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The Ikalahan: traditions bearing fruit

Buenaventura L. Dolom and Rogelio C. Serrano

Name of forest:

Kalahan Reserve


Between Santa Fe, Nueva Vizcaya and San Nicolas, Pangasinan Province

Area (hectares):

14 730

Managing entity:

Kalahan Educational Foundation and Ikalahan Community

Mgt. objectives:

Rehabilitation, protection, sustainable use of natural resources, sustainable livelihoods



In the Philippines, to be jokingly branded as taong gubat - literally "man of the forest" - connotes backwardness or being out of pace with the rest of society. But this is not so with the Ikalahan, who consider themselves "people of the forest." Their very name, as an ethnolinguistic community carries this description: kalahan literally means "forest" while the prefix I means "from" or "living in."

As one native Ikalahan proudly declared, "Why should I be ashamed of the forest when it is our home and it sustains us?" And they have extra reason to be proud: they are recognized as pioneers in community-based forest management in the Philippines, and indeed the world.

The Ikalahan are otherwise referred to as the Kalanguya, which is a subgroup of the Ifugao tribe in the northern part of the Philippines. They live in villages nestled in the Caraballo Mountains located 250 kilometres north of Manila and 7 kilometres off the Santa Fe Highway. As a result of years of struggle in defending their land from greedy speculators since the early 1960s, they have learned to love and value these areas and nurture their productivity.

A pioneering solution for indigenous rights

The signing on 13 May, 1974 of Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) No. 1 (the very first of its kind) between the Kalahan Educational Foundation (KEF) and the Bureau of Forest Development - the main government forestry agency at the time - was a significant step towards the protection of indigenous rights in the Philippines. This agreement, which established the 14 730-hectare Kalahan Forest Reserve, was a pioneering development for both the government and the Ikalahan in resolving threats to ancestral lands and the culture of indigenous people. It was a long struggle, but the desire of the Ikalahan tribe to secure tenure over their ancestral lands was a strong motivation.

The Reverend Delbert Rice, an American missionary for the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, who has been working in the Kalahan Reserve since the mid-1960s, and Mang Sario, an Ikalahan elder, are witnesses to these struggles. Both still recall the legal battles that the Ikalahan had to undergo every time there was an attempt by rich and influential outsiders, sometimes including government officials, to grab portions of their ancestral lands.

In 1968, two large blocks of land between San Nicolas, Pangasinan and Santa Fe, Nueva Vizcaya, covering about 200 hectares were titled to lowlanders. The area was part of the ancestral lands of the Ikalahan. The titles were issued with the help of a geodetic engineer who made it appear that the area was part of the "alienable and disposable lands" (a term used in the Philippines to describe lands that can be titled to individuals for agriculture or other development), and allegedly unoccupied. The Ikalahan, who were residing in the area, reacted vehemently and filed a case in court. The case dragged on for several years with the Ikalahan initially losing the legal battle in the lower court. However, with the help of the Commission on National Integration, an agency previously under the Office of the President and established to protect the welfare of indigenous cultural communities, the Ikalahan finally won the case on 24 August, 1972. The Court of First Instance of Dagupan City set aside the decision of the lower court and decreed that the land registration titles issued were null and void.

The biggest threat to their land, however, came in 1970. The government planned to convert about 6 300 hectares of the ancestral lands into a vacation centre, to be known as "Marcos City." Fake titles were used by relatives of high government officials in efforts to grab the land from the Ikalahan.

Alarmed, the tribal leaders in all adjacent communities held a major meeting to discuss possible solutions to the challenge they faced. They decided to file a case in court to force the government to recognize their ancestral land claims. The government attempted to have the case dismissed, but eventually, with the help of the late attorney Julian de Vera, a retired lawyer of the Commission on National Integration, the Ikalahan achieved legal victory in 1972. The court revoked the lowlanders' titles, and eventually forced the government to abandon plans to develop the area as a vacation centre.

With the establishment of the Kalahan Forest Reserve, such land-grabbing attempts are now issues of the past. MOA No. 1 legitimized the prior and vested rights of the Ikalahan tribe over their ancestral lands. It recognized their claims and assured that they would not be driven away from their lands. It further gave them complete control and authority to manage the natural resources within the reserve.

"We can now enforce indigenous policies and rules geared towards the protection and conservation of the natural resources within the Kalahan Forest Reserve," said Taynan Omallio, chairperson of the KEF's board.

Omallio cited the case of one tribal member who leased his farm to an outsider to be used for raising fighting cocks. When the lessee started to develop the land, he cut down the trees in the farm which caught the attention of the board. The board immediately summoned the member and asked him to explain the lessee's actions. There were no rules at that time governing this kind of problem but the board, which is composed mostly of tribal elders, fined the member US$60 and required him to plant an equivalent number of trees to those that had been cut. They also wrote to the lessee and informed him that the lease was terminated. As such, he could no longer develop the land leased to him.

The Kalahan Academy

With their lands safely secured, the tribal elders' next concern was to maintain Ikalahan cultural identity and prevent cultural erosion. They wanted young members of the tribe to be educated but were concerned about the possible emotional trauma on the youths who pursued higher education outside the community. Thus, the KEF established a high school, which is now called the Kalahan Academy. In June 1974, seven months after the KEF was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the academy was established through the concerted efforts of the Ikalahan people who provided free labour and wood from the forests, supplemented by donations from private individuals and organizations.

Today, the income-generating projects of the KEF, such as the food-processing centre, support the academy, although some private organizations also contribute to its operation. Since the academy was established to instill cultural pride among the Ikalahan while providing the necessary educational preparations for higher education or vocational courses, the KEF's board sought Ikalahan teachers to inculcate Ikalahan history, mores and traditional practices effectively to the students. The high school curriculum of the academy includes subjects on forest ecology so that students are better prepared to manage the forest resources within the reserve.

Since its creation, 683 students have graduated from the academy. Some of them are now professionals who have returned to the community to serve the KEF. In fact, most of the KEF staff and teachers are graduates from the academy. Others are serving as barangay (local government) officials in the Kalahan area or are working in the municipal office of Santa Fe, Nueva Vizcaya.

The Kalahan experience has become a model for Philippine Government programmes involving community participation in forest management. The succeeding community-based forest management programmes of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) were largely patterned after MOA No. 1 of the KEF. For instance, the DENR's programme recognizing the ancestral domain of indigenous peoples and the subsequent Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (IPRA) were patterned on the Kalahan experience. The Ikalahan's tenure over their land has further been strengthened with the signing in 1996 of the Kalahan Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claims that placed nearly 58 000 hectares of forest lands under the management and administration of three groups of Ikalahan tribes, including the KEF. They are now looking forward to receiving their Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title, as provided under the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act Law, which will give them complete ownership of the land.

Clear individual rights within ancestral domains

After taking community control over their ancestral lands, the KEF allocated farm lots of up to 10 hectares to every family. This was necessary because for at least two centuries the Ikalahan had been producing their food on swidden farms (kaingin). In the past, each family was allowed to make kaingin anywhere in the forest. Usually, they selected areas which were heavily forested as these were very fertile. The result was frequent widespread burning, converting most of the forested areas into farmlands. Although the Ikalahan were observing fallow periods to regain soil fertility, the time needed for successful rotation was 15 to 18 years or even longer. As the Ikalahan tribe grew, the traditional farming system required more land for cultivation, which continually reduced the area of forests.

This practice ended when their ancestral land was finally recognized by the government and the Kalahan Reserve was established. The tribal elders developed simple but clear rules for recognizing individual rights within the ancestral domain. These rules and policies were formulated after a series of consultations with local community members in the reserve. They were initially drafted by the KEF's board, with representatives of the tribal elders from each of the barangays or villages. Afterwards, the draft rules were circulated to all barangay officials and discussed with the local residents. Comments were gathered and harmonized prior to finalization and approval of the policies and rules by the board. The implementation of these policies is carried out by the agroforestry office of the KEF, which comprises three foresters and forest guards.

Accordingly, any member of the tribe who wants to clear forest for a farm must select the site and request a permit from the KEF. The foundation's forester then inspects the area to determine its suitability. If the area is acceptable, the forester and the applicant delineate the site and the corresponding permit is issued within two to five days. No approval is given for areas reserved for parks, watersheds or sanctuaries; areas exceeding 10 hectares in size; primary forests; areas prone to landslides; or areas that are not claimed by others. The applicant signs an agreement along with a sketch map that shows the areas approved for use and protection.

The recognition of individual rights within the ancestral domain has encouraged about 550 resident families to develop their farms following land-use plans which they and their leaders have formulated. The tribal leaders work in the KEF voluntarily. They are provided US$3 for each meeting to cover transportation expenses.

Since each family has an average of six hectares of landholding, a significant portion of the reserve is now under the responsibility of farmer-members. This has resulted in the protection of thickly forested areas and the rehabilitation of degraded areas. "In 1974, most of the areas in the forest reserve were bare, open and dominated with grasses," noted Baliag Bugtung, a 67-year-old Ikalahan. "Today, you can see these areas teeming with trees, thanks to farmers who plant trees like alnos (Alnus japonica) before leaving the farm to fallow."

Strong enterprise development

The Ikalahan's strong sense of entrepreneurship makes them distinct from any other ethnic group in the Philippines. They see immense opportunities in their own resources and creatively pursue these with ingenuity. A case in point is the fruit-processing venture, which started in 1974.

"We have so many native guavas (Psidium guajava) ripening and just falling to the ground to rot," Reverend Rice recalled one Ikalahan saying. "If only we could gather and process them for commercial consumption, then we could benefit more people and increase incomes."

That was the beginning of their fruit-processing venture. Esther, Reverend Rice's wife and a food technologist, supervised the fruit-processing venture. Their first products were guava jelly, guava jam and guava butter. Their commitment to quality and good taste attracted people from outside the reserve to buy their products. Leading supermarkets in Manila also took notice.

Their products were entirely natural with no chemical additives. "We prepare our own sweetening materials and pectin to ensure high quality," Reverend Rice indicated. Quality control measures ensure proper cooking and sterilization. To prolong the shelf life of the preserved products marketed under the "Mountain Fresh" label, jars are sealed airtight.

Encouraged by the favourable acceptance of their first products, the KEF started processing other products from indigenous plants in 1980. These products include dagwey (Saurauia subglabra) preserves, dagwey jelly and spread; dikay (Embelia philippinensis) jelly; ginger (Zingiber officinale) jelly; passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) jelly; roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) jelly; and santol (Sandoricum koetjape) jelly and spread. Today, their products are sold in 10 major shopping centres in Manila and are exported to the United States of America, Japan and Australia.

Currently, the KEF is also establishing new forest-based ventures including organic vegetable production, orchid growing and furniture manufacturing. Shortly, they will also be involved in a bottled water business - tapping water from a clean mountain spring inside their reserve.

Transition of traditional system

While many ethnic communities are known to live harmoniously with nature, being content with their traditional knowledge system, the Ikalahan have gone a step further by learning about and practising more ecologically friendly and sustainable agroforestry skills. For example, Romeo Pangomis, an Ikalahan elder, carried out a trial several years ago by planting alnos (a medium-sized tree that grows quickly and contributes significant quantities of nitrogen to the soil) in fallow areas. He discovered that the trees help to restore soil fertility after only seven years of fallow. Today, this practice is widely adopted by Ikalahan farmers on their upland farms because, aside from shortening the fallow period, the trees can also be harvested for fuelwood in four years or for quality timber in eight years.

Reverend Rice, who has been a missionary in the area since 1965, has been steadfast in supporting the formulation of effective policies, plans and programmes for the Kalahan Reserve. His efforts are being rewarded with heightened awareness and participation among the Ikalahan community in the protection, rehabilitation and management of forest resources.

Although the Ikalhan know that a degraded forest can slowly renew itself through ecological succession, every individual residing within the reserve works to accelerate the process through "assisted natural regeneration." This practice consists of creating and expanding favourable environments for naturally growing tree saplings in the mountain gullies, and augmenting them with additional tree planting at the periphery of the expanding forests.

Every able resident living in the reserve is required to undertake at least one day of community service each year. This is mainly channelled towards reforestation activities. The agroforestry staff of the KEF work with barangay officials to organize tree planting activities every year, usually between June and September. Competing vines are removed so they do not choke the growing trees.

To date, the Ikalahan have reforested more than 2 000 hectares successfully. To support these efforts two nurseries were established, which produce about 200 000 seedlings of forest and fruit trees annually. The nurseries are maintained by the agroforestry office and the labourers are paid by the KEF.

Recalling what they have done through the years as a community, Baliag Bugtong, a board member of the KEF, expressed satisfaction: "The planting of trees is something that we should be proud of. Today, we have fully grown trees standing around our villages in contrast to the vast barren wilderness that existed in the 1970s. This is a lasting gift we have for our children and our children's children."

The efforts of the Ikalahan have been rewarded by the emergence of expanded forest cover that contributes to the ecological, economic and food security of the community. The Ikalahan have planted tree species like tuai (Bischofia javanica) that bears fruits relished by birds, as well as economic species, like mulberry, coffee, citrus, apple, pears and indigenous dagwey and dikay fruit trees.

Keen on conducting research on their own, the Ikahalan have planted trials of 160 varieties of sweet potato to identify those that best suit their requirements. Recently, they discovered a valuable use for a weed, which in local parlance is called "panawel." When composted and applied as a fertilizer to sweet potato, panawel eliminates the potato weevil, which previously destroyed as much as 40 percent of their crop.

Governance aspects

The KEF and its board manage the Kalahan Reserve. The seven barangays covering the ancestral domain are each represented by their tribal leaders on the board. Barangays Unib, Maliko and Imugan each have two representatives each because of their higher populations. Each of the other four barangays has one representative on the board. Representatives from the Kalahan Academy alumni, the local government and the youth sector bring the total membership to 13.

The board is responsible for formulating policies. It also serves as the final arbiter in resolving conflicts. The day-to-day operations of the KEF however, are carried out by the management staff who are organized into teams according to their functions. These teams are coordinated by an administrative team composed of all the team leaders and some administrative personnel.

The KEF organizational structure follows the social structure of the Ikalahan community and is very effective, especially in policy enforcement and conflict resolution. To demonstrate this point, Reverend Rice recalled an incident involving a boundary dispute between two Ikalahan members. The two parties were claiming an area of land which overlapped the boundaries of their farm lots. The problem was brought to the attention of the board who visited the site to settle the conflict. The two parties were both hard-headed and would not agree to the board's suggestion to place their farm boundaries in between the disputed properties. Since neither party would yield, the board finally decided that the disputed area would be owned by the KEF. "Up to this time, this area still belongs to the Foundation," Reverend Rice said.

To add legitimacy to the KEF's decisions and to gain broader support, the foundation works very closely with barangay officials in formulating policies and implementing plans and programmes. The board drafts policies, sends them to the barangay council for review and approval and then the board adopts the approved policies. This process minimizes conflicts and builds stronger partnership between the barangay officials and the foundation.

The KEF also works with all barangay officials to develop uniform policies on resource management for all barangays covering the Kalahan ancestral domain. Through these initiatives, the KEF and the barangays are now implementing strict policies concerning the protection of wildlife inside the reserve. Two wildlife sanctuaries, covering approximately 3 500 hectares of forest, have been declared already. These areas are also protected by the communities for watershed purposes.

"The foundation has effectively managed the Kalahan reserve," said Fernando Zamora, Barangay Captain of Imugan and President of the Association of Barangay Captains of Santa Fe, Nueva Vizcaya. "Under the leadership of the board and with the help of barangay officials and members of the community, sanctuaries which were established to protect wildlife and watersheds are properly protected. That is why - up to the present - barangay Imugan continues to have clean water for drinking and irrigation," Zamora added.

Champion of the cause

The accomplishments of the Ikalahan people demonstrate what initiative and role modelling can do. Admittedly, the role of Reverend Rice - an electrical engineer and anthropologist by profession - has been instrumental in the development of the Ikalahan community and their metamorphosis into a model for community-based forest management.

Living together closely with the community, Reverend Rice has taught the Ikalahan to love and revere the forest and the rivers, and to be responsible stewards of these resources. For many years, he has served and worked with the KEF board and guided them with his advice. He has also been effective in securing funding support for community projects and in facilitating negotiations and fulfilling the bureaucratic requirements of the government.

Having worked in the Kalahan area for nearly 40 years, Reverend Rice has seen immense changes occuring in the community. "The kind of education offered by the Kalahan Academy and the livelihood opportunities provided by the food-processing centre have encouraged the Ikalahan to look at the forest in a new way. They are now seeing other resources that they had never noticed before and are creatively looking for ways to properly use them. They are also looking more seriously at the sustainability of these resources. Most importantly, they have found that they can make changes without losing their culture and unity as a community," he noted.

Together with Reverend Rice, the leadership of the KEF has crafted a vision for a self-reliant and self-sufficient Ikalahan community. Together they have motivated the community to work tirelessly toward this vision. "In the past, the forests were cleared for farming. But now, we want to protect them to provide livelihoods for our community. We have policies to make this happen and with the help of our barangay officials we are able to enforce these policies," Taynan Omallio, chairperson of the KEF board, asserted with confidence.

The successes of the Ikalahan in productively and sustainably managing their forests attracted the attention of then DENR Secretary Fulgencio Factoran to the extent that many features of the KEF were adopted as a model for the DENR banner programme on community-based forest management. This programme grants community organizations the right to manage forest lands adjacent to their homes for periods of 25 years, renewable for subsequent 25 year periods upon satisfactory performance.

Being true pioneers in many respects, it is not surprising that the Ikalahan community, through the KEF, has received several awards. For their innovative work on the local processing of indigenous forest fruits, they have already garnered five awards from the Department of Agriculture and from scientific organizations. Their school, the Kalahan Academy, has been acknowledged as the most outstanding secondary school for environmental education in the country. More importantly, the academy has produced community- and ecology-oriented professionals, several of whom are now serving in various development projects in civil servant positions.

Wild guavas are used by the KEF as raw materials in producing guava jelly (courtesy KEF).


The Ikalahan proudly stand as a model of indigenous people's self-determination. They exemplify the utmost yearning of an indigenous community - to freely pursue their dreams and aspirations while wisely managing their forest resources for the benefit of current and future generations.


Dolinen, L.T. 1988. "The women swiddeners of Kalahan." PURC News and Views, 2: 3.

Dolinen, L.T. Undated. Enriching Upland Development Through Indigenous Practices: The Case of Kalahan.

Kalahan Educational Foundation (KEF). 1995. Development Plan: Ikalahan Ancestral Domain Kalahan Reserve, Phase 2. KEF, Imugan, Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya.

Mesina, S.R. 1999. Ikalahan community development projects. In Living stories: Exemplary Philippine practices on environment and sustainable development. Quezon City, Philippines, FSSI, FPE and PRRM.

Rice, D. 1994. Forest niches: Sustainable livelihood for upland dwellers. Paper presented to the Sustainable Alternative Livelihood Project.

Rice, D. 2001. Community-based forest management: The experience of the Ikalahan. In Forests, trees and livelihoods. Vol. 11. A.B. UK, Academic Publishers.

About the authors

Dr Buenaventura L. Dolom is a Forestry Consultant in the Philippine Environmental Governance Project of the DENR. He worked as National Coordinator of the DENR's Community Forestry Program before he was engaged as Community Forestry Consultant of the Natural Resources Management Program from 1993 to 1999.

Dr Rogelio C. Serrano holds a doctorate degree in Forest Ecology and Community Development from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños. He is Director of the Forestry and Environment Division of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD). He also serves as consultant for the Philippine Environmental Governance Project being implemented by the DENR.

Cat's eye forests: the Krui damar gardens

Anne Casson

Name of forest:

Pesisir Forest Area (Repong Damar)


Lampung Province

Area (hectares):

50 000

Managing entity:

Pesisir Community (United Traditional Repong Farmers of Coastal Krui)

Mgt. objectives:

Non-timber forest products, sustainable livelihoods



Damar gardens in the Pesisir represent totally original examples of sustainable and profitable management of forest resources, entirely conceived and managed by local populations (Michon et al. 1998).

If you were to visit the Krui damar agroforests for the first time, you could be forgiven for thinking that these forests are natural forests, barely touched by humans. You would then be surprised to learn that you are in fact in an agroforest, which has been cultivated and sustainably managed by the indigenous Krui people for more than a century.

The Krui damar agroforests - already well-known for their social, environmental and economic benefits - without doubt exemplify sustainable, community-based forest management. These agroforests, located along the southwestern coast of Sumatra (Pesisir) in the province of Lampung, cover an area of approximately 50 000 hectares and serve as a buffer zone for the nearby Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.

The Krui agroforests are managed so that they can meet the short-, medium-and long-term livelihood needs of the Krui people. However, this unique forest management system does not only sustain the livelihoods of the Krui people; it also conserves biological values, enhances biodiversity and maintains ecological functions.

Because of these merits, researchers, non-governmental organizations and other organizations interested in innovative agroforestry systems have been drawn to the Krui area to learn from and support the Krui damar farmers. These groups have helped the Krui to gain substantial government recognition for their management system. They have also helped the Krui to set a legal precedent for the recognition of community-based natural resource management systems based on adat (customary laws and regulations) in Indonesia.

Ecology and history

While many types of fruit, wood, fibre, spices, medicinal materials and other products are harvested from the Krui agroforests, the dominant tree species is the damar tree (Shorea javanica). In fact, damar trees are believed to represent about 65 percent of the tree community and constitute the major canopy ensemble (Michon et al. 1998). The damar tree is a dipterocarp species, native to local forests in Sumatra. It reaches heights of 40 to 50 metres, and can live for 150 years. "Many of the trees in the Krui area are already over 100 years old," said Pak Ari, a local damar farmer.

Damar trees over 20 to 25 years produce a valuable resin, which has been traded internationally for centuries. In fact, historical records show that damar resin was traded between China and Southeast Asia as early as the tenth century when it was considered to be the best material for caulking ships. According to Michon et al. (1998), damar resin was also traditionally traded for use in incense, dyes, adhesives and even medicines.

Substantial trade with Europe and America began much later, in the nineteenth century, when damar became an important component of industrial varnish and paint. At this time, damar was obtained primarily from natural forests in southern and western Sumatra, as well as West Kalimantan. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, local people in the Krui area had begun to respond to the growing international demand for damar by developing a sophisticated agroforestry system that would not only supply resin, but also produce food, timber, traditional medicines and other useful non-timber forest products (Poffenberger 2000).

Damar resin (courtesy Anne Casson).

After 1945, damar exports declined significantly following the invention of synthetic petrochemical resins, which are now preferred for most industrial uses. A market for damar does, nevertheless, remain. "Low quality grades of damar are now sold to low-quality paint manufacturers in Indonesia, while the best quality damar, which we call mata kucing (cat's eye), is sold to buyers in Singapore," reported Pak Ari. "In Singapore, the mata kucing is processed and re-exported as incense, or as a base for paint, ink and varnish factories in industrial countries."

The damar agroforestry system has been able to withstand fluctuating market changes and competition from synthetic substitutes. According to Pak Ari, the rupiah price for damar resin doubled during the recent economic crisis; local people who invested in damar agroforests were barely affected by the crisis.

Today, West Kalimantan and South Sumatra still produce some damar, but the main producing area is certainly the Krui area in Lampung. In fact, close to 80 percent of all damar traded on the world market today is produced by smallholder farmers residing in this area (Michon et al. 1998).

Agroforestry system

Damar gardens are established in three phases. "Firstly, the land is cleared through slash-and-burn," explained Pak Asabi, a local farmer who has recently cleared some new land to cultivate a damar garden. "Afterwards, the land is planted with rice and harvested once or twice. Land cleared for rice cultivation may contain old unproductive damar trees, low-quality brush and weeds, or in some cases natural forest. Permission from the village community (marga) must first be obtained if a farmer wishes to clear natural forest. Otherwise, the farmer may be sanctioned in accordance with local customary laws and regulations."

Pak Asabi continued: "After harvesting the rice, we plant a second 'intermediary' crop. This crop may include a number of agricultural products such as coffee, pepper, vanilla and chilli. A number of fruit trees, such as papaya and banana, may also be planted at this time." Coffee trees tend to be dominant at this stage, and are usually harvested for three to five years (but sometimes managed so that they produce for ten years or more). According to the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the introduction of semiperennial crops, with a primary goal of increasing profitability and lengthening the productive commercial period of the plot, considerably reinforces the competitive advantage of planted trees by delaying the establishment of natural regrowth.

"Thirdly, damar trees are added two to three years later, together with a number of tall-growing timber and fruit-bearing tree species. These trees usually reach maturity after 15 years, at which point the forest canopy closes and the semiperennial crops no longer receive sunlight and become unproductive. We then leave the area alone for a further 5 to 10 years. During this time, the damar tree becomes the dominant tree species."

According to ICRAF scientists, this fallow period allows natural vegetation (such as trees, lianas, shrubs, forest herbs, epiphytes) to develop along with the planted damar trees and fruit trees. The strategies for crop succession and diversification also allow Krui farmers to meet the majority of their daily needs while they wait for the damar trees to mature and yield resin.

"When the damar trees begin to produce damar (after 20 to 25 years), the plot is completely weeded; except for useful spontaneous species (such as mushrooms and other edible fungi), which are carefully preserved," Pak Asabi explained.

This so-called "successional" forest garden then increases in complexity over the years, influenced both by natural ecological processes and through planting and selective cutting by community members. As the damar garden matures, it acquires the characteristics of neighbouring natural secondary forests.

Traditional management system

According to Pak Ari, since the damar agroforests have been passed down to present generations from their ancestors (nenek moyang), the forests are managed in accordance with adat. These laws and regulations allow people to claim ownership over wild damar trees if they are the first to tap and collect damar from them. Individual families also have tenurial rights over the damar gardens they have planted and managed; and they can pass on these rights to their descendents - generally to the eldest son.

Pak Ari observed that in the case of other children, in particular, women, the eldest son is obliged to manage the forests for the benefit of the larger family. Daughters cannot inherit rights to the damar forests, but their father s, brothers and husbands are morally obliged to ensure that they receive fair benefits from the agroforests.

A Krui farmer collects resin from a damar tree (courtesy Anne Casson).

Even though individual families have tenurial rights over the damar gardens that they have planted and managed, they do not have full property rights (hak milik penuh) over them. This means that individual families are still subject to community approval if they wish to transfer ownership rights or cut down the trees. Land and tree-use rights, therefore, remain under the oversight of the extended family, and the larger community. Disputes over the management of the damar agroforests are also subject to arbitration by the village community.

The Krui tenure system is, nevertheless, primarily governed by moral obligation rather than regulation or enforcement. This is because the system supports and relies upon social cohesion, communication and cooperation. The head of a family is obliged societally to pass on the damar agroforests to his eldest son. The forests are, therefore, not his to sell or cut down, because the forests do not only belong to him, but also to his future descendents. According to Michon et al. (1998) Krui villagers will often say that the damar agroforests are "my heritage, not my property" (hak waris bukan hak milik saya). They will, consequently, invest in the planting of damar not only for themselves, but also for their children and their children's descendents.

Many resources within the forest gardens also continue to be held as community property, including fruits, sap from sugar palms, bamboo, thatching leaves and other goods. This is especially true for resources considered to be "wild" forest resources: rattan, wild vegetables, medicinal plants, and fuelwood. No one can claim rights over a piece of unmanaged, pristine forest (Michon et al. 1998).

Environmental and economic benefits

Not only do the Krui agroforests promote social cohesion, but they also provide a number of important environmental and economic benefits. Environmentally, the agroforests exhibit diversity typical of nearby natural forests. This is because the damar forests are by no means single species plantations. In fact, the forests provide similar ecological benefits to natural forests; including soil protection and the prevention of erosion (ICRAF 2001).

As in any secondary forest, the newly maturing damar plantation provides an environment for the propagation of plants originating from the neighbouring forests through natural dispersion. It also offers shelter and food to many species of mammals, some of which are highly endangered, such as the Sumatran rhinoceros. ICRAF researchers have stated that the number of primate populations (macaques, leaf monkeys, gibbons and siamang) found in damar agroforest sample plots is similar to those found in natural forests. At least 92 bird species have been identified in the damar agroforests (ICRAF 2001).

Economically, damar gardens constitute one of the most profitable smallholder forest production systems in Indonesia. This is because farmers are able to harvest resin from the damar gardens, on a regular basis, throughout the year. Resin from each tree can be tapped at least once a month and sometimes every two weeks. Socio-economic studies conducted by ICRAF researchers have determined that one villager can harvest an average of 20 kilograms of resin a day. In the central district (Pesisir Tengah), a family can harvest an average of 70 to 100 kilograms of resin per month (ICRAF 2001).

Income derived from the sales of resin allows most villagers to meet their daily needs and to send their children to school. In fact, five days of work in damar gardens are usually enough to ensure a month's subsistence for a whole family (Michon et al. 1998).

The agroforestry system developed by the Krui also offers a diverse income base. On a tour through a newly established agroforest, Pak Asabi explained that income obtained from resin collecting was supplemented by seasonal revenues from fruit trees such as mangosteen, jackfruit and durian. At the same time, wild resources associated with damar trees support a wide range of gathering activities that are more typically linked with natural forest ecosystems - hunting, fishing and harvesting of marketable non-timber forest products such as rattan, medicinal and insecticidal plants. These products provide an important complementary subsistence resource for households. The diversity of this type of system, together with its low dependence on external inputs, creates an economic stability that is rare among poor societies.

Struggle for rights

Despite the numerous ecological, economic and social benefits attributed to damar cultivation in the Krui area, much effort was needed to persuade the Indonesian Government that local people should manage the forests. This was because the Indonesian State did not officially recognize the rights of local people to forest resources.

In 1967, the Suharto government adopted the Basic Forestry Law, which centralized much of the state's authority over forests and swept away many of the customary legal and jurisdictional obstacles to large-scale commercial logging (Ross 2001). The 1967 Basic Forestry Law placed all of Indonesia's forest land - about 75 percent of the total land cover - under the purview of the Directorate General of Forestry in Jakarta. In doing so, the rights of Indonesia's forest dwellers to use the forest land for swidden cultivation, and to gather plants, animals and other forest products, were significantly curtailed or extinguished. Concessions were then allocated, inter alia, to the military, Chinese entrepreneurs and members of the Suharto family (Dauvergne 1997). This policy, when backed by the military, was very effective in weakening adat institutions and restricting local people's access to natural resources (Ross 2001).

Until recently, the land tenure situation of damar farmers in the Krui area perfectly epitomized that of other forest farmers in Indonesia. Although they had occupied the land for more than five centuries, they still had no legal title to it; most of the lands they developed and managed were located on state forest lands. Moreover, no official map above the village level recognized the existence of the damar gardens. The gardens were instead classified as swidden and dry fields, secondary forests and degraded vegetation (Michon et al. 1998). The Krui, nevertheless, followed their customary laws and regulations, which determined that individual families had tenurial rights over the damar gardens they had planted and managed. Consequently, they continued to plant damar and to manage the forests they had already established, sustainably.

The Krui agroforestry system did, nevertheless, come under threat in 1991 when the Suharto government declared large areas of the Krui agroforest to be State Forest Land in accordance with the 1967 Basic Forestry Law. Shortly afterwards, a logging company was awarded rights to harvest an estimated three million trees from the area. Two oil-palm companies were also granted rights to land covered by damar forest (Michon et al. 1998). When the Krui learned about these decisions, they stopped planting damar and other tree species because they were no longer certain that they would be able to reap the benefits of their work.

According to ICRAF (2001), the decision to allocate Krui lands to commercial timber and oil-palm companies "caused a chorus of disapproval, as environmental campaigners learned that a system renowned worldwide as a model of sustainable forest management might be lost forever."

A consortium of national and international non-governmental organizations - commonly known as TIM KRUI - was established to come to their aid by lobbying the national government to retract its decisions (Michon et al. 1998; ICRAF 2001). This consortium effectively used social, economic and ecological survey results, already gathered by respected ecologists and forest economists, to promote the "Krui case" as an outstanding example of reforestation and forest management by local communities. It also raised the profile of the damar agroforests through publications, videotapes and presentations; mapped the Krui damar agroforests through participatory mapping and provided moral support to the Krui people in the field.

After the fall of Suharto in mid-1998, a consortium of local people, nongovernmental organizations and research institutions persuaded the former forestry minister to cancel the timber concession rights to the area and to issue a new and unprecedented decree which defined the damar agroforests as Kawasan dengan Tujuan Istimewa (KdTI) or "Forest with Special Purpose." The decree officially recognized the legitimacy of the Krui agroforestry system and restored the rights of the Krui people to harvest and market products from the trees they planted. The decree was perceived as a powerful instrument for restoring social justice and promoting sustainable development. In the short term, it is expected to benefit at least 7 000 families in the 32 000 hectares of reclassified Krui lands as these families will have tenure security and will be more willing to invest in their damar gardens (Fay and Sirait 2002).

Although the decree was only applicable to the Krui damar agroforests, it provided an official precedent for recognition of community-based natural resource management systems based on adat. Furthermore, it was the first case where local people were allowed to harvest timber in state forests, and where management responsibility for a state forest had been devolved effectively to a traditional community government structure (Masyarakat Hukum Adat or Customary Community). The Krui people now feel secure and are confident that the government will not attempt to allocate any further land to oil-palm or timber companies because they know that, as the world is watching, such action would not be tolerated.

In recent years, Indonesia has embarked upon an ambitious decentralization programme and the government has expressed some willingness to provide greater authority to customary communities over forest resources. It is therefore hoped that the pilot scheme established in the Krui area can be extended to other adat communities in Indonesia, which have also developed forest management systems that provide economic, social and environmental profits. With government recognition and continuing support from non-governmental organizations, research organizations and donors, community forest management has the potential to allow Indonesia's forest-dependent people to make a major contribution to the country's forestry sector.


The Krui damar agroforests are an excellent example of sustainable forest management. The Krui people have been able to establish, maintain and cultivate a healthy, diverse dipterocarp plantation that offers economic, social and environmental benefits. They have also developed a regulatory framework that promotes sustainability, equity and social cohesion. This system is highly efficient and it offers considerable insight into the merits of community-based forest management and the potential for agroforestry to contribute to reforestation, land rehabilitation and enhancement of biodiversity.

Fortunately, the Indonesian Government has recognized the significance and merit of the Krui damar-based agroforestry system and, in light of recent political changes, it has officially recognized the Krui people as the customary managers of the damar agroforests located in Lampung. This has meant that the Krui people now have the right to plant, harvest and market products derived from their agroforests. They also have an incentive to protect and sustainably manage their forest resources because they now have clear rights to the land and the trees they plant. With continuing support from non-governmental organizations, research organizations and donors, this initiative should provide a basis for official recognition of other innovative community-based forest management systems in Indonesia.


Dauvergne, P. 1997. Shadows in the forest: Japan and the politics of timber in Southeast Asia. Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press.

ICRAF. 2001. The Krui agroforests: A model of sustainable community-based management. ASB Policy Brief No. 02. Nairobi, Alternatives to Slash-and-Burn (ASB) Programme.

Michon, G.; de Foresta, H.; Kusworo, A. & Levang, P. 1998. The damar agroforest of Krui, Indonesia: justice for forest farmers. In C. Zerner, ed. People, plants and justice. Columbia, USA, Columbia University Press.

Poffenberger, M. 2000. Damar Forest Gardens, Krui District, Indonesia. In Communities and forest management in Southeast Asia, forests, people and policies. IUCN, Gland, the International Working Group on Community Involvement in Forest Management.

Ross, M. 2001. Timber booms and institutional breakdown in Southeast Asia. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

About the author

Dr Anne Casson is a Visiting Scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and a Visiting Fellow at the Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Project, Australian National University. She is currently living and working in Indonesia. Her work primarily focuses on issues related to forestry, agroforestry and large-scale estate development in Indonesia.

Muyongs have evolved as a result of the Ifugao's recognition of the integral relationships between forest, water and agriculture (courtesy Patrick Durst).

The Ifugao muyong: sustaining water, culture and life

Rogelio C. Serrano and Ernesto A. Cadaweng

Name of forest:

Ifugao Muyongs


Ifugao Province

Area (hectares):

12 542

Managing entity:

Ifugao indigenous people

Mgt. objectives:

Watershed protection, sustainable use of natural resources



Tourists visiting the province of Ifugao, in the northern Philippines, gasp in awe at the grandeur of the Banaue Rice Terraces. From December to April, the topography is characterized by the vast contoured greenery of young rice plants, which metamorphose into golden yellow from May to July as the rice ripens. Such is the famed "Eighth Wonder of the World," which has also been declared a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

But suppose there were no trees and a period of drought ensued, with no water reaching the rice terraces. The vista would be a uniform grey-brown, with cracked dikes and barren paddies. The visitor suddenly realizes the importance of the forests - interspersed among the rice terraces that dominate the landscape. As the hidden fuel tank of a vehicle supplies petrol to the engine - resulting in motion - the Ifugao forests release water to the terraces, even in dry months, resulting in bountiful rice harvests.

These patches of forest, usually enclosing or adjacent to Ifugao[19] settlements, are known as muyong (or pinugu in another dialect). A muyong is an untilled slope covered mainly with timber, fruit trees, climbing rattan, bamboo, palms and other associated natural vegetation, which is often used as a source of fuelwood. Muyongs are privately owned and managed, with clearly demarcated boundaries.

Over the years, most attention has focused on the rice terraces themselves (locally called payoh). It is only recently that outsiders have come to recognize and appreciate the critical roles of the muyongs in sustaining the land-use system of the Ifugao, and their lives and culture. Muyongs are an essential part of the agroforestry system in the steep mountainous region - protecting lower farmlands from runoff and erosion. There are, however, no records as to when and where the practice of maintaining muyongs began.

Environmental intervention

It is believed that, as in the case of the rice terraces, the Ifugao - in response to their specific needs - developed muyongs as an environmental intervention. Research conducted by the Bagong Pagasa Foundation Inc. (BPFI) has documented three probable reasons for the emergence of muyongs as given below.

1) Evidence suggests that the ancestors of the Ifugao were well aware of the relationship between the existence of forests and stable water supplies. In the same way that the Ifugao people exercised ingenuity and creativity in carving the terraces to support their tribal livelihoods, they also designed and established muyongs to create a stable source of water for their payohs.

2) Secondly, muyong establishment was reinforced when it became apparent that sources of fuelwood near Ifugao settlements were becoming depleted.

3) There are indications that some early muyongs were started by a low caste in Ifugao society - the nawotwot - as a means of uplifting their economic and social standing in the community. Ownership of large areas of payohs and muyongs are indicators of high social status or affluence in Ifugao culture.

In their own way and using local resources, the Ifugao developed their muyongs over generations - sharing and exchanging planting materials and labour in the process.

To date, there are no data available on the aggregate area of all the muyongs in Ifugao. However, research by Napoleon Hangdaan (a local researcher), shows that muyongs abound in 9 of the 11 municipalities of Ifugao (Hangdaan 2000). Hangdaan's account lists the locations of all muyongs in the identified municipalities and documents 603 sitios (villages) and sub-sitios where muyongs exist.

Three types of muyong

Classified on the basis of their establishment, three types of muyong can be distinguished:

The area of a single muyong ranges from half a hectare to three hectares and muyongs are generally located at a distance of up to one kilometre from the home, depending on where ancestral uma were first established.

The boundary between adjacent muyongs consists of a line of cleared land - one-and-a-half-metres wide. The owners themselves maintain the line by occasionally cutting saplings and shrubs that grow along it. Boundary disputes may arise due to failure of one or both parties to clean the line. An aggressive owner may sometimes alter the boundary in his favour by adjusting the line, thus encroaching on the area of the adjacent muyong.

The conversion process from uma to muyong necessitates that the owner periodically tends and protects the growing shrubs and forest trees. Through natural succession, vegetation in the uma improves from cogon (Imperata cylindrica) to talahib (Saccharum spontaneum), followed by the appearance of ferns, then the emergence of miscellaneous shrubs and medium-sized trees. This succession to larger and taller vegetation is indicative of improving soil fertility and a better microclimate, indicating more stable conditions. Eventually, dipterocarp tree species such as lauan (Shorea contorta), guijo (Shorea guiso) and bagtikan (Parashorea malaanonan) may begin to grow, which leads to the muyong reaching its climax, or most stable ecological condition. This process of natural succession may take 20 years or more depending on initial soil conditions. The owner may, however, accelerate the process by planting preferred tree species or by transplanting wildings from nearby natural forest.

Hangdaan records three modes by which ownership of muyong can be acquired:

Natural setting

The Ifugao muyongs, in their traditional composition, have a rich stock of varied plant species. In 1999, Dr Merlyn Rondolo, a scientist with the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), undertook a comprehensive survey of muyong composition that revealed a huge array of species utilized for various purposes. These included 171 fuelwood species, 112 species used in construction, 70 species that provide food and various species used for basket-making and containers, woodworking, cordage, shaman rituals and children's toys. Ten varieties of rattan were also found, most of which were planted and cultivated (Rondolo 1999).

"The Ifugao use as many as 45 plant species as medicine," explained Dr Rondolo. "While there is a trend towards less reliance on medicinal plants, in favour of commercially available medicines, it is worth examining the active components of these medicinal plants which may enable manufacture of pharmaceutical medicines."

The Bagong Pagasa Foundation reports that the Hapuwan subgroup of the Ifugao tribe uses indigenous pesticides to eradicate insects that damage rice in the terraces. For example, 20 aromatic herbs, many collected from the muyongs, are gathered, pounded and mixed to kill army worms. Other herbs containing potent compounds are used to stun and catch fish in streams.

"Our preparation of these botanical pesticides and potions involve rituals led by our elders. The pesticides produced are highly effective," said Benjamin Lunag, an Ifugao elder.

Care and maintenance

The Ifugao devote considerable time to the care and maintenance of the muyongs once the rice-planting season has finished. They take turns, through a system of shared labour called ub-ubbo, in developing silviculture in the muyongs. Trees are cleared of climbing vines that otherwise would choke and kill the woody perennials. In the municipalities of Lamut and Lagawe, coffee is often planted to maximize the use of open spaces in the muyongs. Tree species that are regularly interplanted include gmelina (Gmelina arborea), narra (Pterocarpus indicus), mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) and rain tree (Samanea saman). Rattan and bamboo are also planted.

Thinning and pruning are carried out during the dry months. Pruning improves tree form and enhances the volume of clearwood, and the pruned branches are gathered for fuelwood. Thinnings are used to make fence posts or for light construction and repairs to houses.

Mature trees are cut only when large dimension construction material is needed. The decision on which trees to cut is dependent on the intended use of the harvested timber. Tree species such as baku-og, bultik-gotapan and bultiktangayaan are preferred for studs and flooring. Dalakan (Alstonia scholaris), a relatively fast-growing species, is used for non-load bearing building purposes, since its wood is soft and less durable than many other hardwood species. Directional felling is employed to avoid damage to other trees.

Rattan fruits are harvested annually and sold in local markets or brought to other municipalities for trading. A survey by the Bagong Pagasa Foundation revealed that an average of 115 kilograms of rattan fruits are harvested by each Ifugao household each year - most of which are sold for a price of around US$0.30/kilogram. Where coffee is interplanted, an average bean harvest of 406 kilograms/hectare/year has been recorded. Coffee beans are sold for a mean price of US$0.14/kilogram.

Each household also harvests approximately 2 000 board feet of timber per annum from the muyongs. About 80 percent of this is used for domestic purposes and the remainder is sold. Owners of muyongs located nearest to urban centres typically sell higher volumes of timber and other forest products. Each household also extracts an average of 106 bundles of fuelwood from its muyong each year. A standard bundle has a diameter of about 25 centimetres and a length of about 50 centimetres.

Wood carving

Wood for carving is the other major raw material derived from the muyongs, with volumes fluctuating in response to market developments and restrictive policies periodically imposed by the government. When a sealed road linking Ifugao to the Cagayan Valley and Manila was opened in the 1970s, the production and marketing of woodcarvings boomed. Items carved included religious relics like Bulul (the Ifugao rice god), household utensils and artistic figurines. Prior to the 1970s, only small volumes of woodcarvings were sold beyond village markets.

Wood carving expresses the cultural creativity of the Ifugao, whose nourishment and continuity is interlinked with the muyong. Alex Tayaban, an Ifugao elder of Lamut, elaborated: "Many of our woodcarvings closely reflect our relationship with nature and with our gods. The same creativity that inspired us in carving the rice terraces inspires us as we fashion pieces of wood into masterpieces."

During the boom years for wood carving, container loads of carvings were transported to Manila and some even reached international markets. Raw materials were initially drawn from muyongs and communal forests. However, as suitable wood supplies declined, wood for carving was increasingly purchased from the nearby province of Nueva Vizcaya. The increasing threat to local forests led to intervention by the government and Ifugao elders, which helped to mitigate the destruction of the muyong. Today, the local woodcarving industry continues, but caters to a more limited market. Wood for carving is still obtained from the muyong, but in sustainable volumes.

Farming system

Dr Rogelio Serrano has studied the Ifugao for a number of years and refers to their farming system as " ancient spatial version of the new science of agroforestry." Seen from a wider perspective, the totality of the upland farming system of the Ifugao consists of the payoh (rice fields), the muyong (forest) and the uma (swidden lands). These components interact with each other, with Ifugao culture and with landscapes and ecosystems at lower elevations.

A macro-level interaction is between the muyong and downstream environments. The muyong serves to capture and store rainfall and slowly releases it throughout the year, thereby irrigating the terraced payoh. Excess water flows through the river system, passing through the province of Nueva Vizcaya, to be stored at the Magat Reservoir in Isabela Province. The stored water is used to irrigate lowland rice fields and to generate electricity for the large population of the Cagayan Valley. Water flowing from the muyong carries with it rich nutrients built up by the forest, which increase the fertility of the payoh. The muyong also serves as a source of rocks and stones to make walls for new terraces and to repair damaged older terrace walls.

A second interaction is between muyong and uma. Muyong, with its rich biodiversity, supplies seeds - dispersed by wind and wildlife - to the uma in its fallow period (ublag). Plant regeneration is, consequently, more rapid than in the absence of muyong. The muyong also serves as a buffer to nearby uma, providing microclimates favourable to the growth of fallow vegetation, as well as trapping eroded soil.

There is also interaction between the muyong and Ifugao households, and - at a larger scale - the community and Ifugao culture. The muyong, as part of the Ifugao ancestral land, is a host to the tribal culture. Many Ifugao settlements are in the middle of muyong clusters. Not only are houses built within the muyong, but also the people's forefathers are buried there. The muyong is consequently seen as the abode of ancestral spirits and other benevolent spirits revered by the Ifugao. It is under the shade of the muyong where rituals are performed, including the canao - a thanksgiving feast for a bountiful rice harvest and favours obtained from the gods. Feasting on butchered pigs, tribal dancing and partaking of rice wine (tapuy) highlight the celebration.

Customary laws

Considering the values, benefits and attachment of the muyong to Ifugao families and the community, it is understandable that these small, forested areas are valued highly. In fact, the Ifugao are willing to fight and stake their lives to protect their muyongs. Thus, the tribe has evolved customary laws to settle conflicts over ownership and use of muyongs. The research conducted by Napoleon Hangdaan, himself an Ifugao, provides a detailed account of the processes that govern conflict resolution relating to the muyong.

Ifugaos may gather fuelwood from muyongs, even without permission from the owner - but only dead branches may be collected. This privilege must, however, be reciprocated by cleaning a portion of the muyong. Repayment in the form of muyong cleaning and tending is required even if the person gathering fuelwood is a relative.

If a tree is harvested, the person who fells it must plant two replacement trees and clean a large area of the muyong in repayment. The owner must give permission for harvesting and specify the exact trees to be cut.

A person caught stealing from a muyong is brought before tribal elders and severely reprimanded. The miscreant is also required to recompense the owner of the muyong. In case of a second offense, the owner can demand restitution through a third party negotiator. A third offense is perceived to indicate that the perpetrator lacks respect for the owner and the issue may end in violence.

Boundary conflicts are usually a more serious issue. Conflicts arise in the absence of clearly defined boundary lines and markers, or intentional shifting or removal of boundary markers. Conflict may also arise if two individuals claim the same former uma area whilst it is undergoing natural regeneration. In this instance, generally, both parties claim that their respective forefathers were the people who first cultivated the area.

To settle a boundary conflict, an ordeal called haddaccan - involving the two contending parties - is performed. The term derives from the word ihadac, which means "to rectify a mistake," or "to put to right a wrongdoing." The ordeal is performed in either of two ways: either i bultong or i uggub. The two parties, through a mediator, agree on the process that will be used.

The i bultong ordeal is basically a wrestling match between the two parties in conflict. The wrestlers need not necessarily be the actual persons in conflict; they may substitute a carefully chosen relative to represent and fight for them. Attempts are made to ensure the opponents are evenly matched. In fact, the essence of the contest is to be evenly matched, so that justice, rather than strength, is perceived to dictate the outcome.

The i uggub ordeal involves the protagonists throwing runo (reeds) fronds and eggs at one another. After the performance of either of the two ordeals, a peace-making rite called hidit is conducted. This is to thank the gods for the result and to commit that both parties will peacefully abide by it. Hidit is conducted to ensure a firm reconciliation between the two parties - in the presence of many witnesses.

Following the establishment of the Regalian Doctrine,[20] which states that all natural resources - including lands of the public domain - belong to the state, the muyong lands of the Ifugao became (officially) the property of the Philippine Government. This government claim has been resented by the Ifugao for many decades, as the tribe considers that it occupied and "owned" the lands long before the Spaniards arrived and centuries before the establishment of the Philippine Republic. Though dissatisfied with the situation, many have lodged declarations for their muyongs, which give a semblance of tenure. This arrangement requires that the government be paid a minimal annual fee.

"People first"

In recent years, a paradigm shift - favourable to the Ifugao - has occurred within the government, particularly within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Moving from a stance of indifference towards upland dwellers, the DENR has, since the mid-1970s, advocated more people-oriented policies, and has begun to regard the Ifugao as partners in upland development. During the past 20 years, the DENR has adopted Community-Based Forest Management as a banner programme, with a philosophy of "People first, and sustainable forestry will follow."

Building on the Integrated Social Forestry Program (an early thrust towards participatory forestry, commencing in 1976) a series of people-friendly DENR programmes has followed. These include a process that issued Certificates of Ancestral Domain Claim. These certificates provided tenurial security for 50 years, legitimizing the presence of indigenous cultural communities in areas where certificates were approved. A number of Certificates of Ancestral Domain Claim were awarded to the Ifugao. This arrangement has afforded tribal members with legal recognition of their rights over their ancestral domain (including the exclusive rights to occupy the land, to develop it and to enjoy the fruits of their endeavours).


Despite receiving the Certificates of Ancestral Domain Claim, many Ifugao remained apprehensive over the 50-year tenurial duration. The mindset of the Ifugao to ownership is not time-bound, and any duration of tenure is inconsistent with this view. These apprehensions were finally erased with the passage of landmark legislation in 1997 - the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (1997). Devised by Senator Juan Flavier, himself a member of the Igorot tribe under which the Ifugao are categorized, the new act provides for an absolute Ancestral Domain Title. It also promotes the incorporation and practice of local people's customs and traditions in the development and management of their land. The law helps Filipino ethnic communities to fulfil their aspirations for self-determination, while enjoying the blessings of their locally managed natural resources. Thus, the Ifugao finally are assured the rightful ownership of their muyongs and adjoining lands.

"Our muyongs will be there to stay, till the end of time," declared Ifugao documentarist Hangdaan. The present indications are that they will be - playing key roles in supporting the agricultural production systems, and the cultural and significant values of the Ifugao people, far into the future.


Hangdaan, N.B. 2000. The Muyong system of the Ifugaos. Unpublished monograph, 59 pp.

Rondolo, M.T. 1999. The changing Ifugao woodlots: Implications for indigenous plant knowledge and biodiversity. A thesis submitted for the Degree of Philosophy at the Australian National University. 214 pp.

About the authors

Dr Rogelio C. Serrano holds a doctoral degree in Forest Ecology and Community Development from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, where he has completed a dissertation on the Environmental and Socioeconomic Impact of the Ifugao Muyongs. He is Director of the Forestry and Environment Division of PCARRD. He also serves as consultant for the Philippine Environmental Governance Project being implemented by the DENR.

Mr Ernesto A. Cadaweng holds a baccalaureate degree in forestry from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños. He has served as forestry consultant for the USAID-funded Natural Resources Management Program and several other donor-supported projects. At present, he works as field manager for the Bagong Pagasa Foundation, Inc., a non-governmental organization implementing forest conservation projects on Palawan Island in the Philippines.

Ifugao woodcarvings reflect the people's relationship with nature and their gods (courtesy Patrick Durst).

The Fasak Ecoforestry Project: a new day dawning

John Liu

Name of forest:

Fasak Eco-Forestry Project


Sanma Province, East Santo

Area (hectares):


Managing entity:

Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific: Vanuatu (FSPV) and Fasak community

Mgt. objectives:

Sustainable timber production



The island of Espiritu Santo - the largest in Vanuatu at 4 010 km2 - is the centre of the country's forest harvesting operations. Rapid expansion of commercial logging activities, however, has raised concerns among many of the people living on Santo. "Most of our forests have already been logged. We have to do something to ensure that in the future our forests are harvested in a sustainable manner and with minimal damage to the surrounding environment," said Tom Ker Dick, the Regional Forest Officer in East Santo.

Sustainable management and use of natural resources is the key to maintaining and improving the social status of rural people in Vanuatu. Unfortunately, most people in Santo currently see little evidence of efforts to sustainably manage the island's forests. Pressure from unsustainable logging, conversion of land to agriculture, offshore interest in natural resources and an increasing population are threatening the forests. In particular, the major forestry companies are perceived, purely and simply, as loggers rather than as forest managers.

In stark contrast, the South Pacific Community Eco-Forestry (SPCEF) project, which operated from 1997 to 2001, demonstrated that forests in Vanuatu can be managed effectively by - and for - local people. The project was implemented as part of the regional forestry programme of the Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific International (FSP-International), a network of eight South Pacific non-governmental organizations. "We work with interested landowning communities in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tonga and Kiribati in developing country-specific and appropriate models for community-led sustainable forest management," explained project manager Mark Kalotap.

The SPCEF project was implemented by the Fasak clan in their traditional lands at Jerimbosoksok. The Fasak clan live in Natawa Village and surrounding hamlets, located at Shark Bay, East Santo. The project was supported by FSP-Inter national's local affiliate, FSP-Vanuatu. Natawa Village has 72 Fasak residents, with an additional 200 Fasaks living in surrounding villages.

Isaac Lokai, the chairperson of the Fasak community, explained the project rationale: "We realized that we could easily manage our forest, but we needed proper training to teach us how to manage effectively. We were very fortunate that FSP-Vanuatu chose our community to initiate this kind of ecoforestry project."

The beginning

Extensive consultation was carried out with the Fasak community before the project started. Project staff wanted to develop a model that emphasized integrated forest management - covering all aspects of forestry - from forest ecology and management to timber marketing. The project strategy emphasized measures to increase the knowledge of resource owners, enabling them to make informed decisions on how to manage and utilize their own resources.

On 15 May 1997, the Sanma Council of Chiefs (known as Supenatavutano) declared the lands surrounding Jerimbosoksok as "customary lands" belonging to the Fasak clan. The Jerimbosoksok lands encompass 6 460 hectares of customary lands, including 4 795 hectares of forest land, comprising 220 hectares of coastal forest, 3 100 hectares of lowland forest and 1 475 hectares of mid-altitude forest. Once ownership rights were established, 550 hectares were allocated to the ecoforestry project. The primary project management area encompassed mainly mid-altitudinal forest containing a variety of hardwood species. Many of the species growing in the area are not commonly used in Vanuatu, but are regarded as commercial species elsewhere in the region.

"The project was extremely interesting," explained Mark Kalotap. "In the beginning, the identified villages were not really enthusiastic to support the project. But we involved them thoroughly in initial activities such as training, awareness-raising workshops, participatory rural appraisal and income generating programmes. These activities helped the villagers realize the value of better management and protection of their forests."

But it was easier said than done. Early project activities quickly revealed a variety of problems that compromised the villagers' ability to balance family demands and community aspirations. For instance, a person might have to choose between working to earn money to pay school fees for his children or help in the construction of a water tank that would provide the community with a reliable water supply.

Box 1. Land ownership in Vanuatu

Vanuatu's 1980 independence constitution declares that all land belongs to indigenous customary owners, and that rules of custom are the basis for the ownership and use of land. Systems vary between clan (extended family) and individual ownership or rights of use. In general, forest management on customary land is relatively passive and follows traditional subsistence practices - largely centred on agroforestry close to settlements, and hunting and gathering in the high forests. Rural communities tend to rely on forests for many elements of livelihood.

Conflicts over land ownership are dealt with by the provincial Council of Chiefs (the Sanma Council in Sanma Province), the traditional supreme body, which forms a local court to deal with traditional land issues. In the Fasak case, conflict had arisen between the Fasak clan and another local clan over ownership of the Jerimbosoksok lands.

Forests are an integral component of the lifestyle in a typical Vanuatu village. However, when logging companies approach landowners, the community is faced with a tough decision: the long-term future of the forest area and the village community - or the possible short-term monetary gain, which may benefit only a few individuals. Unfortunately, the need for money is often a strong motivation in decision making.

The livelihoods of the whole community depend heavily on the forest, which reinforces the importance for sustainable forest use and management. "The forest is our life," declared Titus Lokai, a community elder. "Everything we depend on comes from the forest."

The forest resources utilized by the Fasak community include timber and poles used for building houses and making furniture, food and fruits, customary herbal medicines, and fuelwood.

The SPCEF project

The SPCEF project was designed to work with interested landowners in Vanuatu to develop a country-specific and appropriate model for community-led forest management. The SPCEF project gave landowners the option to manage and utilize their forest resources sustainably by developing a small-scale, community-based timber enterprise designed to provide quality tropical hardwood products directly to the market. The profits were to be returned directly to the community. The project aimed to ensure long-term viability of sawmilling operations, and to enable landowners to manage their forests for long-term social, economic and environmental values. The project was funded by the European Commission through to February 2001, with an additional year of funding provided by the Canada Fund.

The SPCEF project led the Fasak community through a training process to put the community on a firm path towards sustainable forest management. The community attended a number of awareness and education workshops, which were supported by practical implementation training in the field.

A management committee was established and trained by the SPCEF project business officer. A basic training manual was written specifically for the project. A core group from the community was selected to participate in the forest analysis activities. All these factors, including the appointment of the project manager and business officer, were accomplished with the help of the SPCEF staff.

One of the important aspects for promoting project sustainability was generating sufficient awareness among the participating communities on the concepts of sound forest management. At Fasak, although awareness-raising efforts absorbed a significant proportion of the project time and energy, people were slow in absorbing relevant information. This was because the concepts involved matters beyond their traditional cultural dimensions - in this case, concepts of ecoforestry. The awareness campaign involved extensive field exercises, including visiting forests near the village to demonstrate practical aspects of silviculture.

These training activities were implemented by the two project staff members, with some assistance from the Vanuatu Department of Forests and Vanuatu Department of Cooperatives.

Technical workshops

Modern sustainable forest management requires considerable technical proficiency. Consequently, some of the concepts were difficult for villagers - who had very limited education - to comprehend. For example, the villagers had to be taught how to use a compass when carrying out boundary surveys. Villagers also needed training and close supervision while using heavy equipment. A number of technical workshops were organized to teach villagers the concepts of basic silviculture.

The training workshops implemented by the project included:

Basic forest ecology workshop: Landowners were made aware of natural forest functions and dynamics. This workshop provided a firm basis in ecological theory for subsequent training on sustainable forest harvesting techniques.

Forest inventory and survey workshop: This provided training on technical components of forest management. Trainees were taught how to read compasses and clinometres (for determining tree height), as well as use of tape measures for measuring distances and for measuring tree diameters. The training included establishment of sample plots and striplines, recording on plot sheets and computer analysis.

Workshop on setting of diameter limits: This workshop related the forest inventory to the setting of diameter limits for the proposed harvesting area. This was a new concept for Vanuatu, where a standard 60 centimetre diameter limit for harvesting of all species means fast-growing trees are often harvested before they achieve optimal size, while smaller species are often left behind even though they are over-mature.

Workshop on tree marking: Trainees were taught to mark trees for directional felling in order to avoid damage to potential future crop trees.

Designing forest management plans, business plans, coupe plans and harvest plans: Planning activities provided opportunities for members of the community to directly learn planning and management skills to enable them to implement sustainable forest management, including sustainable utilization of forest resources to maximize benefits to local communities.

Chainsaw tree felling/directional felling workshop: Trainees were taught how to operate a chainsaw safely in the forest and how to carry out tree felling operations with minimal damage to the surrounding vegetation.

Log scaling training: This training taught sawmill staff how to measure logs to determine accurate milling volumes.

Sawmilling workshop: Sawmill staff were trained how to operate a portable circular sawmill to mill timber to specific sizes for sale. This training also covered timber grading, timber drying, timber preservation and record keeping with an emphasis on quality control.

Marketing workshop: This training covered implementation of a business feasibility study, writing a business plan, budgeting and basic bookkeeping and banking. It also included skills for negotiating in markets and dealing with customers.

Aside from the core community group, other landowners and workers were also involved in the boundary survey and inventory data review. "I think the ecoforestry project has done a very good job in our community," said Malachai Lokai, a Fasak community leader. "We are now able to make informed decisions on which trees to cut and where to cut them, as well as knowing how and why we have to do things whenever a tree is harvested."

The project also emphasized the need for women to be more involved in forest management processes. Various workshops were conducted to involve women in decision making, as well as to provide education and training. These helped to build a heightened awareness of local forest ecology. One of the most productive workshops focused on identifying specific issues of importance to women (e.g. tree planting and agroforestry) and developing an action plan to address those issues. Ms Jeanet Lokai, a youth member of the community, pointed out that, "Women in our community can't do heavy work such as using a chainsaw, tree felling or saw milling. However, they can help to keep production records and manage the accounts."

Training and operations manuals

One of the major contributing factors to the success of the Fasak project was the training provided to the community prior to and during the operational phases. In collaboration with the community, the project produced two types of manuals - training and operations - that document the process and content of training exercises.

The Training Manual provides detailed guidance for conducting training sessions and workshops, and identifies crucial elements that contribute to success. It also provides general data relating to training for small sawmill operations.

The Operations Manual contains information about the community, its resources and the techniques and education required for effective management. Both manuals are valuable tools for extension workers.

Management systems

The project followed two types of management systems:

Several other agencies were simultaneously working in the community, including the Department of Forestry and Santo Joinery. Coordination systems were developed and joint training was provided to ensure that programmes and activities were implemented in a cohesive manner.

Direct benefits

Various workshops helped build awareness of the benefits that the community would receive by participating in the project. Direct benefits included:

The project also provided a number of benefits for sawmill operators including:

Threats and challenges

The project identified a number of threats and challenges to its viability and success. The most significant were:

Despite these constraints, government policy continues to support small-scale timber production and recognizes landowners as stewards of their resources. The government has established forestry regulations for small sawmills that sawmill owners need to understand to ensure they operate within the guidelines. These government policies and regulations were discussed thoroughly during the intensive training conducted by SPCEF staff.

Positive lessons learned

A number of positive lessons were forthcoming from the management of the project.

Preharvest preparations. The significant time and energy given to pre-implementation consultation and discussion with the Fasak community was a key to success. Community members were virtually saturated with information relating to the requirements and operation of the project. People are the most important resource in any development project, and it is imperative that the local community take ownership of a project if long-term success is to be achieved. The people of Fasak community were thoroughly prepared and this was one of the main factors contributing to the success of the initiative.

Other preharvest activities given priority included resource assessment and inventor y, identification of sensitive environmental and cultural sites, establishment of clear working procedures and systems, thorough training of workers on safety and careful maintenance of equipment and instruction on proper use. Some of these activities needed later refinement, but the foundations for effective management were well in place before the forest harvesting began. The saying, "well done preparation is work half done" certainly holds true in the case of the Fasak Project.

Harvesting operations. All forest harvesting activities were carried out in full compliance with the small sawmill regulations and the Vanuatu Code of Logging Practice. The Fasak community was well prepared in advance of harvesting, so that harvesting operations were completed with minimum difficulties. Well-planned operational cycles were also initiated by the community, SPCEF staff and the Department of Forestry. Harvesting was successful because all the stakeholders took part in planning as well as monitoring the implementation.

Postharvest activities. Recognizing the failure of most logging companies to adequately follow up on logging operations, the Fasak Project gave considerable emphasis to overcoming this shortcoming. Postharvest activities included general site clean-up, spreading sawdust piles and waste wood, assessing forest regeneration, tending and releasing seedlings and saplings, transplanting trees if natural regeneration was not sufficient and completing management assessment sheets.

Selection of appropriate technologies. SPCEF tested a variety of forest management and timber production systems and technologies to identify components suitable for application in the Fasak operations. The technologies and systems introduced to the Fasak Project were easy to implement with only basic skills and equipment, but still included all the important elements of sustainable forest management. One result was that the timber produced was of a very high quality compared to other portable sawmillers.

Training. The intensity of training - both in workshops and on-site - was a major component of the project. Training covered all aspects of sound forest management, which enabled the community to develop appropriate capacity to implement, manage and benefit from forestry activities. This enabled the Fasak community to be one of the first forest operators to be formally licensed by the Vanuatu Department of Forests.

Community integration. Acknowledging that community "ownership" is crucial for the sustainability of any development project, the Fasak community was heavily involved and integrated into all aspects of the project, right from the beginning. The project also noted that planning for forest management is much more meaningful when the whole community is involved. Existing government institutions and relevant NGOs also need to play an active role in all phases of forest management.

One of the most important outcomes of the project was the community realization that earning money was not the primary goal for participating in the project. Rather, the project would enable the community to maintain their forest and utilize only the timber they need. The project was recognized as the first community-managed area in Vanuatu to achieve sustainable forest management and to successfully implement the national Code of Logging Practice on a small scale.


The Fasak Ecoforestry Project provides an example of an initiative that was planned, implemented and managed effectively, and which is now owned and managed by the Fasak community itself. Mark Kalotap summarizes the success of the project glowingly: "Sustainability is not a new concept in Vanuatu, as can be seen by the way most communities have managed their resources for centuries, such as when a village chief puts a taboo (prohibition) on fishing in a particular area for a period of, say, two to five years to allow fish to breed and increase in number. Agroforestry, or interplanting of food crops with cash crops or trees, is also not new. However, increasing population pressures in Vanuatu mean that communities are now having to cope with shortages of land and resources. Managing small plots of land to sustainably meet household needs is becoming a critical requirement."

"We realized that combining new resource management ideas with already existing community knowledge and practices would improve the way people manage and use their resources. But, such ideas will not succeed unless local communities take ownership of the concepts and value the end results. Communities need appropriate training and resources to enable them to work independently once a project is finished, and the Fasak Project was able to deliver on these requirements."

The Fasak Ecoforestry Project has enabled the development of an SPCEF model, based on the experiences of FSP-Vanuatu staff working with the Fasak clan, as well as a separate ecoforestry project working with the Naone people at Hasavaia Village, South Santo. Training materials have been compiled to describe a logical process by which any village community could set up similar ecoforestry initiatives.

Looking to the future, Kalotap concludes: "The Fasak community experience provides a viable model for small-scale forest management throughout Vanuatu. It offers an excellent example for other communities to build upon, especially those with only modest forest areas ranging up to 1 000 hectares. Already two other communities - Aneityum and Eton, both on the island of Efate - have shown interest in applying the Fasak model and are planning to use the training manuals developed by the project to guide similar schemes in their areas."

About the author

John Liu is from the island of Maewo in Vanuatu. He was formerly the Director of the Vanuatu Rural Development and Training Centres Association (VRDTCA), and the Second Secretary to the Minister of Education. He has spent 30 years working with local people in rural Vanuatu.

Sawmill in Vanuatu (courtesy Patrick Durst).

[19] Ifugao locally means "people of the hills" and also lends itself to the name of the mountainous province in Northern Luzon inhabited by the Ifugao people.
[20] This dates back to the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines when the country was declared property of the King of Spain. This has since been an overriding principle guiding the development of laws and programmes on natural resources. The present formulation has its origins in the 1935 Constitution.

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