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22. Forestry and poverty alleviation: the changing role of research institutions in the Philippines
Filiberto A. Pollisco, Jr.


The paper discusses the present situation of the Philippines in terms of poverty conditions and proceeds to discuss the government efforts at poverty reduction especially with respect to community-based forest managements. The Philippine Agenda 21: Poverty Reduction Agenda, is an ongoing project on addressing poverty reduction in three watersheds of the Bicol Region (ranked number two as the most poverty stricken region) in the Philippines using the watershed approach. The approach is basically participatory (local government units, private sector, communities, military, academic, etc.) with a series of consultative meetings and workshops to draw up a comprehensive watershed management and development plan. Finally, the role of the forestry research institutions in the Philippines is discussed in view of the changing research landscape in the context of poverty reduction. This, in turn, is discussed in relation to the Philippine Agenda 21: Poverty Reduction Agenda.


The link between poverty and the environment has been in discussion ever since the Rio Summit in 1991, particularly because the harm from environmental degradation falls more heavily on the poor. Poverty at the same time drives people into environmentally degrading economic activities for their survival. As such, the poverty-environment relationship is a critical concern in the country's sustainable development agenda.

A number of studies have shown that economic growth is a necessary element for reducing poverty. Hence, the key to bringing down poverty is to attain sustained economic growth. Despite substantial development efforts by government in recent years, the incidence of rural poverty in the country remains high. Out of 14.37 million families, 5.75 million or 40 percent live in poverty. A significant number of poor families (44.4 percent) live in rural areas. Along the same vein, a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission reported that the trend in poverty occurrence since 1982 worsens as one moves from the lowlands to the uplands and from irrigated to rain-fed areas. This is due to the geographical remoteness and inaccessibility of the upland communities that deprived them of development efforts and investments.

At present, there are already 20 million poor upland farmers in the different regions of the Philippines. This figure comprises about 30 percent of the total population. The poor upland farmers, where most of the natural resources, especially forest based resources are found, were ranked as the poorest of the poor as early as the 1990s by National Economic Development Authority (NEDA); followed by the marginal lowland farmers, the landless rural labourers, subsistence fishermen, and the urban poor. The Foundation for Development Cooperation (FDC) (1990) defines the "poorest of the poor" as those who are unable to meet their minimum needs.

The indigenous people (IP) make up the majority of the upland dwellers in the past. This has changed over the last three decades. Previously, the indigenous people were coastal inhabitants but the need for land by other people forced the IP into the hills and higher elevations. Eventually, the IP became known as the upland dwellers. This too changed when the lowlanders were also displaced because of very few opportunities in the urban and lowland areas for them to progress economically. Thus they migrated to the uplands and mingled with the IP already there. This resulted in an increase of the population from 10 million in the 1960s to 18 million in the 1980s and to 20 million at present.

In 1997, there were 4.5 million families or 27 million people (about 54 percent) of the poor living below the food threshold of Peso 6478 per annum per capita. From 1985 to 1991, poverty incidence of families in rural areas (48.6 percent or 1.4 million) was 1.5 times than that in the urban areas (31.1 percent). In 1994, the ratio increased to 2:1 as poverty incidence in cities declined six times faster than in rural areas. Despite the smaller number of poor people in the cities, living and environmental conditions are often worse than their rural counterparts (ADB 1998).

From 1988 to 1997, contributions to the GDP from agriculture increased, but that from forestry decreased from 7.3 percent to 0.6 percent. The figures strongly imply that rural development anchored on agriculture and forestry cannot cope with increasing needs of the growing population. In terms of forestry, it was during this period that stringent restrictions on logging were imposed in several provinces. Timber License Agreements were cancelled and rigorous forest utilization requirements were imposed. This contributed to the unemployment of people dependent on forest resources.

Figure 1 below shows the current forest cover of the Philippines. In 1900, forest cover in the country was about 90 percent. However, by the end of the century, forest cover in terms of old growth was only 17 percent of the total 30 million ha of the Philippines. Some provinces of the country are down to less than 2 percent forest cover. Forest denudation rate was over 200 000 ha per year in the 1970s. It went down to 180 000 ha in the 1980s and still less in the 1990s primarily because there were no more vast tracts of forest to clear.

According to the ADB (1998), the GINI coefficient is 0.451, which showed that there was higher income inequality as compared to China, India and Indonesia. During the same period, the poorest 20 percent of Filipino households had income 11 times less than the top 20 percent. In the 1990s, the GINI coefficient remained basically the same. More than 50 percent of the total income still accrues to the upper 20 percent of households, while only 14 percent of total income goes to the lowest four deciles, which is about 13.7 percent amongst the poorest 40 percent.

Among the island groups of the Philippines, Mindanao has the weakest social and economic infrastructure. Budgetary allocations for Mindanao have been the lowest. In most rural areas (generally those found in the hinterlands and island municipalities) of Mindanao, inadequate road network impedes rural development and thus contributes to poverty. Road densities are considerably lower than the 1 km/km2 standard of the Department of Public Works and Highways. Mindanao also has the lowest literacy at 89.9 percent, highest drop-out rate of 89.9 percent, and low school enrollment at 66 percent.

Figure 1. Forest cover of the Philippines in 1900 and 1999.

Although Mindanao lags behind in all aspects of development, it is composed of the progressive regions northern and southern Mindanao and the newly created administrative regions of CARAGA, and the disadvantaged regions consisting of western Mindanao, central Mindanao, and the autonomous region of muslim Mindanao. The capita and per capita family income of progressive regions are 40 percent higher, poverty incidence is 16 percent lower, literacy and enrolment rates are better, and infant mortality and anemia occur less frequently than in disadvantaged regions (ADB 1998).


The changing priorities of global concern to address poverty prompted governments worldwide to look into the plight of their constituents. The Philippines is one of them. After the 1986 EDSA Revolution, the government initiated more concrete efforts to address poverty in the country:

In 1995, this commission was created to address the poverty prevalent in the countryside and in urban areas. The commission defined poverty as "the sustained inability of a family to meet its basic needs for survival, security and empowerment".

The SRA addresses the specific problems of the disadvantaged sectors while providing crosscutting measures for the poor of all sectors and in top-priority provinces to achieve economic empowerment. The agenda redefined parameters to measure poverty by including non-income variables along with income indicators into the "Minimum Basic Needs Approach" to improve quality of life (MBN). The MBN aims to increase the precision of identifying priority beneficiaries and addressing priority needs, while building area-based capabilities for local anti-poverty action to speed up improvements in social indicators. Such indicators are given below:

- Survival Indicators - characterized to sustain life, as the family needs to be healthy, eat the right kinds of food, drink safe water and have good sanitation.

- Security Indicators - measure how families are protected from harm or danger therefore has shelter within a peaceful and orderly environment. Further that families have the necessary livelihood support for all its members to satisfy basic needs.

- Enabling Indicators - supply the means to attain survival and security needs. Family members are provided with education to be functionally literate in order to actively participate in community development and attend to its psycho-social needs.

The SRA provided the framework for a multi-dimensional government approach to address poverty reduction consisting of: (i) quality of life dimensions, (ii) social equity through access to quality basic social services, (iii) economic prosperity by way of asset reforms and access to economic opportunities, (iv) ecological security underlining sustainable development of productive resources, and (v) democratized governance through effective participation in governance.

Created by virtue of Republic Act 8425, the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act in 1997, the NAPC implemented the commitment of the government to the poor by highlighting the following: (i) institutionalizing SRA, (ii) establishing the framework for poverty alleviation, (iii) establishing People's Development Trust Fund, and (iv) providing micro-finance and micro-credit facilities for the poor through the People's Credit and Finance Corporation (PCFC).

In 1995, the government adopted the CBFRM as the national strategy, through E.O. 263, to ensure sustainable development of forest resources within the country. The strategy focuses on: (i) security of long term tenure to forestlands, (ii) government assistance to forest plantations, livelihood activities and support/ infrastructure services, and (iii) involvement of local government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in strengthening and empowering communities to implement such projects.

The CBFRM programme integrates all people oriented and community-based projects and various tenure instruments issued to upland communities and indigenous people by addressing six out of the nine SRA flagship programmes. The plight of farmers, landless rural workers and IP is central to CBFRM. It develops comprehensive and integrated delivery of social services, enhance institution building processes and participation in governance, and provide livelihood programmes as it expands micro-credit and micro-financing mechanisms.

The CBFRM is also used in management of protected areas in the country. However, in this case, it is the non-government organizations that handle this aspect in PA management. Success stories include those in the Mt. Canlaon Protected Area, The Mt. Kitanglad Protected Area and the Apo Reef Protected Seascape. Communities are tapped to protect the natural resources of the protected area. They are also empowered to implement livelihood projects such as ecotourism in their areas of jurisdiction.

For the government research sector, coupling poverty reduction directly with research becomes elusive primarily because of the nature of the research activities involved. The government through the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), Department of Science and Technology, established the research system/network in 1976 to indirectly address poverty reduction, among others.


The NARS, to which the forestry research sector also belongs, is a network of 128 agencies of academic institutions, research centres and agencies scattered in strategic places in the entire archipelago. The NARS was established so that scientists could share information as well as scarce resources. Central to the NARS are the Regional Consortia, a series of establishments providing the backbone of the NARS/National Agriculture and Resources Research and Development Network (NARRDN). The Regional Consortia is a conglomerate of research agencies located within a region and they cooperate and exchange information about their research activities.


This is one strategy in reaching out to the impoverished people in the rural and upland areas. Developed by the PCARRD, the FITS are one-stop information shops located in the base agencies of the Regional Consortia and other institutions that professed to house them. Technologies for increased food production, information on conservation of natural resources and other scientific information needed for the poor and upland farmers are easily accessible in print, video and electronic media. Most of the materials found therein are made in the vernacular for easy understanding and transfer to the local users.

Other services of the FITS centres are linking the experts and information with one another and also in sharing these experts where technical assistance is needed among the farmers and the upland poor. Other extended modules/strategies within the FITS are the farmer-scientists, the information caravan and model farmers.


Various consultations in updating the Philippine Agenda 21 (2002) resulted in a Poverty Reduction Agenda (PRA) for the PA 21. The PRA includes measures to create (i) an enabling economic environment for sustained and broad-based growth; (ii) improve employment, productivity and incomes; and (iii) attain food security.

For "creating an enabling economic environment for sustained and broad-based growth, the agenda includes, among others:

Towards improving employment, productivity and incomes, some of the key elements of the agenda are:

In the pursuit of food security, including universal access to safe water, the following are some of the key elements in the PRA:

An ongoing World Bank funded project was implemented in relation to the above concern for poverty reduction. The strategy used was the watershed approach as a unit of land management to address the plight of upland people in the Bicol Region and, at the same time, addresses the flooding concerns of the lowland population. The Bicol Region had been declared by the NEDA as the second most poverty stricken region in the Philippines next to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The project conducted a series of consultative and participatory activities with the Local Government Units (LGUs), the private sector, besides the military, the academe and other sectoral entities to establish the scope of the watersheds and to assess the incidence of poverty in the areas of concern. Incorporated in this approach is the use of IEC to inform the upland communities of the project. Included also are the assessment of biodiversity levels and the valuation of the resources therein. Identification of livelihood projects based on the biological resources done, which were categorized into micro-enterprises.


The dilemma of directly linking research with poverty reduction is quite real in the research sector because the research institutions are generally mandated not to go into development work. A paradigm shift has to be made for the forestry research institutions to be relevant in the light of the global priorities.

"Old school" research functions are the usual activities of research, that is, experiments, projects, technology generation, publications and just doing studies for the sake of scientific advancement. These are still being conducted today, but in addition, research institutions have to address the issue of poverty reduction. In doing so, they have to perform the following functions:

With the priority of poverty as a global concern and the situation where research institutions cannot deal directly with poverty, the change in focus from basic to applied/action research becomes paramount. This paradigm shift becomes "demand-driven" wherein the needs of the communities are addressed rather than the needs of research for the sake of scientific enquiry. Of course, basic research cannot absolutely be discarded since it still has an important role to play but the focus of most researches would move more towards applied/action research.


Clearly a paradigm shift is necessary for the forestry research institutions to stay relevant in the light of poverty reduction priorities. The major roles that they have to perform are enumerated above. However, as national and regional research centers, they could be more effective in influencing the outcome of national and regional policies affecting poverty rather than "on-the-ground" due to limitations in their mandates and the nature of the research activities. On the other hand, the services they could offer are facilitation (in terms of referrals to experts, fund conduit, brokering projects, etc.), capacity building (training) and networking. Poverty is still high in the Philippines due to social, economic and institutional inadequacies. With the emerging roles of research institutions, we hope that their contributions would, in effect, help in alleviating or reducing poverty incidence in the upland communities.


ADB. 1998. Compendium of social statistics in the Philippines. Manila, Asian Development Bank.

ADB. 1994. Handbook for incorporation of social dimensions in projects. Manila, Asian Development Bank.

PCSD. 2002. Philippine Agenda 21: National Strategy for Sustainable Development. Manila, Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD).

[31] Forestly Environment Research Division, Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development, Los Baños, Philippines; E-mail:

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