.
Provide empirical evidence towards the design of academic programmes built on the philosophy that integrates poverty eradication and forest conservation - It is high time that poverty eradication and forest conservation is placed in the centre of academic discussion so that future practitioners will be equipped with the necessary knowledge, skills and right attitude towards this human endeavour. Research institutions could immensely help influence the development of this kind of academic programmes owing to their rich database on the intimate link between poverty and natural resources and the consequent dynamics that emerge from this interaction. The advantage of academe-based research institutions is that they are organized and working within an academic community and this set-up gives them access to the planning and revision of academic programmes. Furthermore, the researchers are frequently seconded to teach or guide graduate studies and this gives these researchers adequate opportunities to convey the results of their researches to the faculty and students.
In its policy brief entitled "How forests can reduce poverty", the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presented an agenda for action composed of four major components on how trees, forests and forestry can contribute towards increasing food security and reducing poverty:
Strengthening rights, capabilities and governance - This component requires three strategies, namely: (a) support the poor's own decision-making power; (b) strengthen forest rights of the poor and the means to claim them; and (c) recognize links between forestry and local governance.
Reducing vulnerability - This is achieved by: (a) make safely nets not poverty traps; (b) support tree planting outside forests; (c) cut the regulatory burden on the poor and make regulation affordable; and (d) reduce unfair obligations in forest management.
Capturing emerging opportunities - This involves four key strategies: (a) remove the barriers to market entry; (b) base land use decisions on true value of forests; (c) ensure that markets for environmental services benefit the poor; and (d) support associations and financing for local forest businesses.
Working in partnership - Strategies under this component are: (a) simplify policies and support participatory processes; (b) promote multisectoral learning and action; (c) enhance interagency collaboration and (d) make NGOs and the private sector partners in poverty reduction.
This four-point agenda for action presents a very good opportunity for academe-based research institutions to give a significant contribution to the global programme of poverty eradication using forest resources. Each of the strategies identified in this four-point agenda for action is a critical research area wherein academe-based institutions could innovate and seek their changed roles. As stressed in the World Development Report 2003, of the many interrelated drivers of socio-economic change and transformation, scientific and technological innovation is the first. Logically therefore, research institutions should be at the forefront in finding ways and means of combating poverty in the uplands.
Anonymous. 1978. Presidential Decree No.1559 dated 11 June.
Anonymous. 1995. Executive Order 263: adopting Community-Based Forest Management as the national strategy to ensure the sustainable development of the country's forest lands resources.
Anonymous. 2001. Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan 2001-2004.
FAO. 2001. How forest can reduce poverty. Rome.
World Bank. 2003. World development report 2003. Washington, DC.
 Forestry Development
Center, Department of Social Forestry and Governance, UPLB CFNR, Laguna,
Philippines; E-mail: email@example.com|